The moment we announced the arrival of a Mercedes-AMG C43 estate on Car Throttle’s long-term test fleet, one question persisted. What’s the point of it? Sure, it’s fast, practical and handsome, but why wouldn’t you just spend a little more to snag the V8-powered C63?
It didn’t help that’d we’d gotten a little carried away with the options list and pumped the price of ‘our’ C43 to £62,065. As many were keen to point out, that’s just a few grand away for a base C63. Granted, a C63 with the same spec would be over £70k, but it makes you think. Does the C43 hit a sweet spot in the C-Class range, or is it a needless stepping stone that’s worth ignoring in favour of the full AMG experience?
To find out, we have both here in one place. Oh, and a C63 S too, just for good measure. At a time when fast estates are being passed over in favour of big, bulky fast SUVs, its pleasing that Mercedes has three different brisk wagons just for one segment.
It makes the most sense to start with the entry point of the AMG C range. And the C43 certainly seems like it’s deserving of Affalterbach’s three-letter designation when you fire it up and hit the exhaust button, the throaty V6 note from its (fake) tailpipes coming with a decent side-helping of bass.
Once you’re warmed up and making full use of the twin-turbo unit’s 384bhp, it feels quick, too. It definitely helps that there are nine gear ratios on offer from the automatic gearbox - you find yourself revving the C43 out frequently, at which point the ‘lesser’ AMG C seems keen to prove it can be almost as theatrical as its bigger siblings. It’s one of the best-sounding V6s out there right now, this.
0-62mph arrives in 4.8 seconds, which, it’s worth pointing out, is comfortably quicker than the C55 wagon of a few years ago. Drag race it with the last-gen C63 estate, and there wouldn’t be much in it.
You won’t often find yourself yearning for extra poke in the C43, and as the roads are wet right now, the rear-drive C63 duo ahead of the ‘baby’ AMG C aren’t getting away - score one for all-wheel drive traction.
It’s when you get to a corner, however, that it becomes obvious there’s a big chunk of classic AMG drama missing. The all-wheel drive system is supposed to have a hefty bias towards the rear wheels, but it never seems to play out that way.
On the road understeer is a rare occurrence, but it’s not like there’s much happening at the back either. That’s a shame, as AWD AMGs like the bombastically fast E63 prove that you can still have a good time with driven front wheels. Factor in overly-light steering that’s short on feedback, and you have a car that tends to leave you wanting, dynamically.
That’s a problem when, from the off, the C63 seems determined to kick over its little brother’s sandcastle and give him a massive wedgie. I’m a big fan of the C43’s exhaust note, but that devilish gargle you get from the C63 on start-up is something very naughty, and truly special - you can’t help but fall head-over-heels for it.
Weirdly, the sound from the 469bhp 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 seems to become less inspiring the more you rev it out, but that doesn’t matter, as the mid-range surge more than makes up for what’s lacking in the noise department. The C43 may be quick, but the C63 is fast. Really fast. The 0.6sec drop in the 0-62mph (4.2sec down from 4.8) just doesn’t tell the whole story.
Traction is, predictably, a bit of an issue in this rear-wheel drive machine, the stability control icon flickering wildly each time I apply anything over about one-third throttle. Even with the electronic aids in their looser settings, however, it’s not a terrifying car to drive in the wet. Take some care with your initial throttle application, progressively feed in the power, and you’ll soon be shot up the road with a kind of vigour the C43 can’t hope to match.
The 63 continues to assert its dominance when you show it a wiggly bit of road. Here, the turn-in is keener, the body roll much less pronounced, and the rear axle much more mobile. The steering’s heftier, and although it’s not feedback central, there is more life to it.
To make matters worse for the C43, the roads are drying, so its traction trump card doesn’t have quite the value it did when the day started. The standard C63 even rides better at lower speeds, but we can blame the silly 19s we specced on the V6 car for that - right now, we’re rolling on 18-wheels with big, squashy tyre sidewalls. As I pull up for a car swap, it’s clear the C43 has been given a bloody nose.
Next up is the C63 S, specced here as the Ying to the subtly-trimmed C63’s Yang. We’re back up to 19-inch wheels again, finished in matte black and spectacularly failing to hide the (optional and very expensive) giant carbon ceramic rotors and their gold calipers. Plus, the Selenite grey metallic paint pops a lot more than you’d expect IRL, particularly when paired with the AMG Night Pack this one has.
It all acts as a statement of intent. At the sharpest end of the AMG C-Class spectrum, the daddy here builds on the C63’s oh-so-impressive package with an increase in output to 503bhp, fancy dynamic engine mounts that automatically stiffen or slacken when necessary, and additional driving modes. The electronic rear differential is no longer reserved for the S, though - since the car was facelifted, the ‘boggo’ C63 has its mechanical LSD replaced to match the setup on the S.
Confusingly, there are ‘Basic’, ‘Advanced’, ‘Pro’ and ‘Master’ driver settings which work with the more familiar Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Race options, but we won’t be fiddling around with those today. It’s now dry, however, so we will be going into Race. It’s not something you can do on the C63, so it’d be rude not to, right?
It turns out to be a good call - in Race, the C63 S has even more bite. The delivery of the V8 takes on a new sense of ferocity, and the dampers - already noticeably firmer than the C43’s in any mode - stiffen up further.
The electronic stuff still seems to be very keen to kill power to rear wheels, so it’s time to roll out this car’s party trickery. Inspired by a similar setup in the AMG GT R, a long press of the ESP button brings up a virtual dial on the steering-wheel-mounted drive mode selector. This lets you decide just how ‘off’ you want the ESP to be, with settings from one to nine, nine being the, erm, offest.
Combine that with Race mode, and the C63 S seems to entirely forget it’s a big, practical estate car. It takes on an almost vicious pointiness that requires maximum attention from you as a driver. It does still, however, leave an electronic safety net to stop things getting too out of hand. The big ‘off’ script that comes up when you twist it around to nine isn’t quite true to its word, it seems.
Even with that in mind, though, the C63 S is a hilarious, engaging, thrilling thing to drive quickly. Which leaves me worried about the poor C43 as I jump in for one final drive.
Sure enough, its twin-turbo suddenly seems a little flat in the mid-range. In the corners, its much more pronounced roll means it feels a lot heavier than the other two, even though it isn’t. The auto gearbox - although still something that leaves you pining for a DCT in the V8 cars - is more sluggish too, with a noticeable pause between the paddle being pulled and the gear actually being engaged.
But it’s not like the C43 is boring. Far from it - the C43 merely offers a slightly watered-down but still potent version of the AMG cocktail. A similar kind of fun, but with less of a hangover.
Anyone after a practical car that’s fast in all conditions while not being quite so fussed about country lane hoonage will be well served here, and save over £16,000 on the base price compared to a C63. The gap narrows a bit as it’s not quite as expensive to option the must-have Premium Plus pack on the £65,479 C63, and you get the AMG Performance exhaust as standard (it’s a £1000 option on the C43), but still, this is definitely a case of you get what you pay for. The AMG C hierarchy fits together very nicely.
For those who are interested in dynamic hijinx, though, the temptation to stretch to the C63, and perhaps stretch again to the £74,458 C63 S - which comes with even more stuff as standard - is going to be strong. Particularly given that the surprisingly thirsty V6 isn’t much more economical.
As for me? The C43 may have worked its way under my skin in the last few months, but even so, my answer is simple: go V8 or go home. After all, they won’t make them like this for much longer.