AZUSA, California — Say you’re a successful entrepreneur in the market for a full-size luxury sedan. You want it to be enjoyable to drive. It should have more style than, say, an Audi S6 — you’re not in finance or law, after all — but it can’t be flashy like a Maserati Ghibli or brash and loud like a Cadillac CTS-V, either, because the last thing you want is a sternly worded letter from your HOA. It needs to be something balanced, but not quite a sleeper — something like 2017 Mercedes-AMG E43.
For starters, moving up to the E43 from the E300 gets you away from the entry level 2.0-liter turbo-four and towards a much more class-appropriate V-6. Not just a V-6, mind you, but an AMG-tuned twin-turbo unit good for 396 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque (the most of the 43 series; the rest ‘make do’ with 362 hp). Where the E300’s engine sounds and feels like it’s working up a sweat when prodded, the E43’s offers the effortless, wafting experience one expects from an E-Class. As is the case in every other 43 AMG, the engine is mated to a nine-speed automatic that sends power to a rear-biased 4MATIC all-wheel drive system that directs 69 percent of engine output to the rear axle.
There are four driving modes— Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ — as well as a driver-set Individual option. Eco, which sets stop/start to be more aggressive and uses a glide function to effectively declutch the transmission, is pointless; the same holds true for the intermediate Sport mode, which is only slightly softer than Sport+ and does not have an obvious use case. I opted for an Individual configuration for regular driving, selecting the tighter sport steering while keeping suspension, transmission, and engine settings in comfort mode. On the switchbacks of Highway 39 on the way up the San Gabriel Mountains, it was Sport+ time.
In addition to tightening up the steering, switching the big sedan into its most aggressive mode makes it ready for business by raising the idle engine speed, dramatically speeding up shifts, and considerably stiffening the suspension. It also opens up the exhaust. Before going up into the canyons, I also pressed the M button for manual (shift-paddle) operation to ensure that the gearbox wouldn’t wander out of my chosen gear.
Even though it’s a 194.6-inch-long car that rides on a 115.7-inch wheelbase and weighs 4,145 lbs, the E43 offers a sporting, yet balanced, enjoyable drive. It feels more like a rear-wheel drive car, thanks in part to the AMG-tuned setup, rotating eagerly through corners when properly encouraged. Steering is direct, precise, and predictable, but would be even better with the addition of a little more resistance. Burying the accelerator doesn’t create any undue drama or violence — the E43 simply goes, accented by the droning six-cylinder soundtrack.
Exterior styling evokes restrained aggression. Up front, the E43 passes on the E63’s bulging hood and AMG GT-inspired grille, keeping the smoother lines of the standard E-Class. In the back is a subtle diffuser instead of the E63’s aggressive one, as well as a smaller decklid spoiler. On the side, the fender accent is replaced with a simple badge, and calipers are gray rather than painted. Out of the box, the E43 rides on 19-inch wheels, but the $750 20-inchers this Piedmont Green sedan was wearing are a better visual fit.
With the bigger wheels come Pirelli P Zero summer tires, sized 245/35R20 up front and 275/30R20 at the rear. Like the E43 that’s wearing them, these tires are a versatile offering; there’s ample grip during reasonably spirited driving without generating excess noise or harshness while cruising — a fact certainly aided by the well-damped suspension, assuming it’s set to Comfort. The generous sound deadening inside the cabin helps, too, included with the $1,100 Acoustic Comfort Package which also adds a sound-and-heat absorbing membrane on the windshield and side windows.
Bringing this two-ton show to a halt are 14.2-inch vented and cross-drilled rotors at all four corners; the fronts get clamped by four-piston calipers, while the rears only feel the pressure from one. The setup provides capable stopping power that increases predictably and without excess initial grab. No carbon-ceramics to be found here — that’s an option restricted to the E63. That’s no huge loss, either — carbon brakes tend to squeal like stuck pigs and their main advantage is heat and fade resistance, which shouldn’t come into play unless you plan on turning your loaded Benz into a track car.
The cockpit controlling this hardware came wrapped in nut brown nappa leather upholstery, which went well with the optional carbon-fiber trim ($2,850), making for a stately yet sporty cabin that’s tied well together by the $500 flat-bottom AMG performance steering wheel. The front seats were heated and cooled as well, courtesy of that $450 option. Towards the front of each door sit the shiny grilles of the Burmester “High-End 3D” surround sound system; the $4,550 setup sends 1,450 watts of crisp and clear, if not entirely booming, sound waves into your eardrums through 23 speakers. Source audio can easily come from your smartphone, as the infotainment system supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Our tester was also fitted with the $7,300 Premium 3 Package, which includes Mercedes’ entire suite of driving automation and active safety technologies, a surround view system, active high beams, and hands-free keyless entry. More importantly, however, it includes AMG’s Active Multicontour front seats — operative word being active.
Said activity comes from the tag team of massage functionality and automatic adjustable side bolsters. Both functions are controlled via the COMAND system rather than seat switches, which is somewhat confusing at first. Massage functionality works just like you’d expect, while the left or right bolsters tightens up as soon as one feels the pressure of the occupant’s body during a turn. The practical result the upside of fully bolstered sports seats during aggressive cornering without the downside of being squeezed by the bolsters on the freeway — or needing to adjust the settings. The sensation is a bit strange at first, but quickly becomes natural. If there’s such a thing as one feature that defines “sport luxury,” this may well be it.
While the adrenaline-fueled will nevertheless pine for the fire-breathing E63, they’ll have to part with close to $30,000 more for the privilege — and that’s out of the gate. Even with $20,000 worth of options, this $93,505 E43 has a fair amount of daylight between itself and its bigger brother’s expected starting price. While the V-8-powered monster may be our choice, the 2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 is the way to go for the less-than-unhinged, merging the lap of luxury E-Class buyers expect with engaging and satisfying driving dynamics.
2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 Sedan Specifications
|PRICE||$73,325/$93,505 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/396 hp @ 6,100 rpm,
384 lb-ft @ 2,500-5,000 rpm
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||18/25 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||195.4 x 73.5 x 57.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5 sec|
|TOP SPEED||130 mph|