Mercedes-AMG is currently boasting envious growth, moving more than 23,000 units last year — that’s 33.3% more than in 2015. To continue this sales trend, and to create an offering between base Mercedes-Benz cars and the much-more costly V8-powered AMGs, Mercedes-AMG is introducing a new entry-level engine into its lineup: a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6. Unlike all previous vehicles with an AMG badge on its trunk, this “43” engine is not hand built by lab coat-wearing geniuses at AMG’s headquarters in Affalterbach. Instead, it is a mass-produced engine tweaked and modified by AMG. While some enthusiasts will moan, it is best to see how these powerplants perform before pre-judging their ability to represent the beloved brand.
This engine will be inserted into a wide swathe of the AMG line-up (for now, 9 vehicles): from the nimble footed SLC roadster to the stout midsize GLE SUV. That’s a big range in weight and functionality, so how the 43 engine behaves in each vehicle will differ. To experience the full 43 range, Mercedes-AMG invited us to a house in Point Dume, where the sweeping Pacific Coast Highway and famous twisting canyons of Malibu would offer ideal opportunities to test each vehicle’s strengths and weaknesses. We decided to focus on the C-Class of vehicles (Sedan, Coupe and Cabriolet) to see how the V6 powerplant performed in each.
Besides the V-6, all three C43s — Sedan, Coupe and Cabriolet — share several critical components: the 9-speed double-clutch transmission, AMG Ride Control 3-way adjustable suspension and braking setup. All standard. This obviously means that beyond uniformity in cabin layout, luxury accouterments and wheelbase, dynamically speaking the cars are similar. They also all share the same excellent 590-Watt, 13-speaker Burmeister soundsystem — and each include the beautiful perforated stainless steel speaker grilles.
The AMG Touch
Although AMG is ditching the “one man, one engine” philosophy in these new “43” vehicles, that doesn’t mean they are base production engines. Each of the 3.0-liter V-6s is tuned by the engineers at AMG to optimize performance over the more pedestrian applications of this powerplant. The 9G-TRONIC transmission is also enhanced by AMG to emphasize quicker shifts, and the Performance 4MATIC all wheel drive system is tuned to direct 69% power to the rear axle at all times for a sportier, driftier feel. With more than 2/3s of the 396-hp focused on the rear wheels, all three C43s boast a very AMG-level sense of power and rear-wheel wickedness.
AMG engineers have done a superb job of tweaking this motor so you feel very little turbo lag, and while it may lack the stomach-churning torque of the fire-breathing C63 V8’s, the twin-turbocharged V6 generates plenty of get-up early and then up into the mid-range. With all 384 lb-ft of torque available at only 2,500 rpms, the car has the requisite punch: enthusiasts will not be left lacking, zipping from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds.
Each variant offers a slightly different driving experience due to its inherent make-up (four-door vs. two-door vs. convertible), but performance-wise these are all superb machines, and worthy of the AMG badge. We did drive bigger vehicles with the same motor, and in those applications, the 43 failed to provide a true AMG-level of sizzle (looking in your direction, GLE), but in the C-Class range you’ll catch your thrills.
Dynamic Select Modes
Of the various driving modes, in our opinion, Sport is best for daily driving — the adjustable suspension can get a bit brittle on Sport+. (There is an Individual mode, so if the tightest suspension bugs you but you like all the other variables tuned up in Sport+, then you can customize it there for the perfect setup.) Sport drops a gear and holds it longer over Comfort, so when you’re working through the twisties, it’s always in the right gear. And if you slow down even more, the 9G-TRONIC transmission drops another gear to always stay ready to leap into duty.
Sport+ is even more aggressive in shift points, steering response, throttle sensitivity, and suspension stiffness. And if you opt for the Performance Exhaust package (+$1,250), flaps will open to release even more glorious AMG growls into the Malibu hills. Truth is, even without Performance Exhaust, the Sport+ will sing a different note because it idles at a higher rpm.
Unsurprisingly, the best performance variance in the C-Class range marries well with the potent V6. Because this is a performance sector, not a luxury-prioritizing one, the 43 engine sees its best execution in the Coupe. Winding through Latigo Canyon in Malibu, the two-door stuck to the ground with impressive plantedness. Even considering the undulating bumps and dips, it absorbed them all and kept the car glued as it tucked into corners. You can credit the Ride Control suspension and Performance 4MATIC for this degree of grip, but also the Coupe sits .95” lower than the Sedan. Lowering the center of gravity really improves the sense of handling compared to the others.
The vast panoramic roof also comes standard in the Coupe (it’s optional on the Sedan), and when opened up all the way it almost lends an open-air character to the driving experience. It offers much of the Cabrio feel without the loss of chassis rigidity.
After riding in the Coupe, slipping into the Sedan you instantly notice a higher riding position. This sensation is especially noticeable if you ever have the luxury of driving them back-to-back: your shoulders feel higher and your eyes look out from an elevated point on the windshield. Additionally, there’s more window glass on the Sedan, so it not only feels like you’re riding higher but also improves greenhouse visibility.
The Sedan is not any more sluggish, but in the seat of your pants, it feels like it has more mass. This is actually misleading — surprisingly the Coupe weighs more (3,935-lbs vs. 3,759-lbs). But its higher driving position sacrifices a bit of the sports car feel of the Coupe in favor of a more relaxed feel. The benefit, of course, are the four doors and better headroom for rear passengers. And the sheet metal is more luxurious as well; many consider the C-Sedan the “Baby S-Class”, and it’s an accurate comparison. The Sedan feels and looks more plush; the Coupe feels and looks sportier. Take your pick.
Of course there’s a third option: the Cabriolet. In the 43 range you can also opt for an SLC43 [LINK: http://editorial.autoweb.com/2017-mercedes-benz-slc-class-review/], so if you want a more nimble and sportier roadster, that’s your option. The C43 Cabrio offers rear seating, however, and as it is based on the Coupe, it also boasts a sporty feel. Plus, with no roof you can really hear that 3.0-liter V6 rip better than any of the other variants, which is always a good thing.
About that Soft Top
The Cabriolet’s 3-layer acoustic soft-top is extremely quiet, and Mercedes’ meticulous aero-engineering supplies good wind buffeting. Conversations are a breeze (sorry) even with the canvas top down — although at a point of high velocity, the wind did flip my coffee cup and spray cappuccino all over the seatback, so it can get turbulent. And of course there’s Mercedes’ awesomely opulent Airscarf, which gently blows warm air on the back of your neck to keep you toasty even if you drop the top in chilly weather. Now that’s true luxury.
Cabin Luxuries are all very, very well appointed throughout the vehicles, and that considerate touch starts immediately upon settling into the AMG sport seats: as soon as you sit down, the seat belt extenders push out to offer you the lipstick red belts. How thoughtful. Otherwise, there’s lots to love about the interior. The steering wheel is thick (and heated), giving you something meaty to hold onto as you spiritedly guide your C43 through the hills. The 8.4-inch display is bright and crisp, and the Google Maps offer a superb view of the layout of the land. The cabin is done in black leather with bright red contrast stitching throughout, matching those seatbelts. The previously mentioned Burmeister stereo is superb.
The center stack features dedicated buttons to lock in Manual Mode (to use paddleshifters), for suspension (instant Sport mode with rest of the car in Comfort), and to make the exhaust sing — if you opt for the Performance Exhaust package, that is.
Photo Credit: © 2017 Mercedes-Benz