The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the best selling midsize luxury car in the world, which sets a pretty high standard. Outselling stellar competitors like the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and A7, Cadillac CTS, Jaguar XF, Lexus GS, and Infiniti Q70, the E-Class sets the bar that others follow.
So it’s only logical that the E’s high-performance variant— the one touched by the genius engineers over at AMG—would set another standard. Until 2017 that car was dubbed the E63 or E65, depending on whether it was motivated by a fire-breathing V8 or V12 engine, respectively. But for the first time in this sedan’s history, AMG is releasing a V6-powered E-Class, dubbed the E43.
Using the same high-energy engine that motivates the SLC43 roadster we drove in the Côte d’Azur, this powerplant marks a new day for AMG. Shedding the “one man, one engine” ethos that has grounded AMG since Daimler-Benz took a controlling interest in the tuner in 1999, the E43’s powerplant is not built by AMG. It is rather an AMG-tuned version of a mass-produced engine used throughout the Mercedes-Benz lineup.
The E43 is among the new wave of “43” AMGs making their way into the Mercedes-Benz/AMG lineup. Beyond the SLC43 roadster, there’s the GLE43 crossover SUV and soon-to-be-arriving C43 in sedan, coupe, and convertible forms.
About That AMG Engine
The 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 in all previous AMG 43s generates 362 horsepower and 384 lb.-ft. of torque. But AMG engineers outfitted the E43’s V6 with larger turbochargers and updated the engine management software, enough to swell horsepower to 396. It hits full power near redline, at 6100 rpm.
Compare that to the E300’s significantly more modest 241 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque, and the E43 AMG emerges as the only way to go if you want an E-Class with performance mettle. Dial the E43 all the way up to Sport+ mode and the exhaust flaps open all the way, allowing the V6 to holler.
How It Drives
What makes an AMG an AMG is not only the engine, of course. A true AMG is a fine-tuned performance machine, a Mercedes-Benz transformed into a holistic dynamic bruiser. And the E43 is no exception. The 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system comes standard, but it is boosted to allow up to 69 percent of the torque to be directed to the rear wheels. This adds a bit of hooliganism to the E43, in that you can elicit that delightful rear-drive tail wagging that’ll send goosebumps shivering up your forearms (non-AMG 4MATICs only allow 55 percent of the power to go rearward).
Another superb aspect of the E43 is its standard Ride Control, an option on lower E-Classes. This Air Suspension features adjustable dampers that allow the E43 to ride in soft comfort, or be dialed in for corner-hugging handling. It’s best at secondary body motions, absorbing potholes and bumps with little roll. While cornering was sharp, the air suspension felt more tuned for comfort than attacking switchbacks—a feeling engineers confirmed by telling us the E43’s chassis tuning is closer to that of the E300 than the previous E63.
Lastly the E43’s transmission: Its 9-speed automatic is the same as that found in other non-AMGs, but enhanced for quicker shifts. While eminently smooth in lower torque applications, the 9-speed does seem to jerk a bit when forced to handle shifts at full roar in the E43.
How It Looks
What will push buyers to opt for the AMG over the base E300? Aesthetics. The E43 looks like an AMG, with brash aero work and big wheels loading up the sedan’s feral factor. Whereas the E300 looks modest, the E43 ups the aggressiveness for much needed muscularity.
There’s a reworked front fascia with bigger air vents and bumpers (front and rear), side skirts, black window trim, and dual chrome tailpipes. The nose also gets the handsome “Diamond Grille” that you’ve seen on the CLA45, eschewing traditional slats for chrome pointillism dots. While 19-in. twin five-spoke alloy wheels come standard, 20s are available as an option.
AMG’s Dynamic Select has five drive modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual. Eco and Comfort are good to have as on days you just want to sit back and drive in comfort. Comfort may feel too soft for an AMG—even a bit slouchy in corners—but when you just want to cruise to work listening to podcasts maybe you don’t care to be interrupted by every bump on the road.
For the days you want to drive with a bit of fire in your pants, Sport and Sport+ are there for you. While you may assume that Sport+ is better than Sport, that’s not necessarily true. The Sport+ tightens the suspension so tightly that it can be tough on the kidneys. It’s definitely the best setting on the track should you ever find yourself there.
We found this to be the best setup: suspension set to Sport, the transmission to Sport+, and the steering to Comfort. Presto! Best of all worlds.
The interior is immaculate. Niceties include a hefty AMG Sport steering wheel with thumb bumps, snugly bolstered sport seats, and the red signature AMG seatbelts. The ambient lighting package looks especially good in the monochromatic color scheme and metal surfacing of the AMG: The bright purples and reds boldly complement the grays and blacks of the interior. These lighting packages don’t work quite so well with the more natural interiors of the E300, where the bright hues clash against the earth tones and wood surfacing.
The center console also contains two buttons not found on the E300: one triggers manual mode for the transmission (to be shifted via paddles), the other sets the suspension to Sport+ for sharper handling.
Undoubtedly the most visually arresting element of the E43’s cabin is Benz’s new dual 12.3-inch displays. The application is gorgeous, a horizontal interpretation of Tesla’s huge vertical iPad-like center display. The left one plays the part of the digital instrument cluster, while the right manipulates the infotainment system.
These wide high-res screens are a superior riposte to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system simply because of their size: Placed side-by-side, they dominate the E43’s dashboard. Crisp, hi-res and bright, the screens make for the best representation of Mercedes’ COMAND navigation and entertainment system.
The Mercedes-AMG E43 is an incredibly capable car, with all the luxury trimmings, tech packages, and safety suites that you’d expect from a high-trim E-Class. But it lacks the combustible lunacy and feral nature that have defined AMG for decades. Yes, it’s progress, but progress sometimes can make you feel wistful for the past. If higher performance is your goal, look for the new E63 sometime next year.
For more information, options, and pricing, please visit our 2016 Mercedes-AMG E43 page on AutoWeb’s search and configure site.
Photo Credit: © 2016 Mercedes-Benz