ENGINE 2996cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo / POWER 295kW @ 6100rpm / TORQUE 520Nm @ 2500-6000rpm / WEIGHT 1840kg / 0-100KM/H 4.6sec (claimed) / PRICE $159,900
Surprisingly fun to drive; goes hard; amazing tech and lovely interior
Very behaved noise for an AMG (boo); bit pricey UPPOSE 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 twinturbocharged 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 S '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 grownup 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 securehandling car with a fundamentally conservative chassis tune biased towards understeer. The all-wheel drive, too, has a split of 31:69 front-torear 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.