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We evaluate the new C43 Coupe, Sedan and Cabriolet.

Back in January, Mercedes-Benz invited us to Malibu, California, to drive all of its new entry-level Mercedes-AMG vehicles. The lineup of 43-badged AMG models powered by the company's biturbo V6 serves as a stepping stone to the full-blown biturbo V8 performance cars.

So far, we've shared our first-drive experiences in the new Mercedes-AMG E43 Sedan and the GLC43 SUV and Coupe. We're capping off our coverage this week with our impressions of the 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan, Coupe and Cabriolet. In many ways, we've saved the best for last.

Since we're essentially evaluating three different cars in a single piece, we'll start with what they have in common and then move on to our impressions of the individual vehicles.

Compact punch
Like the rest of the vehicles we've evaluated, the new Mercedes-AMG C-Class models are powered by a 3.0L, biturbo V6. As in the GLC variants, it produces 362 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque; that's less than the same powerplant's output in some of the larger AMG 43 models (such as the E43 Sedan), but still plenty given the small footprint of the C-Class.

That power goes to the ground by way of a nine-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC all-wheel-drive with a standard power split of 31% front and 69% rear. On the chassis front, all AMG 43 models receive standard adaptive suspension which has been retuned slightly from the standard C300's for additional sportiness.

In many ways, these cars are loaded-up Mercedes-Benz C-Class models with a larger engine and a sport package. True high-performance options (such as a mechanical limited-slip differential) are largely reserved for the C63 and C63 S models.

Dropping the top
We sampled the 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet first. Having arrived shortly after one of this winter's many Southern California tempests, we figured it was best to experience the morning's pleasant, sunny weather while we could. We were pleased to find that putting the top down didn't diminish the aggressive, crisp notes from the three-liter's exhaust. That statement may seem somewhat incongruous, but in the days of increasingly managed (and even downright synthesized) exhaust notes, it's comforting that we're still able to experience an actual engine noise absent a contained and well-controlled cabin environment.

Unfortunately, we discovered a few less-desirable noises too. With nobody riding shotgun, the passenger-side seat belt would flap constantly against the pillar at anything over 35 MPH or so. Mercedes-Benz engineers assured us that this could be corrected by adjusting the empty seat's position to manage the airflow, and that it would essentially disappear with the addition of an available--though in the case of our tester, not included--factory wind blocker.

If you've read any of our previous coverage of the AMG 43 lineup, you know that the route we used to evaluate the cars was a bit rough around the edges. Fun and engaging, for sure, but rife with significant surface imperfections. For the sake of consistency (and the integrity of our internal organs and dental work), we ran all of the models with the suspension in the middle-of-the-road Sport setting rather than the sharper Sport+.

Charging up the hills and through the corners above Malibu, the Cabriolet felt heftier than its dimensions would suggest. We missed the initial product briefings from the Mercedes-Benz PR staff, so we were flying blind on the vehicles' individual specifications. We weren't surprised to learn later that the Cabriolet is significantly heavier than the C43 Sedan and C43 Coupe. In fact, at 4,145 pounds, the Cabriolet weighs as much as the larger E43 Sedan--exactly as much, in fact, if you believe the spec sheets.

It feels every bit of it, and despite the Cabriolet's additional structural reinforcement, its reflexes feel a bit dull, its feedback a bit numb. The Cabriolet buyer probably won't care, as these performance shortcomings take nothing away from the experience of cruising down the boulevard with the top down, but for somebody who values performance first, it's not the model to buy.

Adding a roof
Sticking to the two-door theme, we took the C43 Coupe out next. Splitting the difference between the C43 Sedan and Cabriolet in terms of both practicality and weight, the Coupe makes fewer sacrifices in the name of styling than the latter, but still doesn't offer quite as much utility as the former.

The extra weight in the Coupe (nearly 200 pounds of it) comes from both structural reinforcement (necessary due to the omission of a pillar) and additional crash bracing in the doors. At 3,935 pounds, it's still quite a bit lighter than the Cabriolet--enough so that you'll notice. It's a much sharper, more engaging drive than the Cabriolet. One example on-hand even had an AMG performance exhaust which was tuned perfectly to flatter the biturbo's already aggressive note.

Unfortunately, what we feel is the Coupe's greatest advantage--its styling--was severely muted by the exterior colors we had at our disposal. The model we photographed looked fantastic from certain angles in certain light, but the pearl white paint often obscured the Coupe's sleek lines. The Night Package accents (gloss black front wing, rear diffuser insert and exhaust surrounds) helped break it up a bit, but we couldn't help but pine for a color a bit more flattering to the sculpted sheet metal.

The complete package
We wrapped up with the Sedan, and in doing so we felt we'd lucked into the proper order in which to experience all three C43 AMG variants.

We'll willingly concede that the Sedan may not be everybody's cup of tea, but it's the one we'd have. It's the lightest and the most practical--truly the best of both worlds as far as we're concerned--and if loving the most engaging and most versatile execution of a concept makes us wrong, well, we don't want to be right.

At 3,745 pounds, it's not exactly a featherweight, but for an all-wheel-drive, 362-horsepower sport sedan with a real back seat, it'll do. It's a full 400 pounds lighter than the convertible--an almost unbelievable advantage, honestly--and feels every bit of it. It also helped that our tester featured the optional AMG performance seats, which will set you back $2,500 just by themselves. We'd argue they're worth it, but if your preferences lean more toward comfort, you may want to stick with the standard buckets.

All of this aside, this is the C43 you want to drive. It's quick, it's responsive and it's confidence-inspiring. Not too long ago, we would have considered the C450 to be an afterthought compared to BMW and Audi's midrange offerings. It was less of a sport sedan than the BMW 335i and less practical than the S4. Now, we honestly feel that the C43 hits the sweet spot right between the two. The only slight against it? You can't have one in rear-wheel-drive.

Leftlane's bottom line
The 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 lineup offers a little something for everyone, whether you're after a little open-top cruising or a serious corner-carver. The sedan is the true driver's car here, and could only be made better by a rear-wheel-drive option.

2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet base price $60,400; as tested, $70,005
Selenite Grey paint finish, $720; Porcelain leather interior, $1,620; AMG Silver trim, $1,300; 19-inch AMG wheels, $850; Premium 2 package, $3,100; Parking Assist package, $1,090; Destination, $925
2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Coupe base price $55,500; as tested, $62,140
"designo" Diamond White paint finish, $1,515; AMG steering wheel, $500; 19-inch AMG wheels, $850; Premium 2 package, $2,650; Night package, $200; Destination, $925
2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Sedan base price $52,000; as tested, $70,190
Obsidian Black Metallic paint finish, $720; AMG carbon fiber exterior trim, $975; AMG steering wheel, $500; Panorama roof, $1,480; AMG performance seats, $2,500; 19-inch AMG wheels, $850; Exterior carbon fiber package, $1,750; Premium 4 package, $7,400; Parking Assist package, $1,090; Destination, $925

Photos by Byron Hurd.

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