First drive: 2017 Mercedes-AMG E43

The new E-Class gets its first performance variant.

When the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class debuted last year, we found it more noteworthy for its luxury appointments and advanced technology than for its performance. While a perfectly competent car in its own right, the E300's performance matched its position within the model lineup: Basic.

Fortunately, Mercedes-Benz is always happy to give you more car (so long as you're willing to pay for it). Normally, you'd expect the step up in performance to come in the form of an E350 or E400 variant of the sedan, but Benz decided to do things a little differently this time.

43As you've likely noted by now, this is not a Mercedes-Benz branded vehicle, but rather Mercedes-AMG. To accommodate its growing lineup, Mercedes decided to shift its entry-performance cars over to the AMG sub-brand and make them more of a jumping-off point to the company's fastest vehicles. It's a distinction without a difference, really. What would previously have been called a Mercedes-Benz E43 AMG is now simply a Mercedes-AMG E43. It's as simple as that.

And while 42 may be the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything; 43 is the answer to the question, "what do you get when you take a standard Mercedes-Benz car or crossover and stick a twin-turbocharged V6 into it?"

There are other numbers that matter, too: 396 (horsepower), 384 (lb-ft. of torque), 69 (percentage of power sent to the rear axle), 9 (speeds offered by the transmission) and 4 (number of driven wheels). We'd suppose that 18 and 25 may also matter to some buyers (city and highway mileage figures, respectively, if you're curious), but we suspect they're not quite as important.

Still a Mercedes-BenzWhile the branding may be different, the expectations really aren't. The buyer of a hopped-up E-Class expects it to behave like one. While we don't see the need to repeat what we've said about the car previously (your can read our "First Drive" review of the E300 here), we'd be remiss if we didn't at least evaluate the E43 in that context.

There's little to differentiate the E43 from the more mundane E300, visually. Up front, there's a new, single-slat, AMG-branded grille. On the flanks, you'll spy AMG-specific wheels and fender badging announcing the presence of the twin-turbocharged V6 and 4Matic all-wheel drive. Out back, the E43 wears an AMG badge on the left and sports quad integrated exhaust tips (rather than the duals on the E300).

Inside, the biggest giveaway is the AMG-branded, flat-bottomed steering wheel staring you in the face upon entry. Until you actually get underway, the E43 could easily be mistaken for its less-powerful sibling.

That characterization even holds true on the road. Like the E300 on which its based, the E43 lets you dial in exactly the amount of sport you want. Unlike the burlier E63 and E63 S, which get an entirely re-engineered suspension, the E43 retains the E300's architecture (albeit with some AMG-specific tweaks to the Air Body Control system). Think of it as the same fundamental car as the E300, just with a much higher performance ceiling.

Targeted performanceWith that in mind, it's important to note that the E43 is more of an Audi S6 competitor than a BMW M5 competitor. The RS and M cars of the world are best compared to the 63 line from AMG. Don't worry; they're on their way.

So, with thoughts of kidney- and eardrum-assaulting monsters banished from your mind, it's a bit easier to see the E43 for what it is--a daily driver that allows a little more fun than its small-engine sibling. At that, it excels.

Our drive loop featured some fairly beat-up pavement to go with its undulating up- and downhill path through the Santa Monica Mountains. We found the sweet spot in the E43's drive mode to be an individual profile with everything set to the sportiest setting except for the suspension, which we left in the slightly less-aggressive "Sport" setting rather than "Sport+," lest we liquefy our internal organs before having the opportunity to evaluate all of the vehicles Mercedes had on hand for our preview event.

The near-as-makes-no-difference 400 horsepower under the E43's hood made short work of uphill sections, with the nine-speed snapping off incredibly brisk shifts on command from the E43's paddle shifters. Compared to the likes of the C Sedan and Coupe we also had on-hand, the E43's feels its size (all 4,145lbs of it) in some of the longer sweepers, but we never found it to be disagreeably poky. The twin-turbocharged three-liter under the hood actually sounds pretty good (for a V6, anyway) and we enjoyed listening to the exhaust bark with each downshift.

If there's any fault to be found with the E43, it's that it is a bit too keen on remaining a jack-of-all-trades proposition. As often as we appreciated the dynamic bolsters in its front seats, we also found ourselves pining for the snug, fixed setup found in other cars we sampled. And while 396 horsepower is plenty for this car's mission, we're of the species that believes more is just about always better.

The only thing that gives us pause is the existence of the Lexus GS F. Sure, it's a little pricier and a little more brash, but we can't help but think that for the cost of a few options on the E43, we could have a 467-horsepower V8 under the hood instead.

Leftlane's bottom lineMercedes-AMG has delivered a car that can be driven every day without fuss, and driven enthusiastically when called upon. While we may hanker for the money-no-object, no-holds-barred exuberance of the E63, this little brother gets the job done quite nicely. If only the GS F didn't exist.

2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 Sedan base price, $72,400

Photos by Byron Hurd.

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