The question is not so much whether the 2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 is a poor man’s E63 AMG, but whether it’s a slightly more mature alternative to the C63 AMG?
I don’t mean 'mature' to talk down to the C63 AMG buyer either, I mean more mature in years, and perhaps a little less likely to be distracted by a seductive engine note, ballistic V8 power and bulging ‘look at me’ styling.
If you see yourself as that buyer, then I’ve got good news for you – the E43 AMG, which finds itself somewhere between an ‘E’ rock and an ‘AMG’ hard place – is sensational. James Ward drove the E43 at its international launch and now, we get to spend some time behind the wheel on local roads.
We’ll get to the why momentarily, but let’s first quickly recap the pricing and specification basics. Revealed back in March 2016, we already know that AMG E43 4Matic is the latest offering in the burgeoning range of – shall we say – more affordable AMG models. Starting from $159,900 before on-road costs, it’s also the first performance variant of the new E-Class.
The twin turbocharged six-cylinder engine punches out a not inconsiderable 295kW and 520Nm, and will power you from 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds. Standard feature highlights include Nappa leather trim, the Air Balance package, AMG body styling, AMG 4Matic all-wheel drive, 20-inch AMG alloy wheels, a sports exhaust system and a sports braking system.
At launch, I spent my time in an unadorned E43, meaning I got to experience exactly what you’ll drive if you buy an E43 and don’t tick a single option box. It’s a rarity to have that opportunity with any European vehicle, but it’s valuable, especially for buyers who are stretching their budget just to get into an E43 in the first place.
Externally, the E43 is very much the understated sedan. It might not suit those of you looking for garish additions, flared arches and obvious hints to the nastiness that lies beneath the bonnet, but for those of you who like to cruise along in relative anonymity, it’s the perfect Q-ship. The 20-inch alloy wheels are attractive and as always, the E-Class design is cohesive and stylish. From side on particularly, there’s little to give the game away at all.
The E43’s cabin is an exercise in understated elegance, and another example where our completely standard, non-optioned test vehicle doesn’t even remotely feel underdone. At no stage will you find yourself thinking there’s anything lacking from the standard interior.
The standard sports seats are excellent, extensive adjustability making it easy to get in position and while comfortable enough not to generate aches and pains, they are firm enough to keep you in place when you wind the wick up a bit too. Fewer buyers will opt for the sportier option bucket seats in the E than the C43 according to Mercedes-Benz and, I for one, would be more than happy to stick with the standard offerings.
The centrepiece of the premium experience is undoubtedly the twin 12.3-inch screen system, which will be standard for Australian cars. It’s beautiful in its execution, cutting edge in what it offers and how you can customise it, and an elegant departure from traditional analogue gauges.
Traditionalists – of which I am one – opined that the death of the traditional gauge would be a stain on the sportscar interior, but it hasn’t really materialised in that way thanks to designs like the Mercedes-Benz system.
The console-mounted control system isn’t class-leading, but it is easy to work out and easy enough to get familiar with, which will be the central concern for buyers. The way you can customise the displays is clever and the enormous centre screen is perfect for satellite navigation, for example.
There’s a full suite of driver tech, as you’d expect, and we were once again impressed with Drive Pilot, which works really well. The lane-keeping assist technology can be a little intrusive, but in the event it saves you from an accident, you’ll certainly forgive it that.
I love the E-Class platform and have always had a hankering for an E55 AMG – I must be over 40! That vehicle was a sensation when new, and remains a monster even now – especially the later, supercharged version. From that point on, I’ve been a part of the ‘I’d rather an E than a C-Class’ camp. This new E43 only strengthens the case for me, and makes its point with pricing that is a comparative bargain when weighed up against the heavy-hitting E63 AMG.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming the E43 possesses only a retune that sets it apart from the smaller C43 either – there are bigger turbos employed as well, which give it a heavier thump once they work into the meat of their boost. It’s very much befitting a stately sedan too, effortless power that’s seemingly available whenever, and wherever, you need it and another shining example of why turbocharging works so damn well in everyday driving situations.
Where the six-cylinder shines brightest is in not being a highly strung, vicious performance sedan in the way an E63 is likely to be. Given the large platform though, the extra power is very much a welcome addition to the E-Class portfolio and there is never any instance at launch where I feel like the E43 is underpowered.
