I have owned a 1999 C43 for 10 years, have 94,000 miles on it.
I had a 1992 Porsche-built MB 500 E before that.
I have owned many very high performance cars (1973 Datsun 240Z re-manufactured into a Scarab, 1954 Austin Healy with a 350 Chevy etc. and this one is my favorite. It is a a comfortable, reliable, solid, fast, functional sleeper. It is known locally as my truck, since I use it mostly to haul building materials of all sort. I love this car. My wife has a 1997 E550 and it is good, but not C43 good.
The exhaust note, the acceleration, the instant braking and the handling.
I have owned several Mercedes-Benz from 280SE to a C240 4Matic (wife's car) and this is my favorite. Wonderful creature comforts and city driving manners, but that's NOT why you would buy this car. I just took it to High Plains Raceway to get acquainted in a controlled environment. This is a heavy car, but handles extremely well. Well-balanced, good turn-in, good feedback, controllable through the limits of adhesion, fun to throttle-steer (with traction control off). Though half a ton heavier, it held its own with M3s and 911s. Next trip is to the dyno to verify HP - this car is better than advertised, even with almost 100k miles!
Great balance and power. 302 hp? This car is much faster than my BMW 540i, which is rated at 305 hp. Balance. This car has less understeer than my BMW E36 track car.
I only ever dreamed of owning an AMG. We found a very affordable C43, took it for a test drive and that was it! We had to have it. Incredible car to drive, sounds great, powerful, unreal handling and the brakes are unbelievable. Extremely comfortable interior. This car has it all. Only wish I could have afforded one years ago. We will never let this one go. Ultimate low key "sleeper" "super car".
The sound, the engine, the handling, the interior, the looks, actually everything!
This is the most interesting and characterful car I have ever owned, and they are becoming very affordable now - and so much more interesting (and rare) than the M3 competition. The formula of light body-shell and big engine gives great performance (160 mph, 0-60 in 5.5) and excellent economy (I get 24 mpg average). The body is stiff, the mechanicals are unstressed, it's very comfortable in supportive seats, and the AMG feature-set is very attractive. Dealers are expensive but parts are very available and affordable on the web. And the C43s have it all over the later supercharged C32s mechanically; why do you think AMG went back to the big engine C55/C63? I plan to keep it for a long time
Quiet and unobtrusive, it's a real sleeper which sounds like a NASCAR* when you hoof it. Muscular sound-track, great foul-weather security, brakes like a Porsche (same brakes as E55, which is 700 lbs heavier); I love it. * Actually, not quite: MB uses a different firing order from US V8s.
Steering lacks feel, especially around center, and a rack and pinion system (the next C-class is much better) would have helped. Euro versions are 1" lower, and the car would benefit from that.
The C43 is a true sleeper. A lightweight body, anonymous and quiet design, with a stonking engine and massive (E55) brakes. The combo gives excellent performance and very acceptable fuel economy (24 mpg). It has brought me through filthy weather such that I have many times thanked the car as I have walked into the house from the garage (don't tell my friends about this...). It's the last of the hand-built AMGs, built like a tank and full of character: speaks softly and carries a big stick, for when you give it wellie and cross 4,000 rpm, it puts on a Nascar soundtrack. I never tire of its dual nature, and I plan to keep it forever. It is a wonderful machine.
Brakes, engine power and cam setup, adjustability of seats, feeling fo solidity and security, strong character.