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In recent years, the introduction of flexible performance technologies – active exhaust, adaptive dampers, adjustable throttle sensitivity and shift schedules, etc – have given automakers the ability to change a car’s character on the fly, turning docile cruisers into taut performance machines (and vice versa) with the simple push of a button.

And while some enthusiasts would like to think that their talent and driving requirements necessitate having the most performance-focused version of a particular model on offer, the reality is that the performance threshold of modern vehicles is often so high that these track-focused machines are rarely exploited to their full potential, if ever. There’s also the typical high cost of entry involved with these top-spec models to consider as well, and the fact that hardcore track tuning is often directly at odds with everyday drivability.

These inherent issues have popped up on automakers’ radars over the past few years, and a number of them have sought to create a mid-range offering that occupies a space between their standard models and their hardcore high performance counterparts, as evidenced by BMW M Performance, Cadillac V-Sport and Audi’s S lineups. These models seek to find a stronger balance between civility, price, and capability while delivering a driving experience that’s more performance-oriented than the standard car but not nearly as hard-edged as the full-bore performance variant.

The 43 lineup applies the AMG brushstroke to a wide breadth of Mercedes-Benz models, ranging from the two-seater SLC roadster all the way up to the high-riding GLE sport utility. In between you'll find the AMG 43 treatment applied to all variants of the C-Class, as well as the E-Class sedan and GLC crossover.

Mercedes-Benz is now throwing their hat into the ring with the introduction of the AMG 43 lineup, a treatment which touches models ranging from the two-seater SLC roadster all the way up to the five-door GLE sport-utility. We spent some time with select members of the Mercedes-AMG 43 roster on the winding roads outside of Phoenix, Arizona to get a better sense of what this new treatment means for performance enthusiasts.

The AMG 43 Formula

Founded by a pair of former Mercedes-Benz engineers who originally got their start in 1967 as a tuner of racecars, 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the AMG brand. Over the years their Affalterbach-based shop became more and more synonymous with modified Mercedes-Benz street cars, which they’d tweak for better handling, additional power output, and more visual presence. The AMG badge has earned a reputation among performance enthusiasts for the division’s comprehensive transformation of Mercedes’ typically low-key models into fire-breathing Autobahn stormers, and that tradition continues to this day.

But as the battle for high performance supremacy among automakers rages on unabated, the disparity between those two schools of thought has widened substantially, essentially leaving buyers to choose between an extreme performance machine or a comparatively placid driving experience.

The SLC43 replaces the SLK55 as the top-spec iteration of the Mercedes roadster. Though its down 54 horsepower and 14 lb-ft of torque versus the 5.5-liter naturally aspirated V8 found in its predecessor, the SLC43 is only 0.1 seconds slower to 60 mph, due in part to the V6's turbocharged power delivery. With peak torque of 384 lb-ft coming in at just 2,000 rpm rather than the 4,500 revs required to get maximum pull from the V8, the SLC43 only takes 4.6 seconds to do the deed.

But what if you’d prefer to just split the difference? That’s where the AMG 43 range comes in. Aside from a few exceptions, the treatment outfits the C43, E43, GLC43, GLE43 and SLC43 in similar fashion. Power comes from a bi-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 (tuned to dish out 396 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque in the E43 and 362 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque in everything else), which is hooked to a nine-speed, AMG-enhanced automatic gearbox with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters that sends power to all four wheels through Mercedes’ 4matic all-wheel drive system with a 31/69 percent torque split front and rear, respectively (except in the SLC43, which remains rear-wheel drive).

AMG Ride Control is also part of the equation across the board, which means adaptive dampers are on hand to offer three distinct levels of suspension stiffness via a toggle switch on the center console, while AMG Dynamic Select allows for various settings like throttle sensitivity, shift schedules, exhaust volume and damper settings to be adjusted on the fly by switching drive modes.

The E43's bi-turbocharged V6 gets a unique tune versus the rest of the lineup, bringing its peak output up to 396 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque.

