HAMBURG, Germany—The driver of the Nissan Sentra two lanes to your right obviously intends to weave into the scant opening ahead just to block your fast-lane view. But you have the perfect tool to prevent it. You’re in the 2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 4MATIC, the hot-rod version of the new E-Class. It’s like a spatula for flipping Sentraburgers. You press down on the studded aluminum accelerator pedal, the twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 wakens under its shroud, and all the subprime hotshot Sentra driver can do is some flipping of his own.
This scenario is the ideal application for the E43. Yes, it’s up to brisk laps on track, a spirited romp over a mountain road, or a long-distance cruise. But after our drive in and around Hamburg, it strikes us as more of a super-commuter, a practical car, and an anonymous one despite the additional AMG body parts. Even the engine cover has a red aluminum insert and AMG lettering. In other words, no one will look twice, yet there’s enough power to command respect from the automotive world’s darters and pupfish. Besides dispatching them to the endangered species list, the E43 also delivers a sense of accomplishment for the AMG geek who likes to master abstruse levels of technology.
But don’t count us among them. We found the E43 to be fussy. It demands just the right inputs, and there’s a steep learning curve. The wrong reach through the grove of stalks on the left side of the steering column activates the infernal Drive Pilot semi-autonomous driving feature instead of the turn signal. The engine makes 401 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque, enabling the car to race from 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, yet sometimes our inquisitive right foot got “Duh!” for an answer. Oops, wrong driving mode.
For a car that should instantly respond, the 9-speed automatic may in fact have too many ratios. Thanks to AMG’s software, the transmission shifts faster than pop culture trends and will even skip gears during downshifts when the driving mode chosen is Sport or Sport Plus (which uses a higher idle speed for faster launches). But then the suspension punishes instead of preserving, and who wants to live this way? Whatever your desire, electronic controls will mediate; we wished for four-on-the-floor and a clutch pedal.
The E43’s inner conflict between wanting to be a driver’s car while also winning concessions from the European Union is evident in the inclusion of an Eco mode. Eco offers a coasting function when the accelerator is released between 37 mph and 100 mph. The clutch disengages, the engine idles, and you save fuel. How quaint! Rather than the Sturm und Drang of past AMG models, the E43 has accepted speech codes and aims never to offend by microaggression.
You would expect a plethora great hardware onboard, and the E43 has it. For example, the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system operates invisibly with a 31/69 torque-split between front and rear wheels. Its mechanisms, compact and unobtrusive, are encased in a single-stage transfer case that piggybacks onto the transmission.
While it would be possible to go on about special steering knuckles, negative camber, and the super-sophisticated air suspension, among other treatments from the AMG spa, we think the E43’s best attribute is its styling. Start with the interior, which itself starts with all the wonderfulness of the E-Class. Added to it are the excellent and beautiful AMG sport seats with optional Nappa leather and microfiber upholstery, exquisite swaths of carbon-fiber in the dashboard and doors, and red ambient lighting too subtle and tasteful for the Reeperbahn red-light district a few steps from Hamburg’s harbor.
The good feeling carries over to the exterior. Here, the op-art grille deploys a swirl of bright, diamond-shaped “pins” to announce this isn’t a mere E-Class model. Our test car was fitted with handsome 20-inch, machine-finished, twin-spoke alloy wheels shod with low-profile Yokohama Advan Sport tires. The body wore a rich coat of selenite gray metallic (in former times we might have said “moonstone”), completing an overall dignified appearance. Carbon fiber side-mirror housings and spoiler lip are optional, and thank goodness the air suspension lets you raise the car upon encountering a steeply inclined driveway.
Even the exterior styling treatment, though, has a perfunctory quality. It reinforces a thought: if Mercedes-Benz made a refrigerator, AMG would tune it to spit out 1,500 ice cubes per hour, dispense sparkling water, and keep Uncle Fred—the visionary futurist—frozen until the moon meets the stars. But the E43 is missing something, and it sure isn’t digital processing power. What would we suggest? For one, rather than the semi-strangled exhaust note, a leonine roar would help as the indication of unabashed willingness. Maybe during its development, the E43 should have frolicked in the Reeperbahn.
2017 Mercedes-Benz E43 4MATIC Sedan Specifications
|On Sale:||Early 2017|
|Engine:||3.0L DOHC 24-valve V-6/401 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 383 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA Mileage:||22/35 mpg city/highway (est)|
|L x W x H:||194.2 x 73.2 x 56.9 in|
|0-60 MPH:||4.6 sec|
|Top Speed:||155 mph|