• S5’s sloping Sportback roof compromises headroom and slim...
    S5’s sloping Sportback roof compromises headroom and slim windows make you feel a bit hemmed in.
  • S5 Virtual Cockpit layout a bit sportier than more ‘every...
    S5 Virtual Cockpit layout a bit sportier than more ‘everyday’ Audis.
  • Our C 43 didn’t have a spare, but if it did, it would eat...
    Our C 43 didn’t have a spare, but if it did, it would eat into boot space.
  • Since the Merc is a regular sedan, it has more space in t...
    Since the Merc is a regular sedan, it has more space in the back. Thigh support is a bit short though.
  • Some will find the Audi’s front seats snug.
    Some will find the Audi’s front seats snug.
  • Liftback boot gives a more usable load bay.
    Liftback boot gives a more usable load bay.
  • Typically understated Audi cabin is well built but has on...
    Typically understated Audi cabin is well built but has only a few sporty add-ons.
  • C-class’ elegant cabin design made much sportier by red s...
    C-class’ elegant cabin design made much sportier by red stitching and dark wood.
  • Merc’s COMAND feels dated and screen small.
    Merc’s COMAND feels dated and screen small.
  • Dynamic dampers standard on C 43.
    Dynamic dampers standard on C 43.
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2017 Mercedes-AMG C 43 vs Audi S5 Sportback comparison

27th Jan 2018 6:00 am

The new Audi S5 Sportback is powerful, practical, all-wheel drive and very German. Has the Mercedes-AMG C 43 finally met its match?

AMG’s C 43 really did prove that ultimate power isn’t everything when it was launched last year. As far as we’d known, up until then, a hot AMG C-class meant a V8 engine, stiff suspension, a very loud noise, rear-wheel drive, and, as a result, a sometimes-worrying dearth of traction. But then the supposedly lesser ‘43’ came along with all-wheel drive, a bit less power, a softer but still pleasant noise, and comfort like you’d expect from a Mercedes, and it proved to be an altogether more usable package for our roads. But before the C 43, Audi had the old S5 Sportback – albeit for the all-too-brief span of two years. Now that car has been replaced by an all-new model, and it’s everything you’d expect. It’s more powerful, better looking, more spacious, more luxurious and more modern. But is it the better everyday performance car? Or is that the Mercedes?

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

Let’s start with what they have in common – turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engines, torque converter automatic gearboxes and all-wheel drive. And then there’s the fact that they’re both fully imported, so unlike some of their locally assembled stablemates, they are ‘uncorrupted’, which is to say they haven’t been retuned for our market, and that does have an impact on the way they behave on the road.

They both also have regular diesel variants (A5 TDI and C 250d) and the sporty visual add-ons that set them apart are small and subtle. The Audi, for example, just has its grille finished in black rather than chrome, the wing mirrors are silver, and though the alloy wheels are a different shape, they’re the same size. The AMG makes a better effort at distancing itself from its mainstream sibling, what with its ‘diamond’ grille, all-new bumpers and, of course, different alloys. It’s also far more generously equipped than a regular C-class, while the S5 has virtually the same equipment list as the diesel A5. But then the price walk from a C 250 d to C 43 is a lot greater than the one from A5 to S5. Which looks better? Personally, I prefer the Audi, with its subtle curves, low roof and greater visual width. Although, the fact that a C-class is a far more common sight than an A5 Sportback probably has something to do with that.

On the inside too, the S5 isn’t too different from the A5, save for some carbon-fibre trim and red quilted upholstery, whereas the AMG 43 feels a more significant step up from its lesser sibling, with its black leather, dark matte wood and red seatbelt; oh yes, chunkier steering wheel too. Both cars get heavily bolstered sports seats at the front, though, while the S5’s snug buckets are better suited to skinny ol’ me, I suspect most would prefer the larger, comfier chairs of the C 43. And while we’re talking practicality, they both have 480-litre boots, but the Audi’s liftback opening means the space is more usable, plus, its spare wheel is tucked safely away underneath; the Merc’s sits inside the boot. The back seats are important too; in fact, they are what separate sports sedans from outright sportscars and add some real-world usability. With its sloping ‘Sportback’ roof, the A5 does sacrifice quite a bit of headroom and taller passengers will find it a bit cramped back here. No such issue in the C-class, thanks to its conventional sedan shape, and though it’s a little short on thigh support, it does feel like the more comfortable and spacious back seat.

Dimensions
Audi S5 SportbackMercedes-AMG C 43
Length4733mm4702mm
Width1843mm1810mm
Height1386mm1434mm
Wheelbase2824mm2840mm
Kerb weight1660kg1690kg
Fuel tank58 litres66 litres
Tyre size (f/r)245/40 R18225/45 R18-245/40 R18

DIET POP

Numbers? The Merc’s 367hp plays the Audi’s 354hp, and it’s a similar story with the torque – 520Nm versus 500Nm. The Audi has eight speeds in its torque converter gearbox (that’s right, no DSG this time), while the Mercedes has nine. Launch them both as hard as possible and they are shockingly closely matched, with the AMG just slightly edging ahead. In the sprint to the ton, it gets there in 4.77sec compared to the S5’s 5.01sec, it gets the 20-80kph sprint done and dusted in 3.08sec to the Audi’s 3.16sec and, when bolting from 40-100kph, the Merc does the dash in 3.58sec versus the Audi’s 4.24sec.

