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AMG C43 Coupe: Mercedes’ riff on the classic American concept

November 10, 2017 GMT

The Mercedes AMG C43 Coupe is a sexy compact luxury European performance car that offers a judicious blend of power and handling that’s rewarding without going over the top in terms of brute horsepower.

But don’t let the contemporary flowing lines or the baroque styling bits Mercedes-Benz has adopted for much of its current lineup fool you - under the AMG C43 Coupe’s sharply creased sheet metal beats the soul of a classic American concept: the muscle car.

Despite the gulf of half a century and cultures, the recipe hasn’t changed all that much. There’s the long hood. The lowered, aggressive stance. The C43 rides on a wheelbase of 111.8 inches and stretches 184.9 inches nose-to-tail, right smack in the sweet spot of the American muscle cars from the Sixties and early Seventies. And although the C-Class coupe may not have scoops, a cartoonish horn or racing stripes, the C43 does come with spoilers, aggressive wheels, tires and an exhaust system that announces the two-door’s 362-horsepower attitude.

AMG, Mercedes-Benz’s performance division, was started by engineers Hans-Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher in 1967 as a private venture to build racing engines for Mercedes-Benz. Today the AMG is a powerful brand in its own right, respected as the driving force behind the engines that have won four consecutive Formula One constructor titles for Mercedes-Benz.

The engines that beat under the hood of AMG’s street machines don’t run too badly either. Car and Driver magazine’s editors reported a zero-to-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds and a quarter-mile of 12.8 seconds at 109 mph in their tester. Too bad an electronic governor limits the U.S. C43 Coupe to 130 mph, 10 mph shy of the European versions.

Just as automakers have scrambled to build a utility vehicle to fit every budget, need and taste, AMG is doing its part to spice up Mercedes-Benz’s lineup and the C Class is a prime example. Occupying the slot between the standard C 300 Coupe (241 horsepower; $43,200) and the hairy V8-powered AMG C63 S Coupe (503 horses; $75,500), the AMG C43 telegraphs its role, riding 0.6 inches lower than the sedan. Starting at $55,900, the C43′s twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 is paired with a new quick-shifting nine-speed automatic and an AMG version of 4Matic all-wheel-drive.

The C-Class Coupes use aluminum for the front fenders, doors, hood and trunk lid to keep the curb weight at a sliver under 4,000 pounds. The standard AMG ride control sport suspension offers four modes: eco, comfort, sport and sport-plus. The standard cast alloy wheels and all-season run-flat tires come in staggered sizes: 225/45R18s on 7.5-inch wide wheels up front and 245/40R18s on 8.5-inch wheels bringing up the rear.

Nothing quickens the pulse of a performance enthusiast than a throaty exhaust system. The loaner we spent a week evaluating had the AMG performance exhaust system, a $1,250 option that lets the driver control whether the tailpipes bark when fired up or emit a more neighbor- or dog-friendly note.

Adding a sinister touch to that mean exhaust music was Mercedes-AMG’s night package. The $700 option results in the C43′s front wing, rear diffuser insert and tailpipes being gloss black. The effect was complemented by a classic Mercedes paint, “Iridium silver,” which runs $720.

While the C43 buyer can expect a respectable lineup of standard features, including radar-based collision avoidance system, LED daytime running lamps, headlamps and taillamps, crosswind and blind-spot assist, panoramic sunroof, Burmester surround sound, steering wheel-mounted shift paddles dual-zone climate control, genuine leather upholstery is a $1,620 extra; standard seat covering is man-made leather.

As is par for the course with German luxury performance autos, options can push the Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe’s price north quickly.

The multimedia package ($2,200) includes navigation and voice control, 8.4-inch high-resolution screen (the standard screen is a 7-incher), five years SiriusXM traffic and weather, and features a mouse-like controller on the center console. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not yet native to Mercedes-Benz’s infotainment systems but the technology is starting to be phased in as an option that’s only available with the C43′s standard head unit, not the fancier system with navigation. That shortcoming should be addressed in the next year or so.

The driver assist package is a bland name for some of the Mercedes-AMG C43′s cutting-edge technology that many will gladly pay an additional $1,700 to have. This package includes adaptive cruise control that will tailor the C43 Coupe’s speed to match the vehicle directly ahead - at speeds from zero to 124 mph. Sensors and cameras also help keep the car inside its lane, following the vehicle ahead at up to 81 mph even if there are no lane markers (or they’re badly faded).

Similarly, the package’s automated braking system can detect traffic and pre-energize the brakes to help bring the car to a safe or safer stop. Mercedes said its Pre Safe braking system can detect pedestrians and brake automatically, preventing injuries under 31 mph or lessening the severity of collisions at speeds up to 45 mph.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studied crash avoidance technology and concluded that forward collision warning plus auto braking would prevent roughly half of all front-to-rear crashes and 56 percent of front-to-rear crashes with injuries.

If the $66,675 MSRP of a loaded Mercedes AMG C43 Coupe seems daunting, there’s an intriguing alternative Mercedes-Benz’s own stable: the CLA45. Look more closely at the performance vs. dollar equation, and you may put the entry-level AMG on your short list.

With a starting price of $50,400, the CLA45 is the most affordable AMG model offered and $5,500 less than the C43. But the four-door “coupe” manages to best the two-door on several counts. The CLA45 has more horsepower (375), scoots a half a second quicker to 60 mph from rest (4.1 seconds) and, based on EPA ratings, squeezes three miles more out of a gallon on gas in either city or highway driving. (The CLA45′s 2.0-liter inline four is turbocharged.)

The CLA45′s two extra doors and capacity for five occupants vs. four for the C43 Coupe also comes with more trunk volume: 13.1 cu. ft. versus the C43′s 10.5. The CLA45 has a 106.3-inch wheelbase and at 183.8 inches, is 1.1 inches shorter than the AMG C43.

But if a two-door is what you must have, have no fear: the Mercedes-Benz AMG C43 Coupe is a solid handler and fun to drive - or be driven in.