MALIBU, California — From the moment the red shoulder harness automatically snugs itself against your left shoulder for made-to-measure security, you know the 2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC43 Coupe will be a special experience. The twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6, shared across the Mercedes-AMG 43 lineup, purrs at idle. You roll the drive selector into Sport mode — perfect for these mountain roads above Malibu — and tug downward on the gear selector, putting the 9-speed transmission into Drive. And away you go! If you’re not afraid of the cops, it’s 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds.
Such a satisfying surge is just another thing to like about the GLC43 Coupe, which is a new offering and nice surprise in the ever more populous AMG 43 lineup. You sit high in this slightly odd, slightly beautiful creation without ever teetering. Cornering performance is dead sure, as if the Coupe is a big electron moving through printed circuits, and body roll is not a factor. Having by and large crumbled under the force of a recent storm, Malibu’s roads are a glorious mess, but the chassis is composed, the suspension supple despite the kinetic challenge of 21-inch-wheels. Seated comfortably in the sport seat of this European-spec test vehicle, you have a great view of the pavement but also superb isolation from it. Under constant throttle, the soundtrack is mellow saxophone with a light, crackling percussion joining in on the overrun.
The Mercedes-AMG 43 vehicles may lack the wallop of those in the AMG 63 series, but what you find when driving the intermediates back-to-back is plenty of verve, excellent livability, and enough luxurious touches to not disappoint even the denizens of Malibu. Like other Mercedes-AMG crossovers and SUVs, the GLC43 Coupe’s nifty second-row seats drop at the touch of a button inside the cargo area. While you’re dining on the balcony of Spruzzo’s, overlooking Zuma Beach, a sturdy cover hides the variety of succulents you’ve purchased at the garden center down the road. And beyond all practical aspects, every touchpoint has an inviting texture, and this test vehicle is trimmed inside with carbon fiber and aluminum.
The GLC43 Coupe ($60,575 as tested) will find many takers when the model makes it to showrooms during the first quarter of this year. Meantime, on the subject of Mercedes-AMG 43 crossovers, it bears mention that the more conventional, blocky GLC43 SUV is just as much fun, and you might appreciate its well-proportioned, more-traditional look even better. The large rear pillars obscure rearward vision, but from the outside the proportions are just right and the bodywork gleams in optional Diamond White Metallic. The as-tested price for this GLC43 SUV: $69,520.
As for the cars, there’s no question about their elegant profiles and impeccable details. You look at the C43 Coupe — the two-door automobile, not the four-door crossover — and draw in a short breath. The roofline, long hood, and tasteful contours are within the classical tradition. Subtlety prevails here. The split-spoke 19-inch wheels add welcome emphasis. It’s all so serene. When you sit inside the C43 Coupe, it doesn’t matter that the satellite radio is playing Korn’s “Freak on a Leash.”
Like most other favorites in the Mercedes-AMG 43 lineup, the C43 Coupe is tuned for 362 hp and 384 lb-ft, and it makes some power chords of its own without ever thrashing. (In the midsize AMG E43 Sedan, the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 produces 396 hp and 384 lb-ft.) Mercedes-AMG chairman Tobias Moers, who is leading AMG through its 50th-anniversary observances, will tell you, “All 43 models are hugely different cars, but they are all true AMGs.” The shared V-6 has been mapped for efficient regulation of fuel injection, ignition, charge-air pressure, combustion pressure, turbocharger speed, and exhaust backpressure. The 9-speed automatic transmission is calibrated for strong throttle response and double-clutches on downshifts. A good many buyers — nearly 23,000 AMG customers in 2016 — now prefer this electronically managed, fully automated kind of performance driving as delivered by a wholly practical car.
And convertibles are practical in Malibu, unless you intend to put a surfboard on the roof. The AMG C43 Cabriolet looks highly traditional, but for shuttling yourself and three others from the ocean-view house down to the beach, what could be better? This test vehicle ($71,445 as tested) is painted Lunar Blue Metallic and has lovely Porcelain leather upholstery. It embodies good taste and timelessness. It has the rear-biased, 31/69-split all-wheel-drive system that’s another commonality among the other AMG 43 models with one exception. In every way, it’s carefree and user friendly. With the soft top retracted, the Cabriolet provides for occupants’ comfort with a removable wind blocker and the Airscarf system of heated air delivered through vents in the front-seat headrests. Even with updrafts sweeping over the ridge along Mulholland Highway, the passenger compartment remains tranquil.
Like the C43 Cabriolet, the SLC43 Roadster has an imperturbable chassis. Mulholland Highway is lined here and there with crude asphalt curbing, but even climbing it at an apex, as you would on a racing circuit, doesn’t discompose the car one bit. The droptops are just as solid-feeling as the hardtops. The only rear-drive car of the bunch, the Roadster ($75,375 as tested) has a prolonged snout, and the body sides bulge and undulate enough to demand your admiration. The shape is so familiar, but look at it through new eyes and you’ll see it is exotic and elegant. And the car is fun to drive. The most noticeable drawback, after all the other models with the up-to-date instrument panel and simple center stack, is the Roadster’s more cluttered control layout.
There are nine Mercedes-AMG 43 models in all, including the compact C43 Sedan and two large SUVs, the GLE43 and GLE43 Coupe. All are refined and pleasing to drive, fuel economy isn’t bad, and the AMG label gives an added bit of distinction. As Mercedes-AMG chairman Moers notes, “We’ve evolved from a successful tuner of Mercedes racing cars to the sports and performance brand of Mercedes-Benz, producing some of the world’s most exciting performance cars.” And indeed, after sampling the lineup, you come away with increased respect for all AMG has achieved.