/ 17 June 2023

BMW and Merc go into the ring

The Mercedes-AMG C43 and BMW M340i

The sparring match between the 3 and the C has been going on for decades, from the entry-level offering to the ever-controversial flagship doyens, the M3 and C63. 

It’s only in recent times, however, that there’s been significant interest just below the heavyweight class, where the stars of this review reside. 

The Mercedes-AMG C43 and the BMW M340i are, in essence, the toe-in-the-water products to coax customers into AMG or BMW M territory. They are the tasters, designed to whet the appetite to the point of no return. 

It’s a strategy that is working, with BMW M and AMG reporting record-breaking numbers in the AMG and M stables, mainly due to a considerable upturn in sales at the bottom end of these flagship divisions. 

On paper, the C43 and BMW M340i are rivals — but they couldn’t be more antithetic if they tried. 

The BMW M340i xDrive delivers traditional, inline-6, turbocharged power amounting to 285kW and 500Nm. This car is an updated version, launched earlier this year as the LCI (life cycle improvement) model set to refresh the range. 

It features that sumptuous engine paired with an 8-speed Sport Steptronic transmission and an adaptive all-wheel-drive system. 

The Mercedes-AMG, on the other hand, does things differently. The C43 is now powered by a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder engine with some help from electrification to make an impressive 300kW and 500Nm. 

The big news is the adoption of an electric exhaust-gas turbo unit that essentially uses an electric motor to aid the turbo at low revs for linear, lag-free power delivery. The powertrain also incorporates a starter generator for improved efficiency. 

Mercedes-AMG C 43 4MATIC, 2022
The AMG C43 interior

Power is sent to all four wheels in the AMG, however, the difference here is that this system is not variable and is set to a fixed 31% front,  69% rear bias. 

The AMG designers have used its strongest design traits in this new car. The vertical-slat AMG grille, with large air intakes, makes for a bold front end and the side profile has new aero-improved alloy wheels, which give the car a higher stance. 

At the rear, those quad elliptical tailpipes on either side of the diffuser and spoiler tell of the C43’s intent. 

The 3 Series is slightly underwhelming when sat next to the AMG. A new rear apron and slight changes to the front grille are really the only fast tells on the LCI car. 

Within one or two trim packages, all you can have on the 3 Series is thrown in — and it’s not much when you compare the two spec for spec. In fact, if you removed the M badges from the 3, you could mistake the car for any other 3 Series sedan. 

Hop inside and the story reads the same. The C43 makes a big show of its latest tech — the 11.9-inch central MBUX infotainment screen being the key feature aboard. 

But the AMG’s seats, the sport steering wheel with integrated multi-functional use and the additions to the visual menu heighten the in-car experience. 

There is a lot of tech and it can feel too much, particularly as the sun sets — all the flashing lights and colours can become intense. You can dim the brightness levels, should you need to, and it doesn’t detract from a cabin that is abundant in features and tech.

The Beemer approaches the interior very differently. The operating system is new, featuring OS8 tech, but there’s nothing that screams M. Again, it’s the same as any other model in the range, and for some, that’s an issue, particularly if BMW is selling this in the M-family. 

The new operating system is fantastic, though, with navigable menus and a slick user experience. 

Push those start buttons and the two cars’ contrasting characters really come to light. 

The C43 is exceptionally competent as a sports car, first and foremost. The chassis setup has prioritised balanced cornering ability over anything else. Point that front end, and the car will oblige with the four-wheel steering coming into its own over the high-speed bends. 

On Edge, and even in the Sport+ setting, the C43 quells any wheel spin from the front or rear. It’s a very neutral setup, and while the grip levels and competence are surprisingly good, the car lacks the fizz that we expect from older-school AMG or just well-sorted sports cars. 

m340inside (1)
The M340i interior

It feels artificial. The steering feedback is clinical. The chassis doesn’t play under your control  and there’s no magic button to augment that. 

The exhaust note, though well-attempted, sounds artificial too, and the experience doesn’t quite live up to the competence. 

Between the two, the C43 will post the fastest lap times … but the Beemer …

The M340i is the modern interpretation of BMW’s tried-and-trusted ethos, thanks to the symphonic engine and playful chassis. 

The M340i will understeer at times, just briefly, and it will oversteer more often, while delivering a far more engaging driving experience than the Merc. 

Despite what has been mentioned above, the diff and braking system, as well as the suspension, have been breathed upon by the M-division, and it’s when you’re driving it hard that this is so evident. 

Dive into a hairpin bend, boot the loud pedal, and the M340i will emerge with just enough song and dance to keep you smiling and awake. Do the same in the C43 — no one will notice how quickly you did that. Despite being down on power and slower as a track toy, the Beemer does the 0 to 100km/h run 0.3 seconds faster than the C43. 

Out on the open road as the daily runner, again, the BMW is a touch more comfortable. Both cars exhibit a harsher ride quality than their less sporty counterparts but the Merc is slightly harsher. This is overly critical, perhaps, because both cover distance with commendable confidence. 

These cars are worlds apart in terms of engineering and character. Do you want the most modern Mercedes-AMG, the curtain-raiser to the C63 S E performance, that is an extension of similar drivetrain modernity? 

The C43 is a very competent sports car with heightened levels of luxury and technology. It’s more expensive than the M340i but you’ll see and feel the difference. Or is the BMW M340i the place you’d call home? 

It has to be the BMW … still. A sports car mustn’t just go fast, it must feel fast from behind the wheel and engage the driver in how it goes about its business. 

The C43 is too good — to its own detriment as it feels clinical. The BMW, meanwhile, is easier to live with and more playful when the need arises. 

Price: BMW M340i R1 363 206
Mercedes-AMG C43 R1 669 491