Suppose Mercedes-AMG's C-Class models are a little too juvenile for you. You've read about the C43's noisy, cracking and howling Performance exhaust and the grunty V8 C63's tyre-frying predilections. You want something a little more grown-up than that – and maybe a little larger – and aren't afraid to pay for it.
Enter the new Mercedes-AMG E43. Copping the same nine-speed torque converter auto and 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 powerplant from the C43 – but with larger turbos for more grunt – the E43 belts out 295kW and 520Nm, shifting its brand new E-Class platform to 100km/h in an all-wheel drive-enhanced 4.6 seconds, 0.1sec quicker than the lighter C43. Not too foul indeed.
Slipping into the E43, you're of course treated to the all-new E-Class experience. It's like a baby S-Class, with beautiful, glossy twin screens under the soft-touch instrument binnacle and with delightful materials everywhere. It absolutely feels more premium than the C-Class, itself with hardly what you'd call a Spartan interior.
Of course there's a smattering of tech and you can see where a lot of your extra coin has gone, including the beautiful large 12.3-inch displays – like you've got an iMac in your dashboard – and new generation semi-autonomous cruise control.
It drives quite differently to the C-Class, too – more differently than you'd expect just by looking at them, given the C-Class and E-Class can be genuinely hard to tell apart from some angles.
The E43 is surprisingly fun to drive – and it's surprisingly capable up a bendy road. The front-end feels great with tight, accurate steering that feels 'right' and gives you a surprising amount of information about the front rubber. And the damping feels more 'sophisticated' and polished than the C43, allowing the E43 simply to carry more speed through bumpier corners.
It's fast, too, covering ground swiftly enough that a Subaru WRX STI would absolutely struggle to keep up. In Sport Plus mode, the shifts are swift with a little brap from the exhaust and traction is, as you'd expect, very strong. The brakes also feel great and there's generous lateral grip on offer. From purely a performance perspective, it's no hardcore driving machine but it's not made to be – in fact, it drives way better than it needs to. We were genuinely disappointed there weren't more tight and twisty roads on our launch test route, and that says a lot. It's a satisfying car to let loose in.
As ever, though, there are some things that got us thinking. Why no Performance Exhaust, a la C43, not even as an option? The E43 sounds good, but quite subdued, and we know this is probably a more 'mature' product for a more grown-up customer, but Mercedes-AMG, remember you are bolting a 450kW twin-turbo V8 into one of these things with a mode specifically designed to fry the rear tyres. That's not very grown up at all, and it'd be nice to see the E43 channelling a little E63S in this way. An AMG badge brings certain expectations.
The electronics can be frustratingly conservative, too, cutting in – even in the more sporty modes – just as you're exploring and enjoying what is a brilliant-feeling chassis.
Of course, this is also a very secure-handling car with a fundamentally conservative chassis tune biased towards understeer. The all-wheel drive, too, has a split of 31:69 front-to-rear and feels more of a safety than performance feature.
This is also an expensive car. At $159,900 you do get a lot of standard equipment – leather, air suspension, sunroof, 13-speaker stereo, 20-inch wheels – and you should absolutely go for the $4400 Performance Ergonomic Package which scores you the excellent and attractive performance front seats and microsuede AMG-branded steering wheel. But then you've got a $164,300 car on your hands. Though it's an imperfect comparison, if performance was all you cared for, it wouldn't have been a much bigger leap to the $184,715 BMW M5 Pure if it was still around. (It's not.)
Indeed, if performance pipped technology and comfort on your priority list – and you were willing to give up a little interior and boot space – you're quite spoilt for high performance four-doors at this price.
But if you've read this far, it's likely you care as much for technology, comfort and luxury as you do your car's 0-100km/h time. And in the E43, you'll find a surprisingly potent and satisfying performance car with a stunning and impressively-appointed interior to match.
Engine: 2996cc V6 DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Power: 295kW @ 6100rpm
Torque: 520Nm @ 2500-6000rpm
0-100km/h: 4.6sec (claimed)
Star Rating: 4.0/5
LIKE: Surprisingly fun to drive; goes hard; amazing tech and lovely interior
DISLIKE: Very behaved noise for an AMG (boo); bit pricey