[REVIEW] 2020 Mercedes-Benz C43AMG wagon

The letters “AMG” stand for Aufrecht, Melcher and Großaspach. Founded in 1967 by former Mercedes-Benz engineers, Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher in Burgstall an der Murr, near Stuttgart, AMG was founded as a company specializing in racing-engine development.

While AMG initially started off by designing and testing racing engines, it expanded its business into building custom road cars based upon standard Mercedes cars.

The story goes that in 1993, with AMG having become a high-profile purveyor of modified Mercedes-Benz cars, Daimler-Benz AG and AMG signed a contract of cooperation, allowing AMG to leverage Daimler-Benz’s extensive dealer network and leading to commonly developed vehicles.

In January 1999, DaimlerChrysler, as it was called between 1998 and 2007, acquired 51 percent of AMG shares, and AMG was renamed to Mercedes-AMG GmbH.

Although most people continue to associate Mercedes-Benz vehicles with AMG, AMG is clearly not exactly the same as Mercedes-Benz.

Now as the in-house performance division/trim of Mercedes-Benz, AMG Mercedes-Benz automobiles are tuned in a specific way and upgraded for additional power.

Case in point is the C43 AMG. This model is a mid-way point between the Mercedes-Benz branded C300 and the full tamale AMG-branded C63. Think of the C43 as the AMG-lite.

While the C63 may still steal the limelight with more power and presence, the C43 shouldn’t be shunned because it still offers great AMG performance, a wonderful exhaust noise, and a lot of luxury for a considerably reduced price.

The C43 is also available with 4Matic all-wheel-drive whereas the C63 isn’t.

Moreover, in Canada anyway, only the C300 and C43 are available in Euro-wagon form. In fact, the C43 wagon is not even available to our US neighbours south of the border, making it a bit of a rarity in North America.

Canada has, after all, often been used as a proving ground due to our tastes similar to American buyers and our relatively tiny market. But we’ll take what we can get, thank you very much.

How is it different from the C300 wagon?

When I was growing up in the 1990’s, my parents had 1990’s-era Mercedes-Benz 300TE wagon. Accordingly, I have a bit of a soft spot for European station wagons. Even back then, German wagons were a rarity in Canada.

Whether it was hauling my sister and I to school, carrying logs in the cargo area for building our treehouse, or exploring parts of British Columbia, the 300TE did it with aplomb.

While its 3.0-litre straight-six engine is no match for the C300’s or C43 wagon’s modern powertrains, our family wagon provided safe, reliable transportation wrapped in a prestigious package.

While I had the C43 wagon in my keep, I took a trip down memory lane to the neighbourhood I grew up in. With the wagon appropriately parked in front of our old family home, I recalled nothing but fond memories. In fact, you can still see said treehouse in the backyard.

Much of this practicality hasn’t changed when it comes to Benz wagons. That is to say that the C43AMG wagon is still a practical, family-friendly vehicle with tons of room for kids toys or grown-up toys. Mercedes-Benz has even included a clever retractable cargo divider net to separate items or pets from the passenger area.

True, the Mercedes-AMG C43 wagon isn’t adorned with the road-skimming lip spoilers or the blistered arches of the V8-wielding C63. Instead, it shares the same fenders as the C300 wagon.

However, there is a handsome looking diffuser and cannon-style black-tripped quad exhaust pipes fitted at the rear. Mercedes has also seen fit to add a tastefully small roof lip spoiler to the tailgate.

Because it’s still a proper AMG vehicle, the 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo engine churns out a healthy 385 horsepower and 385 lb-ft of torque. This is significantly more than the C300’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with only 255 horsepower. Power flows to all four wheels via Mercedes-AMG’s rear-biased 4matic system.

What’s it like to drive?

There’s plenty to like about the C43 wagon. The vehicle wears the latest more minimal front grille design and the large black-painted alloy wheels look absolutely wicked.

The engine is an absolute peach, with deep wells of power. It never feels overworked or overwhelmed as the torque-curve of the V6 is tuned to be just right. Objectively speaking, it’s more than anyone could want.

