The latest in a broader AMG line-up of bridging models offers modest performance upgrades and the AMG look at a more accessible entry point.
WHAT IS IT?
Affalterbach’s first go at fettling the tech-infused new E-Class platform. It’s an AMG sports sedan, but not as we know it.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
E43 joins the AMG line-up aimed at bridging the huge gap between Benz’s top-spec E400 and the impending AMG E63, but is it an AMG in substance as much as name, or does it err too far toward the sedate?
Audi S6, Maserati Ghibli S, Lexus GS F
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Diversification at Mercedes-AMG has delivered an erudite sports sedan and, in some ways, returned to the demeanour of AMGs past, striking a refreshing balance of capability and useability.
PLUS: Sublime ride quality, front-end control, maturity
MINUS: Looks aren’t quite AMG enough, needs more aural theatre in Sport Plus
THE WHEELS REVIEW
Expectation can ruin reality in many ways. Like the pictures on the McDonalds menu, or online dating profile photos. For Mercedes-Benz, nothing builds expectation and promises excitement like an AMG badge, yet the brand’s current crop of highly focussed performance cars should be furthest from the mind when approaching the new Mercedes-AMG E43.
This mid-range mid-sizer from AMG is not like the others, but let’s be clear, unlike fast food outlets who over-promise and under-deliver, the crew from Affalterbach need not be ashamed. Just like AMG’s other C43 and GLC43 halfway house models, this supremely polished sports sedan serves to broaden the scope of AMG’s portfolio.
AMGs haven’t always been the uncompromising, single-minded vehicles they are now. In times past they flew under the radar, and in ways the E43 is a return to the gentleman’s express. E43 is the first performance variant of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class range, ahead of E63, and uses AMG’s 3.0-litre twin turbo V6 that plugs the gap between the brand’s manic 2.0-litre four-cylinder and ferocious 4.0-litre V8.
It’s in the engine where most AMGs reach their zenith, though the boosted V6 is distinctly different. Instead of falling under AMG’s one man, one engine program, it rolls off the regular production line at Mercedes-Benz fitted with AMG-spec turbochargers, exhaust, and ECU driving outputs to 295kW and 520Nm. That’s 50kW and 40Nm more than the E400 on which the E43 is ostensibly based.
Even in AMG form it’s no snarling beast, though performance remains a selling point. Wide open, it cracks its exhaust valves and howls into action with discreet pops and burbles on overrun. The rapid 4.6-second sprint to 100km/h seems undramatic when cocooned behind thick glazing, but point the E43 at a corner and things get more interesting.
The AMG-engineered front end is a precision instrument, incorporating new suspension and steering components. Handling is pointed and sharp in all five drive modes, which alter steering weight, suspension stiffness and throttle response. The recalibrated 4MATIC all-wheel drive system has a fixed, rear-biased torque split of 69:31. The mix of grip and agility feels well-judged on the road. There’s a three-tier ESP safety net, but with so much traction it takes a lot of leaning before any interference is felt. It’s lithe and sinuous, always controlled and impressively capable.
Stronger brakes, suspension tweaks and a gearbox tune round out the mechanical improvements from AMG. Merc’s nine-speed is particularly effective in this application, with some engineered thump between changes in Sport Plus, and an AMG-specific manual mode, which will hold a gear against the rev-limiter if you ask it to.
Ride quality is another of the E43’s strengths. Body control is exceptional on adaptive air suspension fitted as standard to E43. Even in the most resolute drive modes the E43 will gallop at full tilt completely undisturbed by lesser road surfaces. It never gets too harsh.
Inside, the beautifully trimmed AMG seats are the best in the house, wrapped in perforated leather, red piping and Alcantara. Other interior upgrades are borrowed from C63 and E63, like the Alcantara-clad steering wheel, red belts, and lashings of textural alloy shaped across the dashboard and doors. It’s a more engaging cabin than the Audi S6 and more refined than Lexus GS F.
From the outside there’s little to distinguish the E43 from the normal E-Class range apart from an AMG front grille, rear lip spoiler, and unique wheel and tyre package. There’s no attention grabbing wide-body guards or aggressive body kit to speak of. That makes sense in the context of this new-meets-old AMG, but a little bit more visual flair would be welcome.
There’s a lot to like about what could be seen as a mature-age alternative to the C63. Pricing is expected to be on par when E43 arrives late in the year, but it offers significantly more space, technology, luxury, and greater perceived prestige, in a softer and more liveable package at the expense of some outright performance. The hard-edged C63 with its hugely elevated performance window will be too much for some, and that opens the door for the E43 to step in.
In this age of clickbait and hyperbole the E43 has a refreshing lack of headline numbers and shouty bravado. It’s a tip of the hat to AMGs past, and shows once again that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Model: Mercedes-AMG E43
Engine: 2996cc V6 turbo
Max power: 295kW @ 6100rpm
Max torque: 520Nm @ 2500-5000rpm
Transmission: 9-speed auto
Kerb weight: 1765kg
Fuel economy: 8.3L/100km (EU)
0-100km/h: 4.6sec (claimed)
Price: $165,000 (est.)
On sale: December 2016