2023 Mercedes-AMG C 43 First Drive: Something Borrowed, Something New

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class may be the middle-child of the German automaker's sedan lineup, but living in the S-Class's full-sized shadow hasn't diminished its presence in the mid-sized sedan market. Even as SUVs have dominated sales across the automotive spectrum, the C-Class is kicking off its fifth generation, and with that comes a new AMG model to push its performance chops to the max. The 2023 AMG C 43 does this by borrowing some canny F1-developed engineering to squeeze the most out of its relatively small engine. This and a handful of refinements make this latest AMG a sleek luxury backroad slicer that's eager to please.

The AMG C 43 is a mid-sized sedan powered by a hand-built 2.0-liter inline-4 cylinder engine with a unique turbocharger and a belt-driven starter generator, giving it mild hybrid characteristics. There are a few things to unpack here, starting with the fact that this engine falls under AMG's "one man, one engine" philosophy of operation: it's hand assembled by one person. This may not matter to most, but it's important for some, as repeat AMG buyers may want to stick with an engine-maker the same way folks stick with any other trusted craftsman.

Instant Pot

This 2.0-liter engine is the same one found in other AMGs like the GLA 45, but with a few interesting upgrades. The most significant of which is the new electronic exhaust-gas turbocharger, a piece of tech derived from the same used in Mercedes' Formula 1 race cars. More about adding responsiveness than power, this unique system directly drives the shaft of the turbocharger and accelerates the compressor wheel before the flow of exhaust gas takes over. Essentially, it substantially reduces lag and maintains boost pressure continuously in areas where it would drop.

A 48-volt motor further supports the engine by powering things in-between engine start/stop transitions and even adding 13 horsepower's-worth of extra grunt for a temporary boost if it's needed. All told, the engine whips up 402 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent through Mercedes' 9-speed automatic transmission and distributed to all four wheels with a fixed divide; 31% is sent to the front axle while a nice 69% powers the rear.

Along with AMG's sport suspension with three-stage adaptive dampers, handling is improved with the use of rear axle steering. Depending on the situation, the rear wheels can steer between 0.7 to 2.5 degrees for either more agility at low speeds or increased stability when speeds are high.


AMG's upgrades to the C-Class's revamped looks include an AMG-specific front apron and radiator grille to give it a more sporty and aggressive style. This is complimented by an optional night package that trades in the usual chrome accents for smoked-out touches. The lower "jackwing" of the fascia also has functional vents that open to help to distribute cool air at speed. This is mirrored around the back end with a fixed spoiler lip, twin tailpipe and diffuser. It all rides on 19- to-20-inch wheels that have been aerodynamically optimized while retaining an AMG-appropriate aesthetic. Along with the AMG badging, "turbo electrified" is stamped on the side, proudly announcing the inclusion of the C 43's unique engine component. 

Inside, the AMG C 43 can be fitted with an upgraded set of the optional performance seats. These retain the sporty elements of the previous version but tweaked to be lighter and slimmer. Throughout the cabin, red accents such as the stitching and seatbelts will be constant reminders of the car's AMG-ness.

Within the AMG C 43 is a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster around a meaty steering wheel, itself a lift from the EQS, but with added AMG function knobs. Beside this is an 11.9-inch tablet-like touchscreen dominating the center of the cockpit. Featuring the latest MBUX operating system, it's chock full of the strikingly colorful gizmos that Mercedes is known to provide. As such, it's a highly customizable system that might actually need an afternoon's worth of attention so that each setting can be scrutinized; as both screens function mostly independent of each other, prepare to do this twice. Thankfully, different profiles can be set for multiple drivers, and the advanced voice control which responds to "Hey Mercedes" can usually sort out most things on the fly. Voice commands work with a very natural cadence, so operators can just give their full command without having to pause after the prompt.

Bells and Whistles

The touchscreen operates with the familiar taps, swipes and pinches we are accustomed to performing, though there is a collection of physical inputs for many of the functions. With the AMG specifically, there is a dedicated console button hotkeyed to the AMG performance screen. This page displays the selectable drive mode characteristics and as well as an animated graphic of the C 43's real-time functions. Is it useful? Not at all, but it adds the same level of atmospheric character as the old WinAmp visualizers did.

