Comparative Review: 2023 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Although it took me a while to realise this, the old adage is certainly true when you spend some time with the latest high-performance C-Class from AMG…

Before we even get started, I need to take yet another swing at Mercedes and their badge engineering. As the owner of an original C43 AMG, their insistence on abusing legendary nomenclatures not only makes Google searches pertaining to those old vehicles mighty frustrating but also confuses the living daylights out of the buying public.

If this is a 43, where does the A45 fit in? Wasn’t the previous 43 a 3-litre which slotted in below a 4-litre 63? Although the previous 63 was a 6.2-litre, if we gloss over the 5.5 version which never appeared in the C-Class. Are you still with me? Because now, this new 43 and the upcoming 63 are both 2-litres with different length wicks.

I’ve been assured that all of this madness has a bit of method – using down-sizing and hybrid turbo-ing to develop distinctive classes (or a well-defined range) of performance vehicles for every niche and budget. And where previous iterations of the AMG C-Class used different engines to achieve this, the new W206 chassis relies on just this one motor.

And what a motor it is. Internally known as the M139, this 1991cc in-line 4-cylinder turbo-petrol uses F1-derived technology (like an electrically-assisted turbocharger) to produce a staggering 300kW at 6,750rpm. If we include its 10kW over-boost function, the hp/L ratio of 208 makes this thee most powerful 4-cylinder engine in the world.

Well. That is, until the new C63 arrives.

That M139L version (L for longitudinally mounted) will pump out a ridiculous 350kW, with torque only rising a bit from this vehicle’s 500Nm to about 545Nm. Ag sies tog, I hope that’s enough! Sarcasm aside, this new C43 also paves the way for its 63 sibling with a rapid 9-speed auto-box and highly intelligent “4Matic” all-wheel drive system.

Where the previous C63 still had a hilariously scary rear-wheel drive setup, the new one will share this car’s four claw setup with mild rear-steer assist. Quite obviously, it should also inherit the 43’s multiple drive-train response settings with Race Start and maximum neighbourhood annoyance mode for the performance exhaust system.

With a sincere promise that I’m not trying to be lazy, I would encourage any interested reader to visit their nearest Mercedes-AMG dealer to find out more about the other wondrous witchcraft in these vehicles, because I’d much rather like to focus on the driving aspect and heritage of the new C43.

As you can probably tell from the accompanying video, I used my own W202 C43 AMG to arrange a full line-up of all three generations; which happily were all silver sedans. The middle child, a W205 C43 AMG sedan just happened to be for sale at my previous employer and old friends at Rola Motors in Somerset West:

And so, it gives me great pleasure to briefly run you through all three generations of the C43.


The first C43 AMG was only built for two years, from 1998 to 2000, this being a late March ‘98 car. Although it was the first-ever V8 in the W202 chassis, it wasn’t the original AMG C-Class. That honour goes to the C36, which used an AMG-tuned M104 straight six engine to produce 206kW. It was also used in the G-Class and two generations of the E-Class.

The C43 is not only the rarer of the two (about 4000 units vs. the 36’s 5200) but also has the distinction of a single-chassis engine application. This Mercedes-derived 4266cc M113 V8 engine received a mild tweak (camshafts, ECU & exhaust) to bump power from 205 to 225kW; and it only ever appeared in the 202 C-Class as a sedan or estate.

Its maximum torque figure also took a mini-jump from 400 to 410Nm, and although this doesn’t sound like much – especially by today’s standards – it certainly feels lively when you squeeze all of this into a 1600kg C-Class. The only (locally available) vehicle that feels anything close to this would be a CLK430.

However, AMG also tweaked the trusty 5-speed Mercedes automatic “slushbox” to, umm, remove some of that slushiness. It’s certainly one of the more eager old MB auto-boxes I’ve commanded. Ditto for the brakes, which came off a bigger sibling, and the rather firm “Sport” suspension with AMG tweaks and (for their time) large 17-inch staggered AMG alloys.

With rear-wheel drive, a slightly stodgy handling setup, draconian traction control and the typical 90’s Mercedes wooden steering feel, this 25-year old AMG feels a bit lumpy when measured against the newer C43’s. 0-100km/h is still a respectable 6.5 seconds while the top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h.

That’s fairly normal these days but back then it must’ve been sensational. And, unlike its sporty but delicate rivals, the original C43 AMG turned out to be almost bulletproof in return for its crude ride and Autobahn cruiser credentials. Like any old-school AMG, it can also destroy tyres in a frighteningly short amount of time.

As the only vehicle in this trio which delivers the cubic capacity promised by its boot-lid badge, the C43 and its long-lived M113 power-plant paved the way for future AMG’s, as this motor quickly morphed into the 55 (which is a popular upgrade for these vehicles) and 55 Kompressor, that eventually handed the baton to the legendary ’63 V8.

To start summing up the W202, it was a bizarre marriage between your granny’s Benz and a luke-warm 430 engine. The standard specifications were quite decent back then (this example benefitted from an unusually generous first Scottish owner) because the price was eye-watering. Its ride is a bit choppy and the average fuel consumption is… nope.


