WHAT'S IN A NAME? PLENTY IN THE CASE OF THE NEW MERCEDES-AMG E43 TESTED HERE IN ITS NATIVE GERMANY AND DUE IN AUSTRALIA BY DECEMBER 2016.
The E 43 is a new Mercedes-Benz E-Class debutant, replacing the previous E500 that packed a 300kW 5.5-litre turbo V8 engine but lacked an AMG badge. This freshly platformed new model makes 295kW from a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6, although torque of 520Nm is down from the previous 600Nm figure.
AMG is Benz’s performance division, and until now it has only tinkered with the flagship E-Class, the $200K-plus E63. The E43 is expected to be priced from about $160K, or around the same price as the one-size-smaller V8-engined C63, all in an attempt to offer buyers a choice of two distinctly different AMG models.
So, the E43 is being marketed as larger and more luxurious, with a less aggressive sporting attitude. Let’s put that newfound AMG pitch to the test…
Vehicle Style: Sports sedan
Price: $160,000 (estimated)
Engine/trans: 295kW/520Nm 3.0 V6 twin-turbo petrol | 9spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.3 l/100km | Tested: 12.3 l/100km
On the outside the latest E-Class looks like a supersized C-Class, which leaves it appearing derivative but also handsome. The E 43 gets unique ‘floating diamond’ grille inserts, an aerodynamic front bumper, sizeable 20-inch alloy wheels, a subtle rear lip spoiler and quad sports exhausts. Plus an AMG badge, of course.
AMG has re-engineered the front suspension with unique components specifically for the E43, while the air suspension standard in other E-Classes scores a trio of unique settings too. Likewise, the nine-speed automatic and stability control program both boast specific AMG software in an attempt to deliver a more sporting drive.
Yet at its core the E43 is still an E-Class, with a winning blend of active safety systems that extends to full autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control that can stop and move with traffic and subtly steer itself in a lane, and even automatically change lanes.
On paper at least, this Mercedes-AMG sounds like a fine blend of sports and sensibilities.
- Standard Equipment: power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, quad-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather/Alcantara trim with power adjustable and heated front seats, adaptive cruise control with stop/go and semi-auto-steer functions, auto on/off headlights/wipers, and keyless auto-entry with push button start"
- Infotainment: 12.1-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, USB inputs, digital radio, wi-fi hot spot, satellite navigation and Burmester audio
- Cargo Volume: 540 litres
Stretching 4.9 metres long, the Mercedes-AMG E43 is definitely a large sedan of the traditional kind, with a classic ‘three box’ shape and what promises to be acres of interior room wrapped in leathery luxury.
Although the E-Class looks like a C-Class on the outside, it borrows many cues from the larger S-Class limousine inside, most notably the sweeping horizontal dash applique featuring four centre vents and a massive 12.1-inch colour TFT screen.
Benz’s Comand infotainment system can be finicky to use, and the button frenzy certainly isn’t as intuitive to use as BMW’s iDrive equivalent, for example. However, once accustomed to the multiple menu layers (and sub-layers) there is plenty of tech to be found here, from wi-fi hot-spot connectivity to Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring and wireless charging.
Gone are the days when tech would start with the S-Class and slowly cascade to cheaper models; and the E43 even shares the above tech with E-Class models that start at almost half its estimated $160K ask.
Where the E43 differentiates itself from its lesser siblings is with red-striped Alcantara-esque inserts wrapped around both the leather-bolstered sports seats and the steering wheel, the latter of which is common to other AMG models.
There’s also red stitching for the leather-look dashboard and door trims, but these are also areas in which the E-Class looks like an S-Class, but doesn’t have its more opulent sibling’s lush trim depth and perfect quality.
Unlike a similarly priced Mercedes-AMG C63, however, the Mercedes-AMG E43 is a proper five-seat sedan with space to spare. All seats are comfortable and rear legroom is generous, backed by four-zone climate control and – optional overseas but expectedly standard for our market – a panoramic sunroof above.
