Modern-day crossover sport utilities are great, but let’s face it, most everyone’s got one these days. There’s a reason, of course, as they combine loads of practicality with car-like attributes, with some even coming close to matching the performance of sport sedans.
Mercedes’ AMG sub-brand is good example of the latter thanks to the German brand providing Canadian luxury buyers with hyper-tuned versions of their GLA subcompact SUV, GLC compact SUV (including the GLC Coupe), GLE mid-size SUV (the GLE Coupe only coming in AMG trims), and rugged G full-size off-road capable SUV, but take note that performance buyers wanting the same kind of utility as an SUV with even better cornering capability, due to inherently lower centres of gravity, can opt for Mercedes’ lineup of performance wagons too.
Mercedes has a long history of producing ultra-quick wagons, the 1979 (W123-body) 500 TE AMG quickly coming to mind, so it’s great news to diehard performance enthusiasts that the tradition continues to this day. Check out the brand’s retail website and you’ll easily find AMG-tuned versions of its C- and E-Class Wagons, including the AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon on this page, plus the AMG E 53 4Matic+ Wagon and AMG E 63 S 4Matic+ Wagon.
While very practical for those with active lifestyles, the last car on this list might be outside of most buyers’ budgets at $124,200, although if you’re late for Johnny or Jenny’s morning skate there’s no better way to make up for lost time than in a five-door that can shoot from standstill to 100km/h in an unfathomable 3.3 seconds. The fire-breathing demon under the hood is Mercedes’ 603 horsepower 4.0-litre biturbo V8, while the $87,800 AMG E 53 4Matic+ Wagon still does pretty well with a 4.5-second run to 100 km/h from its 429 horsepower 3.0-litre inline six.
The smaller AMG C 43 4Matic Wagon is most affordable at $60,900, but don’t let its relatively inexpensive price make you think it’s by any means lethargic off the line. In fact, its 385-horsepower 3.0-litre biturbo V6, which features rapid-multispark ignition and a high-pressure direct injection system, launches it from zero to 100 km/h in just 4.8 seconds, much credit to 384 lb-ft of torque, and the noise emanating from its engine bay and available sport exhaust system means that its auditory delights are almost as delectable as the rush of speed to the head.
Interestingly, the only D-segment wagon on the Canadian market with similar engine specs to this AMG C 43 is Volvo’s 405 horsepower V60 Polestar, but as amazing as its engineering is, the Swedish automaker’s ultra-smooth 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged hybrid powertrain is not as stimulating as the AMG C 43 Wagon’s rambunctious V6, or for that matter its new AMG SpeedShift TCT nine-speed transmission, or its AMG tuned 4Matic all-wheel drive system.
I’ve seen the C 43 in black and it looks a lot more menacing than my tester’s Polar White, but Mercedes made up for its angelic do-gooder appearance with plenty of standard matte and optional glossy black exterior accents. Highlights include a black mesh front grille and lower vent gratings within a deeper front fascia, plus gloss-black strakes over corner vents, the mirror housings, the partial glass roof and roof rails, the side window trim, the aggressive rear diffuser, the four exhaust pipes, and the 19-inch alloy wheels encircled by Continental ContiSportContact SSR 225/40 high performance summer tires.
My test model’s LED headlights were style statements of their own, with each featuring a trio of separate lighting elements that look as good as the well-lit road ahead, while nice splashes of chrome around the body remind everything that this is AMG C 43 is a Mercedes-Benz after all, and therefore designed to be just as luxurious as it is sporty.
To that end, proximity keyless entry allows access to the cabin, where your eyes will likely first fixate upon two of the most impressive sport seats in industry. They’re covered in black perforated leather with red stitching and brushed aluminum four-point harness holes on their upper backrests, as well as a small AMG badge at centre. Then again, it’s quite possible you’ll first be distracted by the incredible door panel design, which gets even more brushed and satin-finish aluminum trim, as well as optional drilled aluminum Burmester speaker grilles and black leather with red stitching elsewhere.
The red-stitched, padded leather treatment continues over to the dash top and instrument panel, all the way down each side of the centre stack, while the latter features gorgeous optional carbon-fibre surfacing that extends down to the lower centre console that terminates at a big, bisected centre armrest/storage bin lid finished in yet more soft leather with red stitching.
Big in mind, two large glass sunroofs look like a single panoramic roof at first glance, yet provide more torsional rigidity than a full glass roof would. Considering the C 43 Wagon is capable of a 250-km/h (155-mph) terminal velocity, as well as harrowing at-the-limit handling, it’s critical to have a stiff body structure, and fortunately this minimizes the luxurious wagon’s wind and road noise.
Of course Mercedes wraps the roof pillars in the same high-quality fabric as the roofliner, which helps to reduce NVH levels somewhat, but most is due to the rigid body structure noted earlier, plus the various seals, insulation, engine and component mounts, plus more. Therefore it’s a near silent experience, other than the rumbling of the engine and/or the sensational Burmester audio system.
