You’d be forgiven for forgetting all about or having never even heard of AMG Sport. Mercedes introduced the sub-brand in 2016, only to kill it off almost immediately. And yet, it made a great deal of sense.
Best thought of as the answer to BMW’s M Performance range or perhaps Audi’s S-badged cars, the wares of the short-lived brand were intended to channel the fury of the full-blown AMG stuff at a lower cost and with more modest cylinder counts. The cars would be built on the regular production lines rather than by hand at Affalterbach, but with various enhancements from AMG.
By the time one of the endeavour’s first products - the C450 - made it to the UK, AMG Sport was dead, and the car had been renamed as the C43. Yep, badged in the same way as the ‘full fat’ AMG stuff, just with a smaller number. ’43 and eventually ’53 and ’35 versions of much of the Mercedes range followed. But can you consider them ‘proper’ AMGs?
It depends on the model. The A35 makes the cut, for instance, but only just. But the CLS 53, while a lovely cruiser, just isn’t daft enough to do those three letters on the boot - AMG - the justice they deserve. So how about the ‘43s? That’s what I’ve been hoping to find out via our C43 long-term test car, which will be making its way back to Mercedes imminently.
After nine months of living with it and pitching it against rivals - from Mercedes itself and elsewhere - I’ve come to a conclusion. As with the A35 it’s a close-run thing, but in the case of the C43, going against what I said earlier in the loan, it just falls short of the mark.
It has plenty going for it, of course. The 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 gives you more power than you realistically need on the road, and it makes a great noise - a far fruitier din than the muted and wheezing B58 inline-six used in the BMW M340i. It sounds much more interesting than the refined but dull inline-six used in Merc’s AMG ‘53s, too.
But it’s not a car that eggs you on to go faster. Towards the end of our stint in the car, I’ve found myself switching to Sport or Sport+ mode on fewer and fewer occasions, preferring mostly to cruise around rather than kick its head in. I just don’t think it’d be the same case with a C63 or C63 S.
Speaking of which, one of our early tests with the C43 was with those very cars, which revealed a sizable gap between the six-cylinder wagon and the ‘real deal’. The ‘63s roll less, have more life in the steering and will change gears much more aggressively. The C43 could channel some of this focus without compromising comfort too badly, but it chooses another path.
Understandable, since it’s clear Mercedes isn’t after proper ‘car people’ with the AMG. Customers in the target market, I suspect, don’t care that much about the car’s performance credentials, rather favouring a car that enables them to vaguely refer to their car as ‘my AMG’.
For us petrolheads, it’ll be difficult not to get all tetchy about the C43 contributing to the watering down of the illustrious AMG badge. But if you ignore this ‘issue’ and judge the car on its merits, it fares very well indeed.
Of all the middleweight performance estates - the Audi S4 TDI Avant, the BMW M340i Touring and the Volvo V60 T8 - it’s the one I’d go for. I’d just have to look into getting it debadged…