At 540 litres the boot is more capacious than some larger SUVs.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 295kW/520Nm 3.0 V6 twin-turbo petrol
- Transmission: nine-speed automatic, AWD
- Suspension: Multi-link independent front and rear
- Brake: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
If there’s an expectation that an AMG is brash and brutish, loud and lairy, then this E43 requires some recalibration – for car or driver, depending on the perspective.
The 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged petrol V6 is a mostly sweet engine, although it rarely verges on being inspiring.
Particularly on light throttle applications at low speeds it can sound a fraction wheezy. Through the middle part of the digital tachometer it sounds marginally more inviting, which then becomes an understatement because the top-end of this engine is richly flavoured and crisp.
When driven hard the E43 makes the right exhaust crackles and pops, too, at least when in Sport+ mode.
There are also Eco, Comfort, Normal and Sport modes that adjust steering, throttle and suspension parameters, or an Individual mode to mix and match each one.
Perhaps the E43 doesn’t feel quite as quick as its 4.6-second 0-100km/h, but it’s certainly brisk. Maximum torque is delivered across a 2000rpm to 5000rpm rev band, while peak power comes in at a fruity 6100rpm.
The nine-speed automatic is a highlight, with sharp and intuitive shifts. Even in Sport+ it adapts imperceptibly to a particular driving style; soothing and soft during calm driving yet instantly alert when the throttle is suddenly stoked.
In fact, even the suspension can be left in Sport+ without fuss. The damping is expertly judged, with a standard plushness seguing in subtle notches towards tightly controlled firmness.
Only the steering is better in Comfort mode. It’s impressively fluent and fluid in the standard setting, and the sportier setting just adds muddy weight.
AMG’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system isn’t of the modern variable-distribution kind that will debut in the next-generation E63, with 69 per cent of drive affixed to the 295mm-wide rear tyres regardless of the selected driving mode.
That should make for a rear-driven feel through corners, but even in Sport Handling Mode the stability control system curtails attempts at driving involvement. Even a size-smaller Audi S4 (which has long used all-wheel drive) can feel rear-wheel-driven exiting corners and its stability control permits extra movement around its driver.
The E43 handling highlight is its AMG-specific front-end. For a large sedan weighing 1765kg, this ‘sleeper’ feels incredibly agile and planted. Perhaps it’s still a bit formal – possibly uptight – for a sports sedan, but then it is an E-Class at heart.
On the upside that means it boasts adaptive cruise control that can virtually drive itself in traffic. It will detect forward cars and match their speed while leaving a decent gap, come to a complete stop then move, and even navigate slight bends automatically – although it is less than perfect in remaining in the centre of the lane, occasionally wandering to the lane marking’s edge.
Ultimately Tesla’s Autopilot is a more convincing system – knocking off a half-point from its overall score in this section – but then the E43 is substantially roomier and more luxurious inside than an equivalent Model S.
ANCAP rating: Five stars (E-Class, Euro NCAP).
Safety Features: Dual front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors with surround-view camera, collision warning alert with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitor and active lane-keep assistance with lane-departure assistance.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Audi S6 is slightly faster and is an equally smooth operator for around the same money, while the Lexus GS F is far too hard in its suspension for a luxury sedan – but it has a V8 and rear-wheel-drive, and espouses both character and driver involvement to a much greater degree than the E43.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The twin-turbo V6 could do with some extra character when not being driven spiritedly, while extra handling involvement would be most ideal. After all, if a dynamic drive isn’t a priority, then a more affordable E-Class would do just fine.
What the Mercedes-AMG E43 does consistently well, however, is blend space and grace, with pace. It is sharp-steering and quick, but also luxurious, quiet and smooth riding, with many active safety and driver assistance technologies.
That ultimately amounts to a healthy, lengthy list of virtues to attempt to a charm a new, more understated kind of AMG buyer.