It’s possible to control the volume of its 13 speakers from a beautifully detailed knurled metal cylinder switch on the right steering wheel spoke, this being only one of the C 43’s impressive array of steering wheel buttons, toggles and touch-sensitive pads. Yes, each spoke gets its own classic Blackberry-like touchpad that lets you scroll through the available digital gauge cluster or the main display on the centre stack. The steering wheel rim is as attractive as the metallic surfaced spokes, its partial Nappa leather-wrapping around flattened sides and bottom for an F1-inspired look, while a slim red leather top marker aligns the centre, and suede-look Dinamica (much like Alcantara) makes for better grip at each side.
I’d have to say there’s more satin-finish and brushed aluminum trimmings in the AMG C 43 than any rival, but rather than looking garish Mercedes pulls it off with a tasteful level of retro steampunk coolness that elevates it into a class of one. The highlight for me are its five circular air vents on the instrument panel, the three in the middle hovering above an attractive row of knurled metal-topped satin aluminum toggle-like switches, and these are only upstaged by a great looking knurled metal cylinder switch for the drive mode select, which includes Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Slippery settings. There’s a rotating dial for the infotainment system too, this also finished in knurled aluminum, and positioned just underneath Mercedes’ trademark palm rest, which doubles as a touchpad with an upgrade.
Premium brands mostly use better quality digital displays than their mainstream volume competitors, which is how it should be given their loftier prices, and Mercedes is no different. In fact, the most recently updated three-pointed star cars and SUVs include the brand’s ultra-advanced double-display design that seamlessly mates a tablet-style 12.3-inch screen directly in front of the driver for all primary gauges with an identically sized infotainment display. This said the current fourth-generation (W205) C-Class (S205 for the wagon) introduced in September of 2014 for the 2015 model year, and therefore in its seventh production year, hasn’t been updated with latest dash design yet, but its more conventional hooded analogue gauge cluster (with a big multi-information display at centre) can be swapped out for a 12.3-inch set of digital instruments when upgrading to the C 43 Wagon’s Technology package.
Mercedes digital instrument cluster is as colourful as any on the market, and very customizable with a variety of background designs and plenty of multi-info functions. It allows for many feature combinations as well, and can be set up with a traditional dual-gauge look, or the entire display can be a navigation map, for instance.
The AMG C 43 Wagon’s infotainment display is smaller at 7.0 inches, although it can be upgraded to 10.25 inches like my tester. As is common these days (although Mercedes was an initiator of the design), the centre display sits upright atop the dash, while its graphic design is as colourful and appealing as the just-noted gauge cluster. Its features are comprehensive, but take note you’ll need to use the aforementioned lower console-mounted controls for any tap, swipe and pinch finger gestures, as it’s not a touchscreen.
The Technology package I spoke of a moment ago will set you back $1,900, while together with the 12.3-inch digital instruments it also includes the active Multibeam LED headlamps mentioned earlier, plus adaptive high beam assist, while the gloss-black exterior accents mentioned before comes as part of a $1,000 AMG Night package.
The AMG Nappa/Dinamica performance steering wheel that I lauded earlier can be had if you choose the $2,400 AMG Driver’s package, which also adds the free-flow AMG performance exhaust system with push-button computer-controlled vanes, the 19-inch AMG five-twin-spoke aero wheels (the base model sports 18s), increased top speed to 250 km/h (155 mph), and an AMG Track Pace app that allows performance data like speed, acceleration, lap and sector times to be stored in the infotainment system when out on the track.
If you’re really up on your AMG C 43 knowledge, and I have readers who are, you’ll immediately notice that my tester’s steering wheel is devoid of the extra switchgear the AMG Driver’s package includes for 2020, so no I must confess that the car you’re looking at is actually a 2019 model I drove last year, but didn’t get around to reviewing (bad journalist). New this year (2020) is an AMG Drive Unit that with F1-inspired switchgear attached below each steering wheel spoke, these designed for quickly making adjustments to performance settings. The pod of switches on the left can be assigned to features such as manual shift mode, the AMG Ride Control system’s damping modes, the three-stage ESP system, and the AMG Performance Exhaust, while the circular switch on the right selects and displays the current AMG Dynamic Select driving mode.
By the way, the C 43 Wagon on this page is otherwise identical to the 2020 model, except for twin rear USB ports that are now standard in all 2020 C-Class models. Likewise, the $5,600 Premium package included with my test car is the same as the one found in the 2020 C 43 Wagon, both featuring proximity keyless entry, the touchpad infotainment controller, and the 590-watt Burmester surround sound system, as well as an overhead bird’s-eye parking camera, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, a very accurate navigation system, voice control, satellite radio, real-time traffic information, a wireless phone charging pad, an universal garage door opener, semi-autonomous self-parking, rear side window sunshades, and a power liftgate with foot-activated opening.
