The latest German weapon going to Australia will deliver amazing feats unheard of just a few years ago.
There’s a great four under the hood of the new Mercedes-AMG C43. Thanks to the electric turbo technology derived from Formula 1, this powerful mid-sized sedan drives like no other with a 2.0-litre engine.
In the 1990s, power and torque outputs of 300 kW and 500 Nm were the sort of numbers that made the 6.0-litre V8 of an HSV Commodore Clubsport exciting.
They are also exactly what the Mercedes-AMG C43 offers.
Mercedes-AMG makes the only other 2.0-litre turbo four that best, just barely, does the engine in the C43. It’s found in the hyper-hot A45 S small hatchback.
The two are closely related, unsurprisingly, but their characters are different.
The sedan’s engine is designed to be mounted longitudinally, not sideways as in the hatchback.
But it’s the big turbo of the C43 that is the main change. On the shaft between the hot turbine and the cooler compressor is a small but powerful (6 kW) electric motor. It is powered by the 48-volt battery from the car’s belt-drive mild-hybrid system.
Mercedes-AMG started thinking about an electric 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine for the C43 six years ago, says development engineer Jan Habermann. The big question was whether he would have enough muscle to replace the twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 of the then-current version of the C43.
The answer came from Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains. They design and manufacture the hybrid powertrains for their Formula 1 racing cars. These have an electric turbo.
HPP was given a goal, including maximum power, to aim for. The Brit-based boffins figured it would work. In theory at least.
According to Habermann, then-Mercedes-AMG boss Tobias Moers told the project team they could have €1 million (about $1.5 million) to do further development, but he wanted a car to test drive for the money.
So Habermann and his crew found an old first-generation A45 and installed a carefully built prototype engine in it. They added a switch in the car so testers, including Moers, could turn the power to the electric turbo on and off.
An electrically boosted turbo destroys the delay between throttle depressing and the sense of power that plagues engines with large turbochargers.
Turning off the electric assist must have made a huge difference to the way the prototype drove. The contrast between off and on convinced Mercedes-AMG management to give the turbo 2.0-litre C43 the green light.
The production version, which is expected to arrive in Australia around March or April next year, with a price tag of nearly $130,000, has plenty of Mercedes-AMG polish with its quick snappy acceleration.
The standard four-wheel drive ensures that none of the engine is wasted by wheelspin, even though two-thirds of the power is sent to the rear axle.
Highly effective adaptive dampers and unobtrusive rear-wheel steering are also standard. These give the C43 a sporty firm driving feel, even in Comfort mode (Sport and Sport+ make everything even stiffer) and agility in corners.
The exterior features AMG’s signature front end, including the so-called Panamera grille, a very discreet boot lid spoiler and a new 20-inch wheel designed to minimize air resistance. There will also be 18- and 19-inch wheels.
In the beautifully appointed cabin are a pair of nice and supportive sport seats in the front. In addition to the AMG-specific steering wheel, there are only AMG options in the instrument display and the infotainment screen menus. It has also been promised that models in the Australian market will come with a full driver assistance package, which partly explains the price increase over the outgoing C43.
The only obvious flaw of the car is the nine-speed automatic transmission. The test cars at
the international launch in France suffered from horribly jerky shifting at low speeds and light throttles. Mercedes-AMG engineers say they are already working on software updates to the steering to fix the problem.
However, the engine is a star. From its slightly gravelly idle, the sound is unmistakably four, especially the raucous roar as it approaches its 7000rpm red line. But the performance always feels like something with more than four cylinders.
The electric turbo gives the C43 engine a spunk and sharpness that makes a very compelling case for this Formula 1 inspired technology.
MERCEDES-AMG C43 4MATIC
PRICE $130,000 (estimated)
SECURITY 5 stars
ENGINE 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo 48-volt mild hybrid; 300kW/500Nm
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
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