2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe first drive review: seeing what sticks Page 2

Set up

The only place I can sit doesn't whet my appetite. The buckets aren't as deep or supportive as those of the C63 and the thin, short shift paddles click through the gears, but not without rolling their eyes at me first.

The 9-speed automatic's spread throughout the AMG 43 line is an upgrade on the 7-speed in the number of cogs alone, but in terms of manual response, the new unit feels more hesitant. The shorter, steering-wheel mounted shifters don't have the confident feel of posts that I'd like to consistently grab and go—not like the BMW 340i. Software can speed up the shifts of the 9-speed, AMG engineers say, but more than once I asked for a new gear that wasn't delivered on time.

DON'T MISS: 2017 Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe first drive review

But letting the C43 handle gear changes makes more sense, and the 9-speed drops four gears in a blink to throw me past building California seaside traffic. The transmission's attitude can be smartly controlled by clicking through the Dynamic Select modes that also dictate throttle tip-in, exhaust sounds, and suspension response.

While the optional sport suspension hides the C-Class coupe's somewhat-brutal base setup, it's the only way to go in the Mercedes-AMG C43—and the car is better for it. In "Comfort," the suspension soaks up the 19-inch wheels' ability to crash over dimes; in "Sport+" it brings the AMG's parts altogether like a fresh pair of Spanx.

As the miles pile on, the curves disappear in the mirrors, and the optional performance exhaust settles, it's clear that the C43 isn't so much of a prequel to the C63 empire as much as it's a standalone entry. Like the 340i, the AMG C43 is a performance car in its own right, and doesn't need to exist as only a segue to other things.

2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe

2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe

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Pay off

The C43's 4.6-second 0-60 mph sprint may be well behind the C63's time—AMG badges can't do miracles, after all—but stopwatches can't see everything else.

From the neatly pressed exterior and the standard all-wheel-drive system, the C43 is a more complete daily driver, especially when compared to a C300 4Matic that's more likely to be found in the real world—with a price likely to creep dangerously close to that of the C43. Moers says that the C43's existence will give the C63 room to grow wild and I'm all for it.

Long loops through the Santa Monica mountains produce more smiles anyway. Despite everything that there is to love about the C63, the smaller C43 doesn't disappoint by missing those performance targets so much as it distracts from remembering what those where. The C43 thrusts with less feeling than the C63, but also with less attention required. The C43 is more buttoned up than I anticipated, and it's better left to its own devices.

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Asking the C43 to kick out its tail is missing the point. Example: The optional performance exhaust spits and crackles in the Sport and Sport+ settings, but it sounds nothing like the C63's sonorous V-8. That isn't pure heresy—it's just more fun.

And that's the C43's mission: balance before batshit, completion before competition. 

The leash is short on the 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 and that's just fine. For most of us, it'll mean less rope to hang ourselves with.

That is, assuming I want to break traction with those Pirellis again.

Mercedes-Benz provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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