Augmented video is a notable feature supporting the navigation that proves its worth when driving through unfamiliar parts of the globe. When navigational guidance is engaged, directional graphics are overlaid on a video projection of the area ahead, handily telling you where to turn and not to turn, making sure you never exit a roundabout too early or turn down the wrong intersection. It's surprisingly accurate as well, though it displays exclusively on the infotainment screen, far out of the driver's eye line, making quick glances tricky.

Beyond the infotainment, there's a host of underlying performance tech as well as safety features putting its multiple sensors and cameras to work for both low and high speed incident avoidance. Active parking assist and dynamic cruise control functions further make daily living with the AMG C43 that much easier.


The AMG C 43's driving experience is a unique one, if anything. The C 43's curiously crafted powertrain surprises and delights, but the behavior of its turbocharged centerpiece takes some getting used to, mainly because it's freakishly quick. Tap the throttle and the percolating 4-pot burbles excitedly while the electrified turbocharger spools into action instantaneously. With every pedal modulation, the motor starts or halts aggressively, and each action is followed by a palpable shunt that could be mistaken for gear changes if the current gear wasn't emblazoned on the HUD in front of your face. It's an odd characteristic to get used to, but the magic happening under the hood is real.

Apart from the bless-them-for-trying artificially-augmented engine note that sounds like a bee at the end of a megaphone, you'd be hard pressed to suss out that there's a 2.0-liter four cylinder working to hustle the nearly 4,000-lb AMG around corners. Bear in mind, it's less about sheer power but more about how quick the engine is to respond to inputs. Off the line, AMG states the C 43 can get from 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds. Zippy enough, but hardly face-melting, though that immediately leaves your mind once you realize the substantial amount of torque available at the low end. In the absence of raw brawn, the AMG C 43's smarts more than make up for it, with consistent power delivered in the moments where action is most critical.

Dialed-in for drama

This is further supported by the AMG tuned suspension and dynamic driving programs baked into the works. Different characteristics are easily dialed in for sharper steering, engine behavior and the degree of electronic stability system interference. Most inputs can be individually programmed to preference but the C 43 is at its most dynamic with each slider pushed to the max. All of it is very complementary and designed to make the driver feel like a superstar. In terms of handling, the rear wheel steering and the AMG dynamic systems operate behind the scenes to make spirited runs through backroad switchbacks feel effortless. After a few runs with the car holding the inside of sweeping hairpins and never getting out of sorts, you realize how much the AMG is doing in your favor. Some might turn their noses up at this level of performance support but a car like the AMG C43 is meant to be as fun as possible in the moments where it isn't a business-class commuting vehicle, and in those instances, it's very well suited for the job.

For all of its AMG-wizardry at work, the C 43 remains a Mercedes at its core, so when not doing any of the above the mid-sized sedan is a comfortable cruiser, sport seats notwithstanding. Without the need to compete with the now-muted engine, the noise insulation is allowed to function as intended, dampening the outside world's chaos as the dynamic ride smooths out most of the road's rough patches. In these moments, a driver can bask in the environment that the ambient lighting and 3D surround system provided by the optional Pinnacle trim. Lounge or club, it's up to you, but the AMG can be either.

Sweet Spot?

Pricing for the AMG C 43 has yet to be announced but it's arriving to dealer lots later this year, which isn't too far off but it's also plenty of time to wonder if it's worth scooping one up as there might be a more powerful C 63 on the horizon. If it's in the works, will it have the same engine? Just how much more power can be squeezed out if so? AMG reps are tight-lipped on the matter, but the C 43 could be the sweet spot between the base model and extreme version regardless.

AMG sent the C 43 out the door with a mission to impress and it achieves this soundly. The engineering crafted into squeezing the most out of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is as intriguing as it is effective, both for providing a power plant with more grunt and efficiency as the V6 it replaces. It would be interesting to put them side by side to compare the disparate dynamics. So too would be putting it beside rivals like the Audi S4 and BMW M340i xDrive. Against these proven crowd-pleasers, this Merc may be surprisingly competent. With that said, all of the underlying AMG ingredients make the C 43 as fun as it's meant to be while elevating the driver above their usual talents. Take something else to the track to prove yourself, but take the AMG C 43 out if you want to have a good time.