One in every two cars carrying the insignia of Daimler’s in-house hot-shop from Affalterbach, Germany, is sold in the U.S.; the greater Los Angeles area alone is AMG’s eighth-largest market in the world. That sales success has largely been built on the back of the 63 and 65 series cars, immensely powerful V-8 and V-12 versions of C-Class and bigger sedans, coupes, convertibles, and SUVs. But Daimler wants more people to share the AMG love. Enter the 2017 Mercedes-AMG E43. Same AMG flavor, just fewer calories. And a cheaper price tag. Call it AMG-lite, if you will.
Standard wheels are 19-inch AMG twin five-spoke alloys, with a new design 20-inch wheel available as an option. The E43 also gets the spangly ‘diamond’ grille seen on some CLA and C-Class models, plus more aggressive front and rear bumpers and side skirts. Inside, you’ll find lots of black and aluminum, with contrasting splashes of red (including red seat belts), and a flat-bottom AMG sports steering wheel. Other differences are more subtle: For example, a button on the center console allows the driver to select manual transmission mode, and the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles are larger.
Under the hood is a version of twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 that powers the new E400 4Matic wagon, but has been tweaked to deliver 396 hp at 6,100 rpm, and 384 lb-ft of torque, courtesy of two larger turbochargers and new engine management software that allows boost pressures of up to 16 psi. (The engine delivers 329 hp and 354 lb-ft. in the E400 4Matic wagon.) The E43 engine drives through Daimler’s new nine speed automatic transmission, recalibrated to deliver faster shifts. Benz’s familiar 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is standard, though configured by AMG to send up to 69 percent of the available torque to the rear tires instead of the maximum 55 percent allowed in non-AMG 4Matic-equipped sedans.
Air suspension is standard, with spring and damper rates re-tuned by AMG to deliver a tauter ride and crisper body control. The front axle is fitted with upgraded steering knuckles and load-bearing joints, the rear axle features stiffer bushes, and negative camber has been increased both ends to improve cornering. Brakes are cross-drilled and vented discs with four-piston fixed AMG-branded calipers up front, with vented discs and single-piston floating calipers at the rear.
The recipe’s AMG-lite, and so is the result. Daimler’s numbers suggest a 0-60 time for the E43 of about 4.5 seconds, making it a full two seconds quicker than the turbo-four powered E300 4Matic sedan we tested earlier this year. A 577-hp 2014 Mercedes-AMG E63 S nailed the 0-60 sprint in just 3.4 seconds when we tested it in late 2013; with more power and better traction, the all-new W213 version powered by the new twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 will be even quicker when it arrives later this year. So the E43, on paper, at least, will pretty much split the difference.
On the road the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 is a sweetheart; smooth and responsive, the exhaust note a muted snarl that’s much more pleasant to live with than the sonorous drone that blights Jaguar‘s supercharged V-6s. Power builds progressively right through the rev range, and peaks at 6,100 rpm, pretty much right on redline. The ride is more tightly controlled than in a regular E-Class with air suspension, and although the ultra-smooth roads on our drive route in Germany undoubtedly flattered the chassis, our experience with E63s in the States suggests that in Comfort mode it should be tolerable on both L.A.’s choppy freeways and Detroit’s cratered streets.
The E43 comes standard with Benz’s Dynamic Select drive mode function, massaged by AMG. In the E43’s version, you click down once from Comfort to select Sport, and then down again to select Sport+. Individual mode, which allows you to mix ‘n’ match powertrain, suspension and steering settings, is one click up. Eco mode is two clicks up.
As with the new E400 4Matic wagon we sampled on the same trip, switching modes revealed some puzzlingly poor calibrations of both steering and transmission. The same inconsistent and insistently artificial steering feel we experienced in the Sport setting in the E400 4Matic wagon was even more evident in the E43 sedan, amplified by a calibration that clearly confused increased weight for better feel, and the stiffer sidewalls of the 245/35 ZR20 front and 275/30 ZR 20 Yokohama Advan tires fitted to the optional 20-inch rims on our tester. Given the recent progress by AMG in particular in terms of feel and precision, the E43’s steering is a disappointingly retrograde step.
Likewise, in Sport+ mode the nine-speed auto at times thudded and shuddered ominously, like a torpedo hitting a battleship. Overall, the new nine-speed transmission, so smooth in the four-cylinder Benzes we’ve tried, felt like it wasn’t too happy hooked up to a higher-torque engine. However, Daimler engineers assured us it’s capable of handling more than 500 lb-ft. The shift shock, they say, is all down to software and is designed to let customers know they’re in the sportiest of the driving modes. Um, OK… But surely faster, more seamless shifts – shifts that don’t send destabilizing load cycles through the drivetrain and suspension – would be preferable. Just ask the guys at the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team.
Neither niggle need be a deal breaker in terms of the E43’s appeal as a soft-shoe sport sedan. After experimenting a lot in Individual mode we settled on the following setup as the best all-round compromise: Sport for the powertrain to deliver crisper response while minimizing the transmission’s shift shock, Sport for the suspension to tighten the secondary body motions, and Comfort for the steering to reduce the impact of the odd weighting as much as possible. The transmission could be switched to full manual mode via a button on the center console if more nuanced control and increased performance was required, while a second button fast-tracked the suspension to Sport+ settings. No need to waste time clicking through the Dynamic Select drive mode menu from Individual to Sport+…
The Mercedes-AMG E43 is the first of a whole new family of AMG-lite cars from Mercedes, each carefully positioned between their regular Mercedes-Benz siblings and the full-strength, take-no-prisoners AMG 63 models in terms of performance and price. Steering and transmission calibration niggles notwithstanding, the E43 suggests it’ll be a winning formula.