Over the past few years, a number of automakers have sought to create a mid-range offering that occupies a space between standard models and hardcore high performance counterparts – as evidenced by the BMW M Performance, Cadillac V-Sport, and Audi S lineups. These models seek to find a balance between civility, price and performance, delivering a driving experience that’s more performance-oriented than the garden-variety model, but not nearly as hard-edged as the full-bore performance variant.
For Mercedes, that comes in the form of the Mercedes-AMG 43 lineup, which in turn results in the E43 for the E-Class sedan. It slots nicely between the E300 and the gorilla-in-a-suit that is the 603 horsepower E63, and while it might be a bit closer to the E300 than it is the E63 as a package overall, the combination does an excellent job of closing the rather sizable performance gap between those two.
Although the stats sheet of the E43 certainly looks promising, numbers don’t always translate the way one might expect out on the road, so Mercedes tossed us the keys to a Cardinal Red Metallic model and let us loose in the back roads in and around Malibu, California, to get a better sense of what the AMG 43 treatment means for its mid-size sedan.
What’s in a badge?
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the AMG brand. Founded by pair of former Mercedes-Benz engineers, the outfit originally got its start in 1967 as a tuner of race cars. But over the years the Affalterbach-based shop became more and more synonymous with modified Mercedes-Benz street cars, which they’d tweak for better handling, additional power output, and more visual presence.
The AMG badge has earned a reputation among performance enthusiasts for the division’s comprehensive transformation of Mercedes’ typically low-key models into fire-breathing, Autobahn stormers, and that tradition continues to this day. But as the battle for high performance supremacy among automakers rages on unabated, the disparity between those two schools of thought has widened substantially, essentially leaving buyers to choose between an extreme performance machine, or a comparatively placid driving experience.
AMG has earned a reputation for transforming Mercedes’ typically low-key models into fire-breathing Autobahn stormers.
In that regard, the E43 is all about striking a balance. Motivation comes from a 3.0-liter biturbocharged V6 tuned to dish out 396 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque. Power is routed to all four corners as standard by Mercedes’ 4matic all-wheel drive system, which has been tweaked for a 31/69 rear biased torque distribution, and the AMG-enhanced transmission’s gear changes can be dispatched with a genuine sense of urgency via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
AMG’s Dynamic Select drive mode allows drivers to change a number of the car’s attributes on the fly, including the stiffness of the three-way adjustable dampers, and transmission shift schedules. And with the extra oomph on tap, AMG wanted to make sure that the stopping power on tap was up to the task, so the brakes have been upgraded with 14.2 inch rotors, which are vented and cross-drilled up front. High performance summer tires are equipped as standard, too.
So while it might not sport the hand-built boosted V8 of its E63 sibling, the E43 is infused with no shortage of go-fast hardware. And like both the E300 and E63, it boasts the E-Class’s latest tech features, including the lovely dual 12.3-inch digital displays that serve as the instrument cluster and infotainment screen.
Behind the wheel
While it has a deficit of over 200 horsepower versus its E63 brethren, the E43 is no slouch in a straight line. At 396 hp, the V6’s output is up more than 150 ponies versus the 241 hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder mill found in the E300. Turn up the wick by switching over to Sport+ driving mode on the AMG Dynamic Select toggle switch and the nine-speed automatic jumps to life, ready to fire off shifts in quick succession, resulting in a sprint to 60 mph that feels quicker than Mercedes-AMG’s quoted time of 4.5 seconds.
Torque comes on early and strong with this biturbocharged mill, and with so many cogs to choose from in the gearbox, you’ll rarely find yourself outside of the motor’s sweet spot, especially in Sport and Sport+ modes, which tend to avoid upshifting into the highest gears unless the cruising speed makes it a requirement. The sound from the 3.0-liter isn’t nearly as alluring as the baritone bellow of the 4.0 V8 found in the E63, but the active valves in the exhaust system, which open up in aforementioned driving modes, add some pop-and-crackle theatrics to the equation that give the engine note more volume and additional character.
The three-mode adjustable suspension impresses as well, delivering minimal body roll in the sportier driving modes (or when manually adjusted via the dedicated button on the center console) while still providing supple ride quality and isolation from imperfections on pock-marked pavement in Comfort and Eco modes.
The E43 is infused with no shortage of go-fast hardware and boasts the latest tech features like a dual 12.3-inch digital display instrument cluster.
And like all E-Class cars, the E43 can be equipped with no shortage of tech features. While adaptive cruise control with forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking is standard, our tester was also equipped with the Premium 3 Package, a $7,300 options group that includes a host of safety features, like Evasive Steering Assist and Active Lane Change Assist. A handful of comfort and convenience options are including in the package as well, like massaging front seats and NFC wireless charging for mobile devices that support it.
While most of these features add to the overall driving experience, Mercedes’ quest in building a safer and more efficient car occasionally translates to annoyance, like the lane keep assist feature, which abruptly applies the brakes to one side of the car in order to bring it back into the center of the lane at the mere suggestion of inching toward a lane line. Or the fact the automatic stop/start turns itself back on every time you change driving modes.
But on the whole, the vast suite of available technology in the E43 is impressive – Mercedes’ unique combination of buttons, a rotary dial, and an elevated, pressable touchpad should by all rights be unintuitive to use, and we got up to a comfortable level of competency with the interface after just a few minutes of fiddling. Dedicated hard buttons for each of the adjustable performance attributes of the car go a long way, too, providing a more tactile way to adjust modes without excessive distraction.
An AMG for the masses
The AMG 43 treatment occupies an interesting space for would-be owners. There’s no doubt it provides a more engaging driving experience in this mid-sized sedan than the standard model can – the combination turns the E-Class from a luxurious cruiser into a legitimately quick sports sedan, and it undoubtedly delivers enough performance for the vast majority of drivers.
Of course, some will still long for the full-bore AMG treatment, and not just for cool points. While the E43 makes for a worthy companion during flashes of spirited motoring, capable drivers may still discover the limitations of the street-friendly brakes and suspension tuning without ever putting a wheel on a road course, as track capability isn’t the primary focus of the AMG 43 package. But it’s safe to say that Mercedes-AMG is also aware of the fact that the vast majority of AMG-badged vehicles will never find their way to a road course throughout their existence.
So it stands to reason that, for most drivers, striking a balance between performance and compliance (along with an agreeable price of admission) is simply a higher priority than sheer outright capability. To that end, the E43 is wildly successful at its mission, and a welcomed new entry into the Mercedes-AMG roster.
- Ample and usable power
- Luxurious interior
- Wide array of latest tech features
- V6 isn’t sonically charismatic
- Options quickly ramp up the price tag