Performance
Audi S5 SportbackMercedes-AMG C 43
0-20kph0.69s0.68s
0-40kph1.53s1.46s
0-60kph2.46s2.30s
0-80kph3.90s3.37s
0-100kph5.01s4.77s
0-120kph6.80s6.52s
20-80kph (in kickdown)3.16s3.08s
40-100kph (in kickdown)4.24s3.58s

The figures may be as they are, but there are some differences in the way these cars feel on the road, and this is what might make all the difference for many. For instance, while both V6 engines sound really nice, it’s the AMG’s that’s a bit louder and more melodious; the Audi V6 is a little muffled by a layer of turbo whoosh. But the AMG driving experience is significantly dented by the nine-speed automatic gearbox. Even when you’re just ambling along, it’s inconsistent with its gearshifts, sometimes shifting up or down abruptly when you least expect it. This, of course, is amplified in Sport+ mode. The Audi’s ZF eight-speed automatic is far more predictable and better at quickly adapting to changing driving conditions; you can go from full-bore race pace to gentle cruise with a twitch of your right ankle and it will change its shift character accordingly.

Powertrain
Audi S5 SportbackMercedes-AMG C 43
EngineV6, 2995cc, turbo-petrolV6, 2996cc, turbo-petrol
Max power354hp at 5400-6400rpm367hp at 5500-6000rpm
Max torque500Nm at 1370-4500rpm520Nm at 2000-4200rpm
Gearbox8-speed automatic9-speed automatic

DYNAMIC DUO

The AMG has one key advantage though – adjustable dampers as standard. They’re a cost option on the Audi; one which was not ticked on our test car. With a few prods of a button, you can set the C 43 from Comfort to Sport to Sport+, and this works independently of the car’s drive modes. That gives this already dual-natured car an even greater level of adjustability. And yes, when you’re going slowly, the Mercedes is easily the softer of the two in Comfort mode, dare I say more comfortable than the standard C-class, which has firmer, Indianised suspension. But for all its low-speed comfort, the limited wheel travel means you can ‘bottom out’ or hit the bump stops quite easily. The Audi, with its non-adjustable dampers, isn’t uncomfortable, but comparatively, it’s got a slightly firm edge. But when you go faster you realise the Audi is the better compromise, overall. It’s more compliant, comfortable enough, and stays flatter at high speeds.

Neither car has a perfect steering. However, the S5’s is the best we’ve sampled on an Audi in a long time, feeling light enough at low speeds and nice and weighty when you’re going fast. No, it doesn’t give you the best feedback, but at least it’s direct and consistent in translating your inputs to the road. On the flip side, the Merc’s steering can sometimes feel a bit too light, but it makes up for that by being quicker and more responsive than the Audi’s, requiring little effort to change the C’s heading. Both cars offer immense grip thanks to their all-wheel-drive systems, but the Audi feels a touch safer. No, you don’t get the same RWD thrills as an AMG C 63, but the C 43 still feels rear biased.

Equipment
Audi S5 SportbackMercedes-AMG C 43
Adaptive suspensionOptionalYes
Satellite navigationYesYes
SunroofYesYes
Auto climate controlYesYes
Parking cameraYesYes
LED headlampsYesYes
Airbags89

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

So, it’s close. Very close. We’d previously only really gotten a taste of the C 43 on track, but out here on the road is where it really shines. The softer suspension means it handles the bump and grind really well, and it’s even got the plusher, more accommodating seats. It sounds quite nice as well, and it’s got a top-notch interior. The Audi, too, has a beautiful and well-built interior, and though it may be a little tighter on headroom at the back, it’s got the bigger boot. Its MMI infotainment system feels far superior to the older version of COMAND that Merc still uses in the C-class, and it even gets Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It’s arguably the better looking of the two and sets itself apart nicely from sedans like the A4.

Even the driving experience is very closely matched. There’s almost nothing in it when it comes to performance, and though they both have their strengths, weaknesses and quirks in the driving experience, neither is bad enough to put a potential owner off it. The Audi is close to Rs 4 lakh cheaper than the Merc, but some key bits of equipment are optional, and once you tick those, you’ll easily close that gap.

Honestly, we wouldn’t blame you if you picked the AMG, especially if you value comfort a bit more. But to our eyes, it’s the Audi that just about edges ahead. It looks a bit more special than just your average luxury sedan, it’s got more modern tech and it offers up a more consistent driving experience, especially from its gearbox. This all adds up to put a bigger grin on your face, which is reason enough to pick it.

Verdict, rating and price
VerdictStrong performance with good looks and high tech.Slightly quicker and comfier, but not as exciting.
Rating8/108/10
Price (ex-showroom, Delhi)Rs 70.60 lakhRs 74.35 lakh

Also see:

2017 Volvo S60 Polestar vs Mercedes-AMG C 43 comparison

 

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