The eagle-eyed readers among you may have noticed that we’ve skipped a few generations because the sequential chassis numbers W203 and W204 didn’t feature a C43 model. The early 2000’s 203-series started with a C32 V6 (in my opinion, a better candidate for number nicking), followed by the bigger M113 V8 C55.

204 shapes only had the legendary M156 high-revving V8 in 63 guise, while its namesake in the W205 was a then-new 4L twin-turbo V8. This is where and when – with apologies for the lengthy lesson – a smaller 3L twin-turbo V6 debuted as the next C43 AMG. Also based on an existing Mercedes engine, it made between 270 and 287kW.

In a twist of irony, or to throw fire onto their reckless ride recipe, Mercedes/AMG shipped this vehicle with 4Matic all-wheel drive but gave the monstrous C63 rear-wheel drive only. Our reviews of these vehicles (in coupe and cabriolet shape) noted this as a C43 selling point, although the other way around would surely have been preferable?

Never mind, the poor W205 had most of the odds stacked against it. Firstly, the 205-chassis was widely criticized as being too generic, and many markets quickly realized that the C43 was just a C450 with a few go-faster bits. On top of that, it wasn’t built at AMG but rolled off the regular Mercedes conveyor belts.

I’m not done yet. Some testers (including us) simply couldn’t achieve the performance figures claimed by AMG, although others matched or bettered them. Its maker claimed a 0-100km/h sprint time of 4.7 seconds but our grey convertible press car labored its way to a best time of almost six seconds. Oh dear.

Top speed was the obligatory limited 250km/h while average fuel consumption was around 9.1L/100km. The 7-speed auto-box was later upgraded to a 9-speed, yet some testers disliked its occasionally hard shifts. And finally, as tends to be the fate of lower-tier V6 performance vehicles, most people ridiculed the trumpeting exhaust and engine sound.

Not me, though. Especially when combined with the different drive modes and active exhaust setup, the C43 (and very rare E43 AMG) gave me the same aural delights as their Jaguar and Nissan/Infiniti counterparts. The little AMG V6’s howling trumpet concertos are just as hated as those of its British or Japanese rivals.

As for driving impressions, specs or creature comforts in its rounded cabin, I encourage you to read our previous C43 AMG reviews. At the moment, a huge benefit of these cars is that they represent excellent value due to their modern technology and performance, but at a pre-owned price with a smidgen of warranty left.

In summary, the poor W205 C43 was improperly named, dealt a bad hand and forever lived in the shadow of its “proper AMG” C63 sibling. But now, a few years later, my love for the V6 C43 was quickly reignited during our short photo-shoot because it offers all AMG trinkets with decent performance and the sure-footedness of 4Matic.

W206 (current one)

I’ll stick my hand up immediately by proclaiming that I don’t see the quantum leap in quality or novelty with this current W206 C-Class. Sure, the design is tighter and the cabin uncluttered thanks to the vertical television but I’m not a huge fan of replacing dozens of systems with just one, just for the sake of neatness.

As the owner of a naturally-aspirated V8 AMG you could also summise that I dislike modern engines or gizmos, but you’d be wrong. I’m absolutely amazed by the amount of power that gushes out of new-age motors, the ridiculous but entertaining number of gears, plus all those automated or integrated drive systems.

Yes, some of them can be annoying, but luckily Mercedes and AMG let you switch off start/stop, deactivate lane assist, turn to normal headlights, or provide a manual override for most driving nannies. The new steering wheel also requires a degree of learning, especially because this one comes with touch-sensitive areas and two multi-mode rotary dials.

Other critiques I noted from old-school Mercedes or AMG owners included the position of the gear lever, response of the drive train and the novel four-cylinder noises. You get fairly subdued 4-banger noises with everyday driving, but press or swipe all the right buttons and it morphs into a Golf R driver’s wet dream.

Pops, bangs, crackles and fizzles for everyone within earshot.

Performance from this 300kW beast is absolutely amazing, plus there are enough ratios in the transmission to always find a mid- to high-range acceleration salvo; plus plenty of grip from the 4Matic system. Our best 0-100km/h time proved this at just 4.51 seconds (Mercedes-AMG claims 4.5) on an absolutely soaking wet road.

It’s in the sportier drive settings where we noticed an even more nervous steering response (the default mode is already quite sharp), increased harshness to the rather firm ride, sometimes catastrophic fuel consumption and a drive train response which borders on rude. Does that all sound a bit familiar?

“Too hectic!” was the chief complaint about this highly-responsive 2-litre 4-cylinder “electric turbo” petrol engine and an admittedly jerky 9-speed auto-box, which lead me to the realization that everything in this car is new or improved… but its character is pretty similar to those of its two ancestors.

All three generations of the C43 got criticised for not being the real deal, costing too much or having a harsh ride. Oh, and a wee bit of a drinking problem. But they all provided a naughty soundtrack, rather entertaining performance and a superb mixture of safety, luxury and convenience features.

The new Mercedes-AMG C43 sedan starts at ZAR 1,673,641

The 2018 Mercedes-AMG C43 sedan was for sale on

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