Mercedes C43 convertible — Fresh-air thrills

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

In our current automotive world dominated by crossover SUVs and pickup trucks, true four-place convertibles are becoming obsolete. A majority of open air rides are small sports cars that are primarily designed for two. But not at Mercedes-Benz, which builds virtually every possible configuration of  every vehicle in every segment under its vast portfolio. For instance, if you are enamored of the new compact C Class, there can be a convertible in your future that will seat four adults without sacrificing style, performance or interior comfort.

Mercedes introduced its latest C-Class sedan in 2015 and added the coupe and convertible (cabriolet) in 2017. While the standard version of the sporty two-doors are stunning in appearance inside and out with a turbocharged 4-cylinder, cutting-edge performance can be had with two AMG-tuned versions, the C43 and the C63. That's three engine choices from a 4-cylinder to a V-8 with a wide range of horsepower — and price.

The new 2018 C-Class convertible shares some of the best traits of the sedan that include meticulous craftsmanship, a long list of available high-tech features and the kind of luxury you expect from Mercedes-Benz. The C-Class convertible — and coupe — actually enhance the visual appeal of the stylish sedan with large air inlets, wraparound headlights, and a deep sculpted character line in the bodywork.

Opt for the high-horsepower, specially tuned AMG editions and the exterior beauty is amped up. The AMG styling includes a front bumper with sporty distinctive air intakes, diamond meshes and silver chrome trim. The diamond radiator grille features chrome-plated pins, louvers in high-gloss black and AMG lettering. A silver-chrome front splitter ensures an optimal flow of air to various cooling modules.

Additional highlights include black exterior mirror housings as well as two chrome-plated tailpipes with a center divider. Further striking features come courtesy of the new "BITURBO – 4MATIC" lettering on the front fenders and the "AMG" (left) and "C43" (right) lettering on the trunk lid.

The C-Class Cabrio features Mercedes' neck-warming “Airscarf” system, plus an optional “Aircap” system to help prevent ruffled hair and wind noise associated with the open-air experience. The latter system works by extending a panel above the windshield when the top is down to help divert air around passengers; it is part of the "premium one” options package, and, like Airscarf, makes a lot of sense if you want a convertible that can be enjoyed most of the year.

While the C43 comes with a 362-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 with 384 pound-feet of torque, the C63 gets a V-8 with 503 horsepower. Despite the horsepower disparity, we think the C43 is a good compromise between the standard C-Class convertible and the C63. The C43 offers most of the C63's smile-inducing AMG hardware without the bigger price tag and insurance bill.

Consider price — the C43 starts at $61,795 compared to the C63's entry fee of $82,495 — and consider go-fast performance — the C43 can finish off a 0-to-60 run in 4.3 seconds while the C63 is rated at 3.9 seconds. That amounts to $5,175 per tenth of a second.

We would describe the C43's performance as nothing short of thrilling with horsepower directed through a fast-acting AMG-enhanced 9-speed G-TRONIC automatic transmission and standard AMG Performance 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The open-air enjoyment for four people is backed by AMG's aggressive suspension tuning with three-stage adjustable damping at all four corners.

The cockpit has a simple, graceful layout with a limited number of buttons and logically placed controls and the instrument cluster features two 4.5” round color dials. But accessing some functions necessitated digging into the menu in the infotainment screen. We like the traditional Mercedes power seat controls on the door — an old design that still works extremely well. And we enjoyed the center-screen animation of the top opening and closing. The front seats proved comfortable, and we think they would wear well for long trips.

Full disclosure — if you don't need cutting-edge performance, but want to look and feel good in a well-equipped Mercedes convertible, it can be purchased in the base C300 with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque starting at $52,195. All-wheel drive is available. And the base car is no slouch in the performance department capable of a 0-to-60 run in the low-to-mid 6-second range.

When ordering a C43 AMG convertible be aware that the base price of $61,795 is just a starting point. Options are many and can quickly inflate the bottom line. For instance, our test car carried a bottom line of $67,885 with several desirable options.

Base price: $61,795; as driven, $67,885
Engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6
Horsepower: 362 @ 5,550 rpm
Torque: 384 foot-pounds @ 2,000 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 111.8 inches
Length: 185.0 inches
Curb weight: 4,220 pounds
Turning circle: 38.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 8.8 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 19 city, 26 highway
0-60: 4.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW 4-Series convertible, Audi S5 convertible

The Good
• Outstanding performance
• Open air for four people
• Styling turns heads
• High quality interior

The Bad
• A heavyweight at over two tons

The Ugly
• Stiff ride quality