On the Road Review: Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG Cabriolet

With summer in full swing, youthful minds wander to sports cars, convertibles and top-down adventures on warm summer evenings.

Unfortunately, apparently not as many “sports” long for the wind-in-your-hair thrills found in a roadster or a cabriolet, as the choices for drop-top cars is thinning each year.

Fortunately, the German automakers retain a fond appreciation for convertibles as Audi, BMW and Mercedes still make impressive mass-market premium convertibles.

One could say that Mercedes has a particular affection for drop-top motoring — America’s top-selling luxury marquee sells no fewer than six cabriolet/roadster models ranging from this week’s C-class ($51,850 base) all the way to the new S-class Cabriolet starting at $134,300. Contrast that with Acura, Cadillac, Infiniti, Lexus and Lincoln, which make zero convertibles.

Our featured C-class is the sportier C43 with massaging provided by Mercedes’ enthusiast division, AMG. Sporting a twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 making 385 hp running through a SpeedShift nine-speed automatic, our 4Matic all-wheel-drive-equipped cabriolet is an outlier in a segment that is typically rear- or front-drive models only. Smooth, sure-footed and precise on the road, the C43 defined Grand Touring as only the Germans can.

Mere inches smaller than a Ford Mustang convertible — but almost exactly the same size as its primary rivals; the Audi A5 and BMW 4-series — the C43 has a finely crafted interior and a real-world backseat that adults can actually use. Sharp details, colorful graphics across the selectable instrument panel, plus a wide 10.25-inch info/entertainment screen give the Mercedes a thoroughly modern feel complemented by luxury pieces that some buyers won’t expect. From the cosseting leather seats, crisp controls and premium feel to every surface, the Mercedes illustrates why the brand leads the American luxury sales race.

Another Mercedes trait is strong performance and the C43 won’t disappoint. Click the electronic exhaust button on the console, switch to manual shift mode with the paddles on the column and revel in the twin-turbos’ spirited output. Redline produces a raspy brrrap that will startle other drivers, but mimics the music that Mercedes’ race cars produce. If you need more forward thrust than the V-6 can provide, there is also a 4.0-liter V-8 in regular or turbo S formats that produces 469 and 503 hp, respectively, in the C63 Cabriolet. Think German hammer in a velvet glove.

From the distinct multi-element LED headlamps back, the C43 has handsome lines and great street presence. Painted a muted gunmetal gray, the Mercedes appeared both muscular and refined; eye candy for some, prideful ride for others. Sight-lines are very good from the driver’s seat, while the triple-layer soft-top does yeoman duty suppressing unwanted road noise.

Ah yes, the power soft top. Saving weight (and space) over a folding hard top, the C43 top retracts in less than 20 seconds into a well in the trunk, leaving a finished exterior when lowered. A power mesh wind-blocker rises from behind the rearmost headrests when requested, with a front header airfoil also rising to better deflect turbulence away from the car’s occupants. While not quite as slippery in the wind as a two-seater, the Mercedes’ air-control efforts are commendable and enable easy conversation at highway speeds.

Add excellent seat heaters (cooling is optional) as well as the new AirScarf heaters in the headrests (for your neck and shoulders) and the Mercedes easily extends your driving season.

Content includes standard Apple/Android connectivity, Eco stop/start, keyless access and ignition, multi-view rear camera, blind-spot detection, Attention Assist program, forward braking assist, integrated roll bars, plus 50/50 folding rear seatbacks. Options seen here include carbon-fiber rear spoiler, 19-inch AMG wheels with summer sport tires, the AMG performance exhaust, heads-up display, digital instruments, COMMAND voice control system with Navigation, parking assist and driver’s assist programs, bringing the base C43 price from $63,650 to $77,750. EPA estimates are 18/25/21.

The console mouse-pad setup will require a steep learning curve, as there are no buttons or controls on the primary screen, yet some redundant functions on the steering wheel will ease the adjustment period. The car’s road-sensing sign system didn’t always work accurately either, but that is fairly common with all such systems available currently so don’t rush headlong into autonomous driving assumptions just yet.

Stately confidence on the road, extroverted presence at rest and beautiful inside, the C43 will attract buyers just on small visual details alone. Experience the powertrain, lower the top and savor the control offered by the balanced chassis, and this AWD-equipped cabriolet could easily become your only car, no matter where you live.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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