Mash the throttle from a standstill and the E43 – aided by the excellent AWD system beneath – gets cranking very rapidly and continues to pile on speed relentlessly. AMG quotes a fixed, 69 per cent rear torque bias for the AWD system. It doesn’t have the brutal kick to the head you’ll cop from the 63, but it’s going to be a hell of a lot easier to hold onto your licence too – silver lining and all that…
Once you’re on the move, the E43 possesses a sensational turn of roll-on acceleration, meaning you can blast past slower cars on backroads or the highway with ease and get the manoeuvre over with quickly and safely.
Opinion is out in the CarAdvice office on artificially enhanced engine/exhaust notes, and to be honest, I’m not even sure how I feel about them deep down. Problem is, without them, the modern turbocharged engine simply doesn’t sound that great so maybe they are a necessary evil in 2017.
Opinions aside, in Comfort mode, the E43 is very quiet, even at speed. Some of you might find it a little too quiet, and you could argue for more aural stimulation, but then that would defeat the purpose of this being less raucous than an E63 wouldn’t it?
Even when you switch into Sport or Sport+ modes, the exhaust note doesn’t really crack open quite as much as we’d like. It’s got a definite bark to it as the revs rise, but if you’re expecting eardrum bursting cannons, you won’t find them here. The progressive, smooth nature of the power delivery though, coupled with the snappy throttle response, more than make up for it in real terms anyway.
There’s absolutely no doubt you’ll appreciate the slick-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission. In fact, if you’ve tested other MB product with the nine-speed ’box, you’d struggle to believe it is in fact the same unit. There’s the same column shift you’ll be familiar with, but there’s also a manual mode button in the centre console, which accesses paddle-shifted redline assaults if you want.
While it’s very sharp and rapid when shifted manually, it’s pretty bloody impressive when you let it decide what it wants to do too, so much so I’d recommend only using manual mode when you really want to sink the boot in. In Sport and Sport+ modes, for example, you’ll feel it downshift under braking and blip the throttle while doing so.
If you’re expecting the E43 to tend toward understeer at the limit, you’ll be disappointed. Certainly on public roads where even, rapid progress is aided by incredible grip and balance, with the poise of the chassis matched by the AWD’s ability to direct drive to the Yokohama Advan rubber seamlessly. The E43 slices into and out of corners with a sense of security you’d never access in an E63, with it’s massive power and tendency to hang the tail out in traditional RWD style.
You might like that kind of leery behaviour, but on a public road I’d wager the E43 would be almost as rapid given the confidence it inspires. Is the drive experience dampened by the addition of AWD? Not one iota. In fact, I’d argue it enhances the drive because it’s so sure-footed. It’s a fun car to punt hard despite it sitting in the large sedan segment, you can be sure of that.
The kicker comes when you assess the E43’s ride quality. I spent some time in the C43 last week, and with the optional firm seats, there’s no doubt whatsoever, the E43 – on standard air suspension is a much more comfortable package.
The excellent AMG Ride Control air suspension is supple without being sloppy in Comfort mode (forget Eco mode, who uses that anyway?) and firms up as expected right through to Sport+ where it feels just firm enough without banging and crashing over every imperfection.
Primary bump absorption is noteworthy, but the almost complete lack of residual rebound is even more impressive. The E43 absorbs the impact and settles quickly, even when said impact does its best to unsettle the chassis mid-corner at speed. I’d be happy to tool around 99 per cent of the time in Comfort mode and only switch into Sport or Sport+ occasionally, but when you do, the E43 continues on its merry way, unruffled. If Mercedes-Benz wanted the experience to be a little less hardcore than the E63 AMG, it has succeeded handsomely.
We found the steering to be excellent regardless of road speed, light enough at parking speed and firm enough as speed rises. The chunky, AMG specific steering wheel plays its part in this element of the drive experience, adding a slight heft to the whole show.
If I was to nitpick, I’d like the steering even heavier at high speed, but that comes down to personal preference. Barreling into corners, you simply pick your line, brake on approach, turn in and hold that line to the exit. I didn’t find myself needing to make small corrections to keep the nose pointed where I intended it to go.
So, is the E43 the perfect entree into the AMG world if you desire the E-Class platform? To my mind, there’s no doubt it is, and in fact, I’d be urging potential C63 buyers to spend some seat time in the E43. It doesn’t offer the attention grabbing machismo of the 63 by any means, but it’s a damn fine, not to mention rapid, luxury sedan.