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Review: first drive in the new Mercedes-AMG SLC43

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What’s this?

The new Mercedes-Benz SLC, which is in fact a facelifted SLK. But you could tell that by looking at it, so let’s get on with what’s new.

This is an AMG, so I’m expecting power…

Well I hope you’re sitting down, because the new SLC43 AMG makes considerably less power than the SLK55 AMG it replaces. Downsizing has bitten hard.

Wasn’t expecting that. How hard?

The old ‘55 had a naturally aspirated version of AMG’s 5.5-litre V8. It still looks silly to write that: a 5.5-litre V8 engine in a small-ish car. That V8 has now gone, and with it dies the last fast Mercedes whose numbers on the bootlid actually corresponded to the cubes under the bonnet.

In its place, we find a twin-turbo, 3.0-litre V6. It develops 362bhp and 384lb ft of torque, which doesn’t compare favourably to the old V8’s 416bhp and 398lb ft. Talk about economy though, and it gets better: the 43’s combined figures of 36.2mpg and 178g/km offer decent improvements over the 55’s 33.6mpg and 195g/km.

Part of that is due to the lower power figures allowing AMG to slot in the nine-speed automatic gearbox from the regular SLC, not to mention a hundred and one other regular Benzes. That’s two gears more than you got in the old car, so the first couple can be stacked closer together to punt you out of corners, and make the most of the 2,000rpm torque peak. You’d wait until 4,500rpm before the V8 twisted its hardest.

Is the SLC fast?

Yes. Mercedes claims 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds, which is a mere tenth slower than the SLK55, and the same 155mph top-speed. In-gear charge is even more prodigious, because the turbos mean you’ve got more poke, more of the time. And yes, if you’re suitably binary with the right pedal, it’s got enough power to put on a traction control light show, and leave a trail of rubbery evidence.

This engine’s actually rather good fun. Throttle response is mighty sharp, for one thing. AMG has made the downsizing jump better than most, maintaining character without sacrificing performance or drivability.

The V6 isn’t brimming with induction noise – it’s all bark from the exhaust, but it does sound undeniably naughty. Don’t forget, we’ll be seeing much more of this engine in various fast C-class, E-class and GLCs pretty soon. So as we’re going to be friends, can we have more noise from the V6 and less of the exhaust going solo please, AMG?

Okay, I’m suitably reassured. But I’m guessing this is still more of a downsized SL than a properly engaging sports car?

Spot on. In fairness, the SLK was always designed and pitched as such – and bought by people who’d never bother with the handling limits of something like a Boxster or an Elise. At £46,355, the SLC43 competes with those cars more on price than on philosophy. So you get appropriately weighted and fast but entirely remote steering, and little in the way of playfulness without resorting to brutal leadfoot behaviour.

AMG has had a fair crack at pepping up the SLC. All cars get the Dynamic Select button so you can choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus, which gives you angrier noises, heavier steering, hyper pedal response, stiffer dampers and a sharper gearbox response.

Having the dampers set to their firmest mode adds nothing to the driving experience, though. It just feels out of sorts, and betrays the portliness. With some fuel and a driver on board, this is a 1,600kg car. Sport is the nicest compromise, because the ride is so stiff and the exhaust parp so wild in Sport Plus.

Better, then, to configure the Individual setting to your spine, ears and conscience’s content.

So the newly named SLC appeals to exactly the same people as the old one then?

Indeed, but if you can overcome your misgivings about absolute handling purity, this is a very characterful little car. The SLK wasn’t a proper sports car, it wasn’t supposed to be, and neither is the SLC. That’s not why people buy them.

So it’s a pretty, noisy, not perfectly polished but undeniably endearing package. A good showcase for downsizing not always meaning downgrading, in fact.

What do you think?

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