The $2,700 Intelligent Drive package was also added, this collection of goodies including Pre-Safe Plus, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Active Brake Assist with Cross-Traffic Function, Active Steering Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Active Distronic Distance Assist, Enhanced Stop-and-Go, Traffic Sign Assist, Active Speed Limit Assist, and Route-based Speed Adaptation.
While the hot looking $250 designo red seatbelts certainly deserve attention, I’ll refrain from delving into standard features and options as this review is already epic. My C 43 Wagon was nicely loaded up and even base models are generously equipped, while their finishing is second to none in this class. Most important amongst AMG cars is the driving experience, however, and to that end I couldn’t help but also notice the impressive dual-screen backup and 360-degree surround camera with dynamic guidelines as I backed out of my driveway, but strangely to those not familiar with Mercedes-Benz, this sport wagon’s auto shifter remains on the column like classics from the good old days. While this might seem a bit old school, it’s actually efficiently out of the way. One flick of the stalk-like lever and it’s state-of-the-art electronic innards will make themselves known, while pressing the Park button is a dead giveaway that it’s hardly an automotive anachronism. Look to the steering wheel-mounted paddles for manual shifting, something I found myself doing more often than not thanks to the superbly engineered nine-speed automatic gearbox.
Of course it’s smooth, Mercedes never forgetting the C 43 Wagon’s pragmatic purpose, but the transmission’s AMG programming puts an emphasis on performance. Its nine speeds result in a wider range of more closely spaced ratios that shift lickety-split quick, while previously noted AMG Dynamic Select’s Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes truly add to the magic. This said, Mercedes included three overdrive ratios for optimizing fuel economy, which together with ECO Start/Stop that automatically turns off the engine when it would otherwise be idling adds to its efficiency while also reducing emissions. The end result is good fuel economy considering the power on tap, the C 43 Wagon capable of an estimated 12.4 L/100km city, 8.9 highway and 10.8 combined in both 2019 and 2020 model years.
Of course, all-wheel drive saps energy while enhancing traction, but the C 43’s AMG 4Matic AWD system provides a good balance of efficiency and at-the-limit grip. To manage the latter it has a fixed 31:69 front/rear torque split, while a nicely weighted electromechanical power-assist rack-and-pinion steering system provides good feel, and a standard AMG Ride Control Sport Suspension includes three-stage damping for exceptionally good road-holding. Even with the traction/stability control turned off it delivered good mechanical grip, only stepping out at the rear when pushed ultra-hard and then doing so with wonderful predictability.
If you’ve never taken the opportunity to drive something as fast and capable as the C 43 you’ll be amazed at this compact wagon’s command of the road. This includes stopping power due to a racetrack-ready AMG Performance Braking system featuring perforated 360 mm rotors and grey-painted four-piston fixed calipers in front, and a solid set of 320 mm rotors in back. Astute readers may have noticed I said perforated instead of cross-drilled, and my words were chosen carefully because the C 43’s front discs are actually cast with holes from the onset in order to add strength and improve heat resistance. This process results in extremely good braking prowess, even when laying into them too hard and too often during high-speed performance driving. I’d say they’re the next best thing to carbon-ceramic brakes, although they feel nicer for day-in-day-out use.
As fun as the AMG C 43 is to drive, let’s not forget that it’s five-door layout makes it extremely practical. It’s spacious in front with a driver’s seat that was as comfortable as any in the D-segment, while the rear seats provide good support and plenty of space for stretching out the legs. A folding centre armrest includes pop-out cupholders along with a shallow storage bin, or if you need to load long cargo in back take note the centre portion of the C’s 40/20/40-split rear seatback can be lowered. Additionally, the rear seats flip forward automatically by way of two electric buttons, making the C 43 as convenient to live with as it’s brilliantly fun to drive. In the end, cargo capacity can be expanded from 460 to 1,480 litres, which means that it’s luggage volume sits between the GLA- and new GLB-Class subcompacts.
It truly is cool to be practical, at least if you’re driving an AMG C 43 Wagon. All of Mercedes-Benz’ AMG wagons deliver big on spacious, comfortable, luxurious performance, not to mention prestige, so the fact that Mercedes is now offering up to $5,000 in additional incentives on 2020 C-Class models is impressive.
To learn more go to our 2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class Canada Prices page where you can find out about all C-Class body styles, trims, packages and standalone options, and then build the car you’re interested in. What’s more, a CarCostCanada membership will fully prepare you before even speaking with your Mercedes retail representative, by informing you about any available manufacturer rebates, financing and/or leasing deals, and dealer invoice pricing (the price the dealer pays for the car before marking it up), which means you’ll be able to negotiate the best deal possible.
Right now most Mercedes-Benz dealers will bring the car you’re interested in to your home so you can so you can test it without having to go to the dealership, and don’t worry as the entire car will have been sterilized before you poke around inside and take it for a drive. Considering the incentives available for the AMG C 43 Wagon and just how impressive it is overall, you may want to take them up on that.
Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay