The current Mercedes-Benz C-Class heralded major changesfor the once-conservative German manufacturer when it wasintroduced in 1994. It was designed, equipped, and priced for value, adefinite change of direction for a company once best-known forpremium luxury cars. But performance was and is part of the C-Classequation, too. Between 1995 and 1997, the C36 was offered, a carmodified by Mercedes-Benz performance tuning partner AMG, withan enlarged, tuned version of the then-current 3.2-liter six-cylinderengine. It was a limited-production model, and discontinued when its engine was no longer available. The void at the top of the C-Class linedidn't last long. It was filled midway through the 1998 model year bythe C43.
Also created by AMG, the C43 is a German embodiment ofone of the grandest traditions in performance tuning: a big engine in asmall car. The engine in question is the 4.3-liter (260 cu. in.)aluminum alloy V8 first introduced in the 1998 E430 and also found inthe newly-introduced CLK430 coupe. In those cars, it develops arespectable 275 horsepower. In C43 tune, a healthy 302 horses arefound under the unassuming C-Class hood. The engine is light for alarge V8; the C43 weighs only 132 pounds more than a C280. As aresult, weight distribution is not adversely affected. Ultra-low profiletires mounted on 17-inch AMG wheels and other suspensionmodifications improve cornering abilities with little reduction in ridecomfort.
Only 1500 C43s will be made over a three-year period, with thebulk of production in the 1999 model year. But the C43's performanceattitude carries over to the other C-Class sedans this year, too. The V6-powered C280 is smooth, sophisticated, and very well-balanced. Theentry-level C230 gets a major boost - it's now called the C230Kompressor and has the supercharged four-cylinder engine from theSLK sports car.
To say that my time with the C43 was entertaining andenjoyable would be serious understatement. But, unlike many "tunercars", the C43 is perfectly acceptable as daily transportation. It iscomfortable, relatively quiet (except for a wonderful V8 growl), androomy enough for four people. It is a compliment to the solidity of theC-Class chassis structure that it works so well.
APPEARANCE: The C43 is relatively stealthy for a high-performance car. Differences in appearance between it and the other C-Class cars are minimal. The 17-inch AMG alloy wheels are the mostobvious, but are the same basic design as the 16-inch wheels that arepart of the Sport Package available on the C280 and C230K. Deeper,more sculpted front and rear lower bumper fascias and matchingrocker panels are not all that obvious. The "AMG" and "C43" badgingon the trunk lid will be read only by accomplished speed readers. OtherC-Class Benzes, however, do not have the twin chrome-tipped AMG-badged exhausts producing a deep V8 rumble.
COMFORT: The C43 does differ from the other C-Class members inside, again thanks to AMG. Special heated sports seats incorporatingpneumatic lumbar, side, and thigh support, and the thick-rimmed,leather-covered steering wheel are designed for serious driving. Mytest car had the two-tone, black and silver, interior color scheme, with silver inserts in the seating areas. They looked and felt great. Black-on-white instruments with AMG badging are also unique to the C43.Other interior features are pretty much standard C-Class, including room for four adults and a large, useful trunk.
SAFETY: The C43 has the full complement of Mercedes-Benz safetyequipment, including safety cage chassis construction,and front side air bags. Active safety is enhanced by strong antilock brakes with Brake Assist emergency stopping assistance, all-speed traction control, and ESP stability control.
ROADABILITY: Thanks to the very firm and well-controlled AMG-uned suspension and monstrous contact patch of the 225/45 x 17"front and 245/40 x 17" rear tires, the C43 sticks to the pavement extremely well, with excellent handling characteristics. Powerful,short-wheelbase cars can be tricky to keep in control, but the C43 isstable and assured. Huge vented, antilock brakes at all four wheelsensure near-race car stopping ability. If not quite as comfortable in ridequality as other C-Class cars, the C43 is not harsh or uncomfortable,and is as well-suited to a (quick) run to the grocery store as it is toperformance driving.
PERFORMANCE: Although the 4.3-liter V8 is basically the same asthat used other Benzes, internal modifications by AMG result in 302horsepower and 302 lb-ft of torque. A near back-to-back comparisonwith a new CLK430, which has the stock, 275-horsepower version ofthe same engine, was most enlightening. If the C43 has only 27 morehorsepower, they're large horses. There is enormous powerimmediately, and it never fades. The 5-speed automatic transmissionmitigates the power's effect when shifting, helping stability andundoubtedly prolonging tire life. The engine produces a mostsatisfying, muscular V8 roar.
CONCLUSIONS: The Mercedes-Benz C43 combination of Europeanchassis sophistication with V8 power makes for a very classy musclecar that is also works for everyday use. C43 = DTR + NASCAR!
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 53,000 Price As Tested $ 55,065 Engine Type aluminum alloy single overhead cam 24-valve V8Engine Size 4.3 liters / 260 cu. in. Horsepower 302 @ 5,850 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 302 @ 3,250-5,000 rpm Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 105.9 in. / 177.4 in. Curb Weight 3,448 lbs.Pounds Per Horsepower 11.4 Fuel Capacity 16.4 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium (92 octane) Tires Michelin Pilot SX Front: P225/45 ZR17 Rear: P245/40 ZR17 Brakes front/rear vented disc / vented disc, antilock, traction control and Electronic Stability Program traction enhancement standard Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone & coil springs/ independent multi-link, AMG suspension calibration Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 22 / 18 0 to 60 mph 5.9 sec1/4 mile (E.T.)14.2 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.32 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Rain Sensor $ 170 Headlamp washer/wipers $ 340 Xenon headlamps $ 960 Destination & delivery charge $ 595