The AMG-lite C-class is a sweetheart sedan.
The 2019 Mercedes-AMG C43 sedan splits the difference between the more mundane Benz-badged C300 and the fire breathing C63 models. This applies to the car’s design, performance, and overall character, which attempts to straddle the line between luxury and sport. In most cases it works; however, in some it doesn’t.
Despite a few flaws, the C43 pulls off this dual personality in a way that makes it an enjoyable and fun-to-drive sedan. If you prefer your Mercedes with a bit of added flair but don’t want to step up to the fully-leaded V8-powered model, then the C43 is exactly what the doctor ordered.
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This is a segment that shows restraint with design; look no further than the competing 3 Series or Audi A4. That said, the C-Class still looks just as good as any of its classmates, even as it nears the end of its life.
The C43’s design is conservative, and it features simple lines and minimal flare. The exceptions to this rule are the quad circular exhaust tips, AMG badges, and this tester’s optional Exterior Carbon Fiber package and 19-inch 10-spoke wheels. The Brilliant Blue metallic paint job adds some extra spice to the recipe, too. But even with those flashier cues, the C43’s design remains subtle.
The C-Class’s cabin, however, is top-tier in the segment; even with newer cars to compete against like the BMW 3 Series. This example’s ash wood trim looks lovely, while the standard metal air-conditioning vents and brushed-aluminum door inserts make things feel very upscale. Even with all those standard luxuries, the C43’s somewhat drab overall design, both inside and out, earns the car a 6 in this category.
Spending time in the C43 is a wonderful experience, with two major caveats. For one, the $2,500 AMG performance seats are needlessly stiff, even for a performance-oriented luxury sedan, hugging passengers of all shapes and sizes with far-too aggressive side bolsters and almost no back support. These track-worthy bucket seats are just too intense for casual driving. They look nice, but you’ll want to skip them in the configurator.
Additionally, the C43’s ride quality favors the AMG in its name, forgoing the comfort you might expect from a car wearing a Mercedes badge. Even in its most comfortable suspension setting, the car’s ride quality remains surprisingly unforgiving. Similar to the bucket seats, the C43’s harsh ride nags at you over time, becoming more noticeable the longer you’re in the car.
In terms of interior space, the C43 is competitive with its closest rivals. Headroom is adequate for all passengers (37.1 inches both front and rear), however, legroom is at more of a premium. Those in the rear seat especially will survive short trips around town, but a backseat for road tripping this is not. With 35.2 inches of rear legroom, the C-Class matches the BMW 3 Series, though the Bimmer offers a better seating position, making it seem slightly roomier and more tolerable over long driving stints.
Though it lacks the brute force of the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 of its pricier C63 sibling, the C43 is still an impressive performer, while also carrying a 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. A turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 puts out 385 horsepower and a hearty 384 pound-feet of torque, enough to propel the car to 60 miles per hour in a manufacturer-claimed 4.6 seconds – though it feels faster from the driver’s seat.
With its abundant low-end torque and studious nine-speed automatic transmission, the C43 is a wonderful companion for driving along traffic-filled freeways. Passing power is instantly available, with the gearbox finding the right gear in almost every occasion, including in stop-and-go driving. Press the button for Manual mode on the center console and you change gears yourself via the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. In this setting, the nine-speed is impressively sharp in its upshifts, especially at higher engine speeds, where a range of fun range of exhaust noises accompany each change.
With power going to all four wheels and a standard set of sticky summer rubber, the C43 is eager to hustle through backroads. Further aiding driver confidence through corners is the car’s quick-ratio steering rack. After a brief familiarization period with the steering quickness, the steering becomes the driver’s ally. With its quick steering, the C43 turns in with fantastic agility, feeling nimble and lively around corners.
Despite its harsh ride quality in everyday driving conditions, the C43 is a true delight in spirited driving scenarios. Though the C63’s extra grunt is missed here, the C43 offers enough driving enjoyment to warrant asking whether or not the jump to the 63 is worth it.
Despite the current C-Class being in the final phase of its lifecycle, the technology on offer is still class-competitive. This starts with a 10.2-inch center screen that’s supplemented by an optional $750 digital instrument cluster. Unfortunately, the C-Class hasn't received the wonderful MBUX infotainment system yet. Instead, the car makes do with the older COMAND system and its combination of a console-mounted control wheel and touchpad. Though the system is still good by industry standards, you miss out on some of the latest tech features such as augmented reality navigation and the (oversensitive) “Hey Mercedes” voice recognition software.
That said, other lovable Mercedes tech is included in the C43, like the brand’s 64-way interior ambient lighting and an excellent Burmester sound system ($850). The optional $990 head-up display looks sharp, however, I couldn’t get the position correct on the windshield. Chalk it up to the display’s limited adjustability, and issue that’s sure to annoy drivers that are slightly below average height. Finally, the $900 Exterior Lighting package deserves a round of applause. These are handily some of the best headlights we’ve ever experienced in a car.
Mercedes offers a fairly comprehensive safety suite, however, it comes at a cost. While blind-spot monitoring and pre-braking assist (which applies extra brake pressure to avoid collisions) come standard in the C43, the smart move is to opt for the $1,800 Driver Assistance package. With it comes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, active evasive steering assist, automatic emergency braking, and front and rear cross-traffic alert. With its impressive optional adaptive headlights and optional safety kit, the C43 earns a Top Safety Pick + designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The all-wheel-drive 2019 Mercedes-AMG C43 achieves 19 miles per gallon city, 27 mpg highway, and 22 mpg combined on premium fuel, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A comparable Audi S4 does just slightly better with ratings of 21 city, 30 highway, and 24 combined.
As in other Mercedes products, the C43's price climbs quickly when adding options. The car has a base price of $55,250, though this test car shoots far beyond that mark with an as-tested price of $72,065. That’s $16,815 worth of goodies – a sizable figure for a compact sedan. Even so, this car includes a few worthwhile add-ons, like the $720 Brilliant Blue paint, the $850 Burmester sound system, the $900 Exterior Lighting package, and the $1,800 Driver Assistance package.
At $56,000, the BMW M340i xDrive is the closest competitor to the C43. Similarly, the BMW makes 382 ponies – down just three from the Mercedes – and uses an all-wheel drive setup. Audi’s S4 is slightly down on power at 349 horses but is also the least expensive of the three at $50,200.