Those outside North America often see Canadians and Americans as interchangeable. While we do share a great deal of similar attributes with our friends south of the world’s longest unprotected border, there are things about us they can’t seem to grasp. For instance, our love of “All-Dressed” and ketchup chips, peacekeeping, universal healthcare, and The Tragically Hip. Mostly unknown to all but a few Americans, The Hip are a Canadian institution – something of a religion to Canucks of a certain age. Much like the poetically charged lyrics and exuberant high kicks of the late, great front man Gord Downie, station wagons haven’t really caught on south of the border.
The closest thing to a perfect car that I’ve piloted so far this year.
Booked specifically as a birthday gift for myself, this Brilliant Blue 2019 Mercedes-AMG C43 Wagon is available in Canada, but won’t be sold south of the 49th parallel since Americans seem to fancy SUVs over car-based hatchbacks.
The C-Class received some aesthetic updates for 2019, including a new grille, more aggressive front and rear bumpers, new wheel designs and revised quad exhaust. The C43’s interior now offers optional digital gauges, new interior upholstery and trim options, as well as a new standard 10.2-inch infotainment screen that is controlled by a rotary dial or the touchpad above it.
Offering a long list of standard features, this tester came well-equipped for its $76,380 price tag. Optional equipment included the Brilliant Blue metallic paint, along with a selection of items off the AMG wishlist such as carbon-fibre trim, black leather, and 19-inch twin five-spoke rims.
The $5,900 Premium Package adds active park assist, rear side window sunshades, an integrated garage door opener, touchpad controller, a 360-degree-camera, navigation, the sublime Burmester surround sound system, foot-activated power tailgate, wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Sliding into the supportive sport seats felt like putting on a brand-new pair of high-performance running shoes, offering the sensation of comfort and impending athleticism. After easily adjusting the power seat, steering wheel and mirror settings, I pushed the starter button which awoke the burbling 385 hp 3.0L biturbo six-cylinder engine. The process was then stalled for a brief period while I was at a serious loss as to how one is supposed to engage the transmission. I’ll save readers the same frustration by sharing that it is located behind the steering wheel on the right-hand side, where the windshield wiper controls are located in many vehicles. Reflexes took over numerous times throughout the week when I inadvertently dropped the car into neutral rather than activating the wipers. Two clicks up or down to go from forward to reverse of vice versa. A button on the end of the stalk doesn’t in fact spray the windshield, but instead puts the car in Park. Now you know.
After that brief pause, I was off… quickly. Acceleration is smooth, brisk, and loud thanks to the AMG performance exhaust – to the point where pedestrians were looking around for the hot-rod making such a racket. Slowing down, particularly with the exhaust set to loud, brings a wonderful soundtrack of cracks and burbles. Hitting the button again quiets things down to more refined levels. The optional $1,500 head-up display was very helpful in monitoring my speed, ensuring I stayed within the boundaries enforced by Ontario’s finest.
Steering was precise and direct with good feedback. The multiple drive modes allowed for Comfort, Sport, Sport +, or Individual, which allows the driver to customize their preferences for suspension, steering, and throttle response. The adaptive, multimode suspension features three-stage electronically controlled shocks. Catering more to agile handling than supple comfort, the C43’s suspension may be too firm for some, even in comfort mode, but I enjoyed it immensely. Sport or manual shifting is available on the nine-speed transmission via the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Over the course of the week, I witnessed torrential rain, snow, and hail. Driving through the city meant frequently dodging massive potholes, aggressive cyclists, and zombie-like pedestrians wandering into the street with their eyes glued to their smartphone screens. The rear-biased 4Matic all-wheel drive system provided predictable and confident traction throughout poor winter weather conditions.
Ambient lighting can be adjusted among 64 colour choices and the 12.3-inch digital instrument display can be optimized to include the information you prefer. Additional customization can be adjusted on the centre console by activating the active exhaust, auto-stop/start functionality.
The flat-bottom AMG Performance steering wheel outfitted in Nappa leather and Dinamica microsuede comes as part of the AMG Driver’s Package, featuring a selection of buttons that let the driver adjust elements within the gauge cluster display, as well as adaptive cruise control, infotainment and phone controls and voice commands. Researching and choosing a destination or point of interest can be a fruitless and frustrating experience in many vehicles, but the C43 was intuitive and accurate each and every time. One less thing to worry about. The $2,000 Driver’s Package also features AMG Track Pace. The app within the Command system allows you to monitor and store performance data during track driving, including acceleration, speed, and lap times. You can spend the day at the racetrack then do grocery shopping without switching vehicles.
My tester was also equipped with the Intelligent Drive Package which included a wide selection of active safety systems such as active and evasive steering assist, lane-keep and lane-change assist, autonomous emergency braking, among others. These systems don’t just work while you’re moving either. The Pre-Safe system incorporates radar into the rear bumper that is capable of activating brakes and seat tensioners if it senses an impending rear impact.
There are no universally perfect vehicles. Amenities or attributes hailed by some will undoubtedly be lamented by others. Each consumer will have different tastes and requirements, so meeting all of those needs in a single platform is no easy task. That being said, I’ll go on record as saying that the 2019 Mercedes-AMG C43 Wagon is the closest thing to a perfect car that I’ve piloted so far this year. The higher-spec V8-equipped 63 series models may get all the glory, but aren’t as compliant as a daily driver or as easy to sell to your spouse. If your significant other happens to be trying to convince you to sell your sports car and buy a sensible vehicle for familial duty, buying the Mercedes-AMG C43 Wagon won’t make it feel like a compromise. But you don’t have to tell anyone. Just like the Tragically Hip and All Dressed chips – it can be our secret.
|12.4/8.9/10.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
|460 / 1,480 L seats down
|2019 Mercedes-AMG C43 Wagon
|Price as Tested
$16,480 – Brilliant Blue metallic paint $890; 19-inch AMG Twin 5-Spoke wheels $0; AMG Black leather $1,990; AMG Carbon fibre trim $1,500; AMG Driver’s Package $2,000; Intelligent Drive Package $2,700; Premium Package $5,900; Heads-up display $1,500