When I was growing up, an AMG-enhanced Mercedes was something staggeringly rare and undeniably special. The Mercedes-Benz specialist tuner from Affalterbach produced style packages for the (then much smaller) Mercedes range, along with tuning packages for only the highest end of the Benz line-up.
AMG meant big numbers, wide wheels (love those Pentas) and awesome names. I mean, The Hammer - does it get any cooler than that?
While AMG is on the eve of its 50th anniversary, it has only been 20-odd years since the first ‘co-branded’ model hit the streets. The 1995 Mercedes-Benz AMG C36 was the precursor to the ballistic, executive hotrod we know in the Mercedes-AMG C63 S, and with 206kW and 385Nm from its inline six-cylinder, was almost 50 per cent more powerful than the highest ‘standard’ equivalent Mercedes, the C280.
Now with a goal to list some 48 separate models in its line-up, Mercedes-AMG is arguably more successful than ever - but is it also less exclusive and, subsequently, less special?
This 295kW, 3.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 executive sedan has plenty of punch on paper, but is it enough to separate it from the existing non-AMG E400 model in the E-Class catalogue and give buyers enough of the exclusive AMG experience?
Recent years have seen AMG put value in their ‘one man, one engine’ philosophy of hand-built Mercedes-Benz muscle cars.
But the E43 is something different.
The car comes down the standard E-Class line in Sindelfingen just outside of Stuttgart in Germany. The twin-turbo V6 too, is a mass-production engine. Not hand built, and not by just one person. No signature on this one.
This shouldn’t take anything away from the E43, however, as it represents a new approach to broadening the brand’s portfolio. A car for someone who wants an E-Class AMG, but doesn’t want the power or price associated with an E63. If the E400 is the sports version of your Dad’s sensible Mercedes, then the E43 is the sensible sports Mercedes your Dad would drive.
On the outside, the E43 could be called subtle at best.
There’s a new diamond-look grille, gloss-black 20-inch ten-spoke alloy wheels with a polished face – which look particularly good – and a small lip-spoiler on the boot. Flared arches and muscular vents will have to wait until the six-three arrives.
It looks smart and cohesive for a sports sedan, but unless you know what that Biturbo badge on the front fender means, it is a bit anonymous for an AMG.
Inside, the already excellent E-Class interior is enhanced with some nice leather, contrast stitching and those cool red seat belts. The seats are specific to the E43, and could use a bit more lumbar and lower-back support in the front. The back is spacious and comfortable, but, again, unless you knew this was an AMG, you would think it is a well-specified E-Class (with red belts), given so many non-performance variants in Australia receive the AMG-Styling pack as an upgrade anyway.
There is an extra AMG menu for the driver display which includes a lap-timer, and you can run a performance display on the central screen to watch all those kilowatts and torques count up on a cool analogue dial.
Curiously, our test car didn’t feature a head-up display system, but Australian cars will likely have this included.
Premium? Yes. Sporty? A bit. Special? Not quite.
Fire up the V6 and that theme continues.
There’s a sound of potential there, but no menace. Sporty but subtle – that's basically the E43 in a nutshell.
Power from the 3-litre engine is up 50kW (or 20 per cent) over the E400 and torque has increased 40Nm to 520Nm, made possible by a pair of new, larger turbochargers and an increase of boost pressure to 1.1-bar. AMG have tweaked the cylinder liners, fuel injectors and engine mapping to further differentiate the E43’s V6 and while not fitted with the ‘your engine was built by’ plaque, the E43 does get a nice, red, aluminium engine cover to stand out.
While we didn’t get a chance to test it, Mercedes claims a 0-100km/h sprint of just 4.6 seconds, over half a second faster than the 5.2 quoted for the E400.
The 4Matic AWD system has also been tweaked to offer a 31:69 front/rear drive ratio, over the 45:55 split found in the E400. It’s a fixed ratio too, so it's much easier and more predictable when zipping through winding roads in the German countryside.
Furthermore, the nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic gearbox has faster shift times in the Sport+ drive setting, the steering ratios have been tweaked and the air suspension has an AMG-specific configuration despite being fitted with the same dampers as the E400.
As with all other AMG models, you have the option of five driving modes; Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual. And, as with our reports on all other AMG models, you’ll find yourself using two of these – Comfort and Individual.
