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CAPE TOWN – Is the Mercedes-AMG C43 a mere marketing ploy designed to boost C-Class sales volumes? Or is it a well-considered addition to the Affalterbach-based performance division's ever-expanding product line-up?

Exterior design

In terms of its aesthetic execution, the V6-engined AMG’s styling stops short of being shouty (or prone to drawing unwanted attention), yet it appeals in ways that lesser C-Classes can’t. Protruding from the pseudo-diffuser below the rear bumper, the quartet of black AMG tailpipes offer an appropriate level of loudness (especially during a cold start-up and immediately after you activate the exhaust button on the centre console).

Meanwhile, the front bumper design and AMG five-spoke alloys (modest 18-inch units, in this case) confirm this is a C43. The pair of front air dams, with two horizontal slats apiece, channel air which exits through the vertical side outlets ahead of the front wheels. In addition, tinted rear and rear-side windows add to the understated drama of the car.

Even as cars grow ever larger in some market segments, the C-Class serves as a reminder of how taut a beefed-up compact sedan can look. There is, admittedly, little space for rear passengers, but I feel comfortably ensconced in the driver’s seat.

The cabin

The car’s wide transmission tunnel, narrow footwells and compact exterior dimensions (emphasised by those short overhangs) facilitate the impression of sportiness; the cabin feels snug and involving. These features are especially noticeable if you’ve recently piloted E- and S-Class sedans and their SUV brethren.

Other highlights inside include a thick-rimmed steering wheel and purposeful rubber-studded metal pedals. The red band at the top of the steering wheel is smartly complemented by colour-matched seatbelts and stitching on the leather seats. This red theme is also visible when you open the bonnet, as the engine is adorned with a red, V-shaped AMG cover. Unlike larger-capacity AMG models, however, there is no plaque that bears the engine builder’s name and signature – probably because these V6 engines are not unique to the AMG range. 



Behind the wheel

The C43 flows through traffic fairly anonymously, as if it’s just another C-Class – a perennial favourite in South Africa’s sedan market.

As I’m still taking things easy, I enjoy the comfort of the interior (including the seats, although the standard-fit items are not quite as supportive as the optional AMG Performance versions). Technologically, the C43 doesn’t offer all the latest interior updates (as found on the A-Class), but the floating infotainment screen is suitably modern and offers most of the functions you should require.

The winding tarmac of Chapman’s Peak presents the perfect proving ground for the C43. With generous outputs of 287 kW and 520 N.m of torque, the new model asks the question: Is the flagship C63 sedan not overkill?

Also, it's worth noting the C43’s peak power is just 27 kW more than that of the C55 AMG, a 5,4-litre V8-engined model from the (pre-turbo era) early-2000s. Those who have experienced the latter can confirm it was quite a hot rod!

Bursts of torque propel the C43 with conviction. Up- and downshifts through the nine-speed transmission are accompanied by brusque exhaust blips that encourage the driver to use all the ratios on offer. The high number of ratios prove beneficial to the C43 in another way: at an indicated 120 km/h, the 3,0-litre engine revs at a very relaxed 1 700 r/min.

Being 4Matic, there are no hints of sudden rear-end breakaways, which will allay the fears of those who may have been startled by the (let us just call it…) "tail-happiness" that powerful AMGs have tended to exhibit over the last decade or so. Grip levels are surprisingly high and if you’re unsure of when to apply the throttle through a corner, the answer is almost always “as early as possible.” It’s best to simply ride that wave of torque.

Although the V6 is happy to rev to its redline, the limiter cuts in shortly after 6 000 r/min, which means it doesn’t have the same peaky characteristic as the higher-revving AMG V8 engines.

The C43’s front axle is admirably sharp, while the sedan’s ride quality is absorbent – it’s only caught out by small, sudden road imperfections. The nimbleness of the C43 is a thing of joy in the twisties; most other AMGs don’t feel quite this agile – apart perhaps from the A-Class. I can’t remember when last I drove an AMG shod with moderately sized wheels, but the 18s add to the comfortable ride quality and suit the car perfectly.

Summary

You could argue the car could have been made lighter by foregoing the all-wheel-drive system, because the C43 doesn’t offer the lofty performance figures of its V8 siblings. Even so, it’s a model that offers a wider range of drivers a generous spectrum of on-road abilities. With the ever-increasing performance of flagship sportscars, for some buyers the C43 will be just what the doctor ordered.

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