The Mercedes-Benz C-Class has had a mid-life makeover, writes David Thomson.
A substantive mid-life makeover has been the order of the day for the current Mercedes-Benz C-Class, five years on from its first appearance. The changes — totalling 6500 new components in all across the various C-Class derivatives — include styling changes, new powertrains, and technology upgrades.
Included in the revamp is the AMG-fettled C43 cabriolet. It remains as the ‘‘junior’’ choice in the AMG C-Class cabriolet behind the mighty C63 V8, but still packs a serious punch courtesy of its bi-turbo 3.0-litre V6 engine. Thanks to larger turbos, maximum power lifts from 270 to 287kW and while peak torque remains unchanged at 520Nm, it is now produced at 2500rpm, which is 500rpm higher than before, but is maintained all the way to 5000rpm.
The engine remains mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, driving all four wheels.
What’s it like to look at?
The essential styling lines of what has always been a good-looking car re unchanged, but there are detail enhancements front and rear. At the nose, these include a more aggressive-looking grille, while at the rear are old-school round quad exhausts. Nineteen-inch alloys are fitted, running 225/40 front and 255/35 rear tyres.
As an open-top purist from way back, I’d drive the cabriolet roof-down any time it isn’t actually raining (and even then, only wimp out if it’s raining hard). But for less hardly folk, there is a well-insulated power-operated soft top, available in a choice of colours. It can even be lowered or raised, from outside the car, simply by holding down the ‘‘unlock’’ or ‘‘lock’’ button on the key fob. Dropping or raising the top takes 20 seconds, and when in place it gives the cabriolet a similar profile to its coupe cousin.
What’s it like inside?
The current Mercedes C-Class interior was outstanding when the car was launched, setting new standards for look, feel and layout.
The upgrade introduces new display screens both on the dash and for the instrument binnacle. They are not seamlessly integrated in the manner of the latest A-Class, but are an important advance nonetheless.
The 12.3-inch main digital instrument screen features an AMG-specific skin, and can be customised in several ways. There’s a new AMG sports steering wheel, and front AMG sports seats that are both comfortable and supremely supportive.
The test car featured porcelain leather interior trim, as pictured, which looked very classy in conjunction with the darker main interior trim and black exterior paint scheme. Thanks to LED technology, the interior ambient lighting can be customised by the driver through 64 different colour options.
Though it is nominally a four-seater, adults will find rear-seat room pretty tight for anything but short-hop trips. Boot space is compromised by the stowage space required for the soft-top, measuring up at 285 litres when the roof is down, but a more generous 360 litres when it is raised.
What comes as standard?
Listing for $141,400, the C43 cabriolet has an extensive features list.
Headline items include multi-beam LED intelligent headlights (with excellent automated selective dipping), wireless phone charging, Apple and Android smartphone integration, and adaptive steering and suspension. Adaptive radar cruise control is part of a comprehensive safety package that includes the likes of blind-spot monitoring and lane keeping assistance.
Mercedes’ Aircap system (with wind deflectors on top of the windscreen and behind the seats), seat heaters and Airscarf (which pipes hot air around the neck of front seat occupants) are all included to make open-top driving as comfortable as possible.
The test car was equipped with the optional $2300 AMG performance exhaust system. This features adjustable exhaust flaps that can be activated at the press of a button beside the gearshift to enhance the sporting sound of the exhaust.
What’s it like to drive?
In terms of providing a refined driving experience when required, the C43 is most impressive by performance cabriolet standards, the usual gripes about tyre rumble on coarse chip surfaces excepted.
Noise levels roof-down are just three decibels higher than with it up, so long as the windows are raised and Aircap is deployed. Even at highway speeds, wind movement is minimal when Aircap is operating.
To experience the C43 cabriolet at its most civilised, it is necessary to select the least aggressive ‘‘comfort’’ settings for the engine, transmission, suspension. In this configuration, which is well-suited to round-town and gentle highway driving, the engine still musters a pleasant sports burble, which is invigorating yet never becomes intrusive. Performance is brisk yet unhurried, and ride quality surprisingly pliable for such a sports-focused machine.
Shifting everything (or even most things) to sport or sport plus mode brings a remarkable transformation.
The engine note becomes aggressively snarly and characterful, with plenty of crackle and pop fun along the way. Throttle response and the gearshifts sharpen markedly, and occupants are pressed firmly into their seats while accelerating through the car’s lower gears. Overtaking is ridiculously easy, and with such an eager, free-revving engine it would be all too easy when passing for your speed to creep beyond expected.
An engine that rewards being revved is not great news for economy either; I didn’t come close to matching the car’s standard cycle return of 10.0l/100km on test, even though that figure is poor economy-wise.
Never mind, because as well as being quick in the straight line, the C43 cabriolet is happy to be pushed hard through tight twists and turns too. Its steering is well weighted and accurate, and its limits of adhesion in most situations will easily exceed the likely bravery threshold of most drivers.
Yet while press-on driving is quite intoxicating, it’s not quite the perfect enthusiast’s experience: unless completely disabled (not something I was game for on test), the traction and stability controls intervene quite early, blunting both pace and driver satisfaction; all-wheel-drive, while fitted for very good reasons, and likely to especially welcome in this part of the world over winter, also plays a part sapping some joy from the driving experience.
Mind you, the C43 cabriolet isn’t necessarily aimed at the ultimate serious enthusiast. For those that find 287kW, 520Nm and 0-100kmh in 4.8sec not enough, there is always the C63 cabriolet. With eight rather than six cylinders, it musters 375kW and 700Nm, and dashes from rest to the legal limit in well under four seconds.
On the other hand, the C63 costs around 50% more, and is almost brutally harsh around town. For my money, the C43 is surely the better-rounded package.
What’s the verdict?
Helped by our unseasonably warm late autumn, the Mercedes-AMG C43 cabriolet made a great impression. It is by turns comfortable, quick and very characterful.