Potter around in Comfort and the ’43 is a comfortable cruiser. You squeeze the throttle to gather speed and it surges forward with minimal fuss and theatre. Steering is light, although a bit heavier than the non-AMG E-Class and the ride compliant and comfortable.
You need to bypass Sport and go straight to Sport+ to dial the car’s steering, suspension, gearbox and engine response to full AMG’ness to really understand the capability of the E43.
While power doesn’t peak until a sonorous 6100rpm, the peak torque band is available from 2500 to 5000rpm, and is especially notable from 3000rpm and up. It’s a progressive pull, though - more A380 than F22 in its acceleration, and boy is it smooth.
Our route also included a brief stint on a derestricted autobahn, and the E43 pulled quietly and effortlessly from 100km/h to well beyond 200km/h. Wind noise only started to become especially noticeable above 180km/h, and cruising at around 160-odd felt like a casual run along any dual-lane A-road, at double our posted limits.
We dropped off the highway and onto some picturesque regional roads where forcing the 9G-Tronic into manual-shift mode, had the car begin to make more sense in its role as a sports sedan. Find a gap in traffic and accelerate hard in second, hold the change until close to that 6000rpm line and the exhaust starts to sing with a velvety smooth trumpet.
Tap the alloy paddle to take third, and there is a discernible ‘thump’, all while the grey AMG freight-train continues to amass speed. Up to 5000rpm, off throttle to negotiate a bend, the needle falls below 4, then back on the gas and climb back to 6000rpm and the change to fourth. No wiggles, no scrabble for traction, just grip and thrust.
It’s fast but not urgent. There is fun without fear. Plenty-enough performance with that V6 singing merrily all the way.
You can wash off speed with the four-piston callipers and 360mm cross-drilled discs up front, and thinner (26mm against 36mm) but identical diameter solid rotors in the rear.
Driving on public roads didn’t require any foot-to-carpet braking manoeuvres, but the car felt confident even when needing to quickly clear 50-80km/h from the E’s velocity.
We found though that despite the ultra-smooth German tarmac, Sport+ suspension did its best to find any and all imperfections in the road. The steering, too, in the sport setting, felt artificially fast and heavy when trying to negotiate a couple of tight switchbacks.
And so the Individual drive-mode setting lets you wind things back so that full engine performance, comfort steering and mid-range sport suspension can be set up as a quick preset for optimal sports driving - in Germany, at least.
Most German drive experience stories basically start and end with the Autobahn, and sure, when you can find a de-restricted section with low traffic in good weather, it can be fun to wind the car up to the limiter. But take the less-travelled twisting rural roads and it provides a chance to not only better understand the car, but also see why this is such a beautiful country.
Large industry quickly makes way for rural farms and villages, and the roads split fields dotted with ‘der hochsitz’ hunting-blind platforms – basically wooden cubbies on stilts.
Green and orange autumnal leaves are mixed with evergreen conifer forests that align the drive route. Roads have good overtaking sections (which is a quick process in the E43), signs are clear, drivers cognisant of their surroundings.
Everything is orderly, clean and efficient, but with a special sense of character that only the Germans can achieve; just like the Mercedes-AMG E43.
The car is expected to be closely priced to the smaller AMG C63 S when it arrives in Australia, giving buyers a clear option.
Not everyone wants or needs or can justify a 600hp road weapon. The E43 is big and comfortable, yet highly manageable in the way it drives both casually and with a bit of spirit.
Now you can choose. For some a C63 may be too hard, too demanding, too small. The E43 is in a way, a more mature car. Still providing performance and sporting appeal but in a dynamic environment that allows a more risk-averse driver to push but still remain within the limit of the car.
It’s a very German, very efficient solution to a problem. Expanding the AMG portfolio makes the Affalterbach muscle cars available to more buyers, perhaps making them a little less exclusive, a little less special, but still something very cool.
The 2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 might not be a ‘Hammer’, but it is still an AMG. It’s not the most special or the most brutal, but as a usable and mature sports sedan that helps the Affalterbach tuner continue to build and grow with even more success, the E43 is an important piece of the product puzzle.
And as for the W213 E-Class as a performance platform, it works just fine. Bring on the ’63!