The Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet Is a Saner, and Therefore Weirder, AMG Vehicle
AMG’s move to the big leagues results in a softer—not to say soft—AMG for the masses.
Nothing on earth can match the brute civilizing force of too much money. Scottish philosopher-slash-protogentrifier David Hume knew it way back in the 1700s, when he contemplated spreading around some coin in the hopes of taming his "barbarous" Highlander neighbors; today, it's a fact that should nag Mercedes-AMG CEO Tobias Moers like a toothache, since both Moers and the AMG name are known for their unabashed barbarian leanings. If a concentrated blast of cash can smooth the roughest edge, where does that leave products celebrated for their grit?
Moers was there, after all, when AMG was finally pulled from the basement and promoted into the corner office, no longer just an earner but a full partner—name on the sheetmetal and everything. You want a smart, scorched-earth business sedan? Yes, sir, the “AMG” side of the Mercedes-AMG firm has been doing that sort of thing since we invented the original banker’s hot-rods back in the 1960s. As always, more money means increased exposure and more prestige. Plus, here, higher stakes in the form of a whole slew of new customers to keep happy—many of whom aren't AMG diehards and also prefer not to have the ever-living shit scared out of them by a bunch of savages shoving the guts of a 450 SE into a 300 SL Gullwing, or slipping proprietary Formula 1 materials into the cylinder linings of a stunning modern grand tourer.
Those new customers inevitably mean the most dreaded of words for a madman like Moers: compromise. What’s a barbarian to do? One day you’re happily rampaging about a foggy green island, stabbing your enemies with your ceremonial skirt-knife; the next, you're being pulled into a discussion of empiricist philosophy and trying to remember how to dance a minuet.
Which brings us to the Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet, certainly the least savage vehicle ever to wear an AMG badge—which is not to suggest it is anything but an excellent car, because it certainly is that. Mercedes, like Rolex and Apple, has achieved such a mastery of mass-produced luxury that it's nearly impossible to find an example that's not inherently joyful to interact with (a different proposition, of course, than "live with," but such is the nature of short-term reviews), aesthetic quibbles aside. In fact, opting for just a touch of the traditional AMG high drama within Mercedes's modern, stoic opulence makes for an interesting recipe.
- The engine doesn't wow with numbers—the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 makes just 362 hp and 384 lb-ft of twist, which are not much considering the Aufrecht Melcher Großapach stamp—but with its charm. It's rowdy and loud, and in Sport+ Mode with the active exhaust engaged, it bangs, crackles, and has a Wagnerian sense of furious urgency at speed. And it motivates: the somewhat piggy, 4,165-pound drop-top will hit 60 mph from a standstill in the mid-four-second range.
- If you read "cabriolet" and still reflexively hear "compromised handling," know that automakers have done a remarkable job dialing in convertibles for true hard running. This car gets an AMG upgrade over the C-Class that includes proper sports-car steering (2.1 turns lock-to-lock), a beefier suspension with adaptive dampers, and larger brakes. It felt overly capable on the road, to the point where I kept wondering how it would stand up under proper track duty—not that anyone would, or really should, take this variant to a road course.
- Regarding Mercedes's perfection of mass-produced luxury, it really is a lovely place to spend some seat time. The Airscarf feature, integrated into the headrest, blows hot air on the back of your neck when the top is down (or, really, anytime); it's not new, but it's one of the better luxury innovations of the past several years. The seats are extremely comfortable; the optional Burmester audio system is vibrant and crisp; the ergonomics are exactly right for someone my size—a proportional 5'10" and 185 pounds—and the COMAND (for Cockpit Management and Data) infotainment system is one of the most intuitive in the business. On a long-haul drive along mostly interstate highways, I cruised for a minute alongside a C7 Corvette Stingray in Star Wars stormtrooper livery (white, with gloss black accents)—a dead ringer for the Road & Track long-term test car we had in the fleet back when I was with that magazine, a vehicle in which I've spent a serious amount of time (on both road and track) since it came out, and easily one of my top-three favorite cars of the last decade. After staring at it wistfully for a moment, I made some minute adjustments to the dual-climate control, flipped on Airscarf, hit the gas, and left the 'Vette behind in my auto-dimming mirrors, content in the knowledge that for a state-crossing bombing run I wouldn't trade places with that 'Vette driver for the world.
- In terms of those aforementioned aesthetic quibbles, most fall not to the overall design but to the ways in which that design is ruined by the fact that it is a convertible, a variant that often pulls the nasty trick of trading a roofline for a heaping dose of ugly. (For the record, I am congenitally disinclined against almost every modern—i.e. non-vintage—convertible. There is a sense of un-seriousness about them that causes me to distrust any purported fan of driving who opts for a convertible in the same general way I am skeptical of anyone wearing shorts in winter.) So it is here. In profile, the C43 AMG's aggressive, warped-bubble canopy, with its hard-sloped rear roof line, makes for a sleek and muscular machine; drop the top, though, and the profile is made flat and blunt, like the head of a pitching wedge.
- I could go on about why I don't like convertibles for a while, aside from anything specific to this car specifically or Merc in general. It's no small thing that they allow every dickhead driving by to scrutinize both you and the inside of your car. I know, because I'm the dickhead looking into every convertible I pass. (Even though we collectively forgive it because it's reflexive, it's also inherently creepy to give someone the casual once-over while he's completely aware that it is happening.) Convertibles are like capri pants: they subtract just enough to make things awkward for everyone, while providing only a sporadic and narrowly-defined advantage.
- To continue with looks: It's hard to fault the interior of a loaner vehicle, because it's often simply a case of someone choosing options you'd never choose for yourself. That said, Mercedes has gone all-in on a more-is-more interior design language that would give Liberace pause. There are perforations, creases, contrasts in texture, color, and stitching, over-use of brightware, and the seemingly obligatory carbon-fiber touches—here, tucked into the center of the driver's gauges. Then there's the landscape-view tablet perched atop the whole haphazard assemblage that is the infotainment screen, which only heightens the overall impression of maximalism at its least coherent and most overwhelming.
- This car needs a lovely long-haul demeanor more than a sports car's stiff ride, but run-flat tires with reinforced sidewalls mistakenly assign it the latter. It's not Corvette-stiff, but neither is it as luxuriant as a regular C-Class.
- Does the AMG badge, and experience, make this a worthwhile elite C-Class at $70,000 as tested? Debatable. It's an well-executed and coherent combination of luxury and athleticism—but I'd probably find a more interesting way to spend that chunk of coin.
The Bottom Line
It would be easy to categorize this car as an underwhelmingly soft AMG vehicle, but it's much better to think of it as an sharper Mercedes with a heaping dose of extra thrills. After all, those who like to punch up can opt for the brawnier, 469-hp C63 with the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, or even the uprated 503-hp C63 S. This is a gap-bridging car, one meant to introduce the uninitiated into the make-better world of AMG. The sharpest edges have been wrapped in a layer of sophistication, with the result being a sort of exciting savviness. Even if, like me, you harbor some unabashed barbarian leanings of your own, it's hard to argue this car isn't a winner, both on its own and as part of Mercedes-AMG's larger narrative.
The 2017 Mercedes-AMG Cabriolet, By the Numbers
Price (as tested): $61,325 ($70,005)
MPG (city/highway): 22 (19/26)
Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, 362 hp, 384 lb-ft; 9-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
0-60 mph: 4.3 seconds
As desirable as the coupe? GTFO