2017 Mercedes-AMG SLC43 first drive

Mercedes-AMG’s SLC43 dumps a V-8 for a V-6, but it'll still blow your socks off

Among the nine models that currently occupy a space in the AMG 43 lineup – Mercedes’ newest mid-range performance offering – the SLC43 is a bit of outlier. First, it’s the only model that is driven exclusively by the rear wheels rather than all four corners by way of the 4matic all-wheel drive system. Secondly, it may be the only model that’s actually down on power and performance versus the outgoing model it supplants. It’s a move likely made in the name of improved fuel economy and the engineering constraints inherent to a power train that’s applied across a vast array of different vehicles.

On paper the numbers look a bit dire for performance enthusiasts, with the new bi-turbocharged, 362 horsepower 3.0-liter V6 under the hood down 54 horsepower and 14 pound-feet of torque when compared to the naturally aspirated 5.5-liter V8 that was installed in the SLK55. But in practice, the SLC43’s roster of new hardware yields a car that provides virtually identical straight-line performance while enhancing the drop top in other ways that speak to both head and heart.

The upshot is a new sense of character for the roadster that’s likely more in line with the original purpose and intent of the high performance SLK. Whether that’s a benefit or detriment to the overall experience is something we needed to determine out on the tarmac, so we hopped behind the wheel of this Brilliant Blue Metallic example outfitted with the AMG Handling Package and headed to the hills.

Chop cylinders, add boost

Without harping on the situation for too long, the loss of the rowdy, eight cylinder mill is something that must be addressed – that hand-built power plant could get this somewhat portly two seater (which is closer in curb weight to a Ford Mustang than a Mazda MX-5) up to speed in a serious hurry.

2017 Mercedes-AMG SLC43
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

But guess what – so does this V6. Despite the sizable output drop, Mercedes quotes the SLC43’s 0 to 60 mph sprint at just 0.1 seconds slower than the SLK55 at 4.6 seconds.

Chalk it up, at least in part, to the new turbocharged engine’s peak torque of 384 lb-ft coming in at just 2,000 rpm rather than the 4,500 revs required to get maximum pull from the V8. It sheds a few pounds off the nose of the car in the process too, which lends positive changes to not only straight line sprints, but cornering and braking as well.

The new recipe

Also aiding the SLC43 in its quest to overcome the power deficit is the AMG-enhanced 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic gearbox, which replaces the seven-speed unit found in the SLK55. Adding two more cogs to the mix not only enhances fuel economy during normal driving, it also allowed AMG engineers to tweak the gearbox to stay in the sweet spot of the motor’s power band nearly at all times when sportier driving modes are selected. And like its applications elsewhere in the AMG 43 lineup, the nine-speed delivers quick response and fast shifts when called upon through the steering wheel-mounted paddles, and rarely feels out of its element when left to handle gear changes on its own.

SLC43’s roster of new hardware yields a car that enhances the drop top in ways that speak to both head and heart.

Like the SLK55 before it, the SLC43 still rides the line between a sports car and a quick GT roadster. Ultimately it leans more toward the latter than the former not only because of its mass, but overall tuning as well. Still, efforts have been made to produce a livelier chassis for those interested, with optionally available adaptive dampers offering a choice between ride compliance and flat cornering. The aforementioned handling package adds a mechanical limited-slip differential to the mix, which works in conjunction with added negative camber at all four corners, newly developed front and rear axles and revised engine mounts.

Scrolling through the five drive modes on offer through the AMG Dynamic Select button on the center stack further illustrates Mercedes-AMG’s effort to provide an accessible and relatively docile roadster during everyday driving, and a red-blooded performance car when called upon to act like one, particularly when Sport+ is selected.

Here, the exhaust opens up to full song, delivering all manner of buzzes, crackles and pops from the pipes out back, while the transmission immediately drops a handful of gears to provide more urgent throttle response, the suspension stiffens up, and the speed-sensitive steering gets weightier in hand.

But the inherent tension of these sportier drive modes means their use will largely be relegated to the occasional back road jaunt rather than daily use. In Comfort and Eco modes you’ll have more time to assess your surroundings, where drivers will discover a mixed bag of sorts.

The outgoing V8 could get this somewhat portly two seater up to speed in a serious hurry, but guess what – so does this V6.

The interior is handsomely appointed in Nappa leather and red contrast stitching, while the optional flat-bottomed AMG steering wheel adds to the sporty vibe. However, from a technological standpoint things are less rosy. The center stack and instrument panel look and function in a decidedly last-generation manner because, in large part, that’s precisely what they are.

Navigating Mercedes’ optional Comand infotainment system is a significantly clumsier affair here than in other vehicles within the automaker’s lineup since the SLK’s control scheme carries over, which means there’s no touchpad interface and the hard buttons for various vehicle functions are spread throughout different sections of the center stack. And while it works well enough, the 7-inch display on offer here doesn’t really give off a contemporary vibe either.

Don’t worry, it’s not always docile

But drop the top, fire up Sport+ mode, point the front end down a good stretch of road, and the SLC43 will deliver on the promises made by its looks. Purists may find themselves looking to alternatives like the Porsche Boxster if sports car prowess is their highest priority for a two-seater convertible in this price range, but at the end of the day, that’s not really the driver that this car is aimed at.

Not quite hard edged but certainly not tame, either, the SLC43 occupies a similar space to its predecessor – one where fun, accessibility and personal preference supersede lap times and driving gloves. While it isn’t without shortcomings, the Mercedes-AMG SLC43 offers its own brand of endearing charms. For those in the market for such a vehicle – one whose merit is, on many levels, a highly subjective matter – personality often goes a long way.

Highs

  • Still very quick in a straight line
  • Raucous sport exhaust system
  • Solid, noise-isolating retractable hardtop
  • Comfortable in ‘normal’ drive modes

Lows

  • Down on power versus the outgoing SLK55
  • Outdated infotainment system with clumsy control scheme
  • Not as agile as some competitors
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