Fitted with the optional AMG performance exhaust, my test wagon sounded an aggressively sonorous bark above 2,800 rpms. At revs above 4,000 rpms, the sound changes to become deliciously ferocious.

For times when you want to avoid landing in hot water with the local constabulary, the exhaust button mutes most of the noise out the tailpipes.

The C43’s nine-speed automatic transmission can be controlled via the flappy paddles fitted to the wonderful Mercedes-Benz AMG steering wheel. The sizeable aluminium shift paddles look like they were directly stolen from the AMG GT-R sports car and are not only easy to use, but also look and feel expensive in texture.

The nine-speed torque-converter gearbox itself is competent when left to its own devices. However, in manual-only “M” mode, I found that it occasionally stalled momentarily when called into action higher up in the rev range. This meant shifting a split second sooner than when actually needed.

The wagon’s chassis is decently well balanced, with tightly controlled body roll through the faster bends. The chassis is more than capable of keeping up with the quick steering.

Some may find the newly developed AMG-exclusive elastokinematics adaptive dampers a bit firm though, regardless of whether the ride is set to Comfort or Sport.

Nonetheless, the driving experience of the C43 wagon befits its AMG namesake. With a torque split calibrated to deliver 69 per cent of what’s available to the rear axle combined with the quick steering rack, the wagon delivers enough engagement to make it worth the upgrade from the C300 spec, especially with C43AMG base prices starting sub-$59,000 CAD.

Just keep in mind that the C43’s unrelenting grip and composure means that it never truly shows a true playful side unlike its C63 sibling.

Interior Technology

The C43 wagon’s interior strikes an ideal balance between sophisticated refinement and AMG’s sporting intent. Right from start-up, you know you’re in for something special as the Bi-LED headlamps do a theatrical light show dance upon illumination.

A pair of aggressive well-bolstered AMG Performance front bucket seats illustrate how the C43 wagon is not your mom’s old Ford Taurus wagon.

Those who like the look more than the feel will be thankful for the multiple adjustments allowing the seats to be adjusted anywhere from cosseting to very supportive. Combined with the red seatbelts, it all looks particularly smart.

The technology offered in the wagon is decent too. While it is a generation behind Benz’s excellent new MBXU infotainment system interface, the 10.5 inch COMAND infotainment system is very clear and easy to read.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is standard, and commands are completed using a rotary controller or a touchpad that’s inconveniently placed atop the controller. Response times were no better or worse than your average smartphone.

It’s too bad about the lack of a touchscreen though, as it makes for some frustrating operations such as when using Apple CarPlay.

Meanwhile, the 12.3 inch digital instrument gauge cluster is equally graphically slick. It gets an AMG-specific skin with some useful indicators (engine, gearbox oil temperature).

Use the miniature touchpad on the AMG steering wheel and you’ll also find other less pressing statistics (such as boost pressure, g-force and torque output in bar-chart form).

There’s also a new “Supersport” design mode that puts the tachometer front and centre, a la Porsche, and uses bright yellows and reds – very sporty. Overall, it’s a marked improvement over a cockpit that was beginning to feel its age.

Like other C-Classes, C43’s centre stack features a flowing design anchored by a row of expensive-looking kurled rocker switches for various HVAC functions.

Trimmed in optional carbon-fibre along with the ferociously bolstered seats and the split alcantara-leather steering wheel, my test car felt unexpectedly serious.

A highly customization 64-colour ambient lighting system and illuminated “AMG” doorsill protectors round off the package.

Parting thoughts

The C43 feels like it has been created by AMG engineers who value speed and grip over pure power. Perhaps though, we shouldn’t get too hung up on that given that this vehicle brings an AMG C-class within reach of a wider audience.

With its richly equipped cabin doing its best impression of the larger Mercedes E and S-Class models, the C43 wagon hits the sweet spot nicely blending in utility, affordability, speed, civility, as well as athleticism.


Leave a Reply