Though the aesthetic treatments are fairly subtle, there’s a few visual cues that help the AMG 43 models stand apart from their garden-variety counterparts, including unique grille treatments, wheels, exhaust tips, and body kit tweaks. Inside it’s a similar story, with the AMG 43 lineup vehicles sharing the majority of the their standard counterpart’s layout, but with a unique AMG instrument cluster and a flat-bottomed sport steering wheel with red contrasting topstitching that’s used throughout the rest of the interior.

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The AMG 43 treatment includes the company’s AMG Dynamic Select system, which allows the driver to toggle between various drive modes on the fly by way of a switch on the center console. Hard buttons for damper stiffness, manual transmission mode, and other features are also on hand.

At Speed

 Though the strategy is similar throughout the AMG 43 lineup, there’s obvious disparities in performance between, say, the SLC43 and the GLC43, which makes it tricky to comment on how these cars behave on the whole. Given that, we’re going to focus most of our attention on the C43 Coupe, which we’d argue will likely be of the most interest to Turnology readers.

While the C43 might be down by over 140 horsepower versus the top-spec, V8-powered C63 S, it’s worth noting that its V6 mill is up more than 120 ponies versus the four cylinder found in the C300. So while it loses a step or two to the full-blooded AMG model, the C43 is still a massive jump in performance from the standard car.

Among the numerous vehicles that have received an AMG 43 makeover, the C43 Coupe is arguably the most enthusiast-focused offering of the bunch.

Power from the bi-turbocharged V6 comes on early with hardly a hint of turbo lag, and with all four wheels working together to propel the car forward while the nine-speed gearbox fires off shifts in quick succession, and the sprint to 60 mph from rest feels noticeably quicker than Mercedes-AMG’s quoted time of 4.6 seconds. Though the six cylinder’s song can’t compete with the lusty bark of the C63’s baritone V8, the active exhaust system installed on the C43 does offer some performance theatrics that win it back a few points, offering all manner of off-throttle pops and cackles in the Sport and Sport+ drive mode settings.

Like the rest of the AMG 43 lineup, the C43 gets red contrast stitching throughout the interior to go along with its sport seats. While the aggressive bolstering might hint otherwise, these seats remain comfortable and supportive during long stints behind the wheel.

There’s an optional performance exhaust on offer as well (and equipped to our tester), which adds a true dual pipe system to the mix. This system also boasts an extra set of internal valves that take the aural drama a step further when called upon to do so via driving mode selection and/or throttle position.

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The C43 gets big ventilated and cross-drilled discs coupled with four-piston calipers up front. It seems like a well-suited setup for the level of haste the motor is capable of, though we’d probably recommend a more aggressive brake pad for would-be owners who plan to do a fair amount of track work with their cars.

When it comes to stopping power the C43’s setup is beefed up versus the standard C-Class as well, with ventilated and cross-drilled 14.2-inch discs installed up front and 12.6-inch units out back. Working in conjunction with the high performance summer tires offered as a no-charge option, the C43 feels sure-footed enough to push the car hard down demand stretches of road due to its consistent brake pedal feel. While they’re a noticeable improvement over the C300’s stoppers, the C43’s brakes will start to show the limits of abuse they’re willing to tolerate if given enough pavement, velocity, and time under abuse to do so – road course or otherwise.

As you might expect, pricing for AMG 43 models falls between the standard model and the full-blooded AMG for models where such a variant exists. For the C43 Coupe, that means a starting price of $55,500 ($67,190 as tested), while a base model E43 Sedan will set you back $72,400 ($91,675 as tested).

All things considered, the C43 and the AMG 43 lineup as a whole serve as capable, real-world performance alternatives for folks who are looking for a more engaging driving experience than the standard model can deliver. It’s also worth noting that while cars like the C-Class coupe and E-Class sedan have a full-spec AMG variant, many vehicles in the AMG 43 lineup do not, which means that this performance treatment offers a more sport-focused drive for models which previously had no such alternative. For that reason alone, the introduction of the AMG 43 lineup is undoubtedly worth celebrating.