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The 2023 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Standard operating procedure for most every Mercedes-AMG first-drive program I’ve attended has included track time. Yet, there we were in north-east France, just 20-minutes from a track called Anneau du Rhin – and it’s off limits.

It turns out that press-preview track time is reserved for full-on AMG cars, and the one we’re here to drive is the C43 version – AMG Lite, so to speak – of the latest C-Class compact sedan. Redesigned for model year 2022, the new-generation C-Class is so far sold only in its base C300 version, but will be joined by the C43 this fall.

(Incidentally, if you share our fetish for high-performance wagons, you can still build and price the 2021 AMG C43 wagon. No wagon versions of the new C-Class will be coming to Canada, AMG or otherwise).

Even if you don’t get wagons, another reason to snap up a 2021 AMG C43 Wagon is its smooth-as-velvet V6 engine. The 2023 C43 is more powerful than the ‘21 was, and is bristling with advanced powertrain and chassis technology, but it’s a four-cylinder. Mighty-mite four-bangers are staples of today’s emissions-driven auto industry.

Other mechanical advances are less contentious, and include standard four-wheel steering, and a switch to AMG’s MCT version of the nine-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the traditional “slush-box” torque-converter with a more decisive multi-plate clutch.

The 4WS provides a tighter turning circle at low speeds (when the rear wheels steer out of phase with the fronts) and quicker yet more stable response above 100 kilometres an hour (in phase); the MCT transmission enables a Race Start function.

The only thing that truly banishes turbo lag – at least when launching from a stop – is using Race Start.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The new C43 engine may be “only” a four-pot, but it’s also the world’s most powerful production four-pot. It makes 402 horsepower from two litres displacement, versus the 385 from the previous three-litre V6. Peak torque is down a little, to 369 lb.-ft from 384.

You can also impress your gearhead pals with this technical factoid: the M139 engine’s overachiever status is enabled by a piece of technology lifted directly from Mercedes-Benz’s Formula 1 program: an electric turbocharger.

Some M-B engines already employ an electric supercharger to fill in boost at low revolutions per minute before the exhaust-driven turbocharger gets up to speed; here, however, an electric motor built into the turbocharger itself performs the same function. When appropriate, the motor can also become a generator to feed electricity back to the car’s 48-volt battery, which in turn can power a belt-driven alternator/starter/motor that can briefly add an additional 13 horsepower to assist expeditious departures.

For better or worse, the all-wheel drive delivers a fixed 31:69-per cent front rear power split – and for engaged drivers, that’s definitely for the better. On a track, classic rear-wheel drifts should be available. More relevantly (and responsibly), on public roads the collaboration between rear-biased all-wheel drive, rear-wheel steer and tactile front steering delivers handling that is terrifically responsive and agile without being twitchy.

The new engine is less of a slam dunk. We thought the electric supercharger would eliminate turbo lag; in reality, it ensures much less lag than would otherwise be the case when a turbo is sized to generate more than 200 horsepower per litre. But there still is some. Floor it hard from rest, and it’s a tick or two before full thrust reports for duty.

Still, you won’t notice the lag in routine driving on the street, and hopefully the downsized and mildly electrified new engine will deliver improved fuel economy. We look forward to finding out when the C43 comes to Canada. Or better still, a chance to take it to the track.

The dash has one free-standing horizontal screen for the gauge cluster.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

2023 Mercedes-AMG C43 4Matic

  • Price: TBA
  • Engine: Two-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Nine-speed automatic/rear-biased all-wheel drive
  • Fuel consumption: TBA
  • Alternatives: Audi S4, BMW M340i, Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing, Infiniti Q50 Red Sport, Lexus IS500, Volvo S60 Recharge Polestar

Looks

The latest C-Class redesign brings rounder contours with less sculpting, to which the C43 adds an AMG-specific grille, front apron and air intakes, matching rocker panels, diffuser-look rear apron and two pairs of round tailpipe trim elements. Wheel sizes go up to 20 inches.

The C43 has one of the 'busiest' steering wheels in the business.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Interior

New AMG performance seats will be standard, and hold you like a parent’s hug. Surprisingly absent are M-B’s recent wall-to-wall screens on the dashboard; instead, there’s one free-standing horizontal screen for the gauge cluster and a separate large portrait-format screen on the centre stack. AMG has copied Porsche’s round buttons (actually, two of them) on the wheel for quickly selecting drive modes. Together with four sets of buttons on the wheel spokes, paddle shifters behind the rim and two stalks behind those (the one on the right is the gear selector), you have one of the ‘busiest’ steering wheels in the business.

Performance

The only thing that truly banishes turbo lag – at least when launching from a stop – is using Race Start. This produces highly effective departures, and a sprint to 100 kilometres an hour in a claimed 4.6 seconds (a few ticks slower than the rival BMW M340i’s 4.3 seconds). While the engine sounds highly purposeful in the process, it neither feels nor sounds as silkily musical as the engine it replaces. In routine driving, too, the engine sets no new standards for four-cylinder refinement. We noticed occasional transmission snatch in stop-and-go traffic. But then again, 402 horsepower…

Technology

Packaging for Canada hasn’t been determined yet, but it’s a Mercedes, so assume almost every assisted-drive, connectivity and infotainment technology will be available. On the AMG, that adds a considerable amount of drive-mode adjustability and configurable vehicle dynamics displays including a track timer and data logger.

The engine on the C43 is smaller, but adds power.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Cargo

The trunk is a respectable size (455 litres), with a useful folded-seats pass-through.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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