What is it?
AMG, Mercedes-Benz’s in-house performance arm, has always been famous for its thundering V8s. Want more power? The AMG solution was always simple, just install a V8. Over the years, the company has produced them in all manner of sizes and configurations. Its V8s have ranged from a seven-litre down to the current four, and has used all types of induction: naturally aspirated, supercharged, and turbocharged; the lot. Of late, however, the Affalterbach-based tuning arm is looking at an all new audience. One step down from its full fat cars, this new range is more affordable and less powerful. The first car from this range – the 367hp C43 – is already on sale in India at a price of Rs 77.6 lakh, ex-showroom, and that will be followed by this car, the 401hp E43, at a price of approximately Rs 85 lakh early next year.
The three-litre turbo-petrol engine is the same as that in the C-class, but here it is tuned to put out a stronger 401hp. Power, as on the C43, is transmitted through all four wheels, and Merc has used its own nine-speed automatic gearbox to multiply all the power effectively. What’s important to remember is that the E43 will be brought into India as a full import and so will use the standard E-class wheelbase, which will make it more agile and fun to drive. The modifications to the E43 aren't just limited to just the engine. A sports suspension with adjustable dampers and larger brakes are also part of the package. The E43 V6, however, does without the E63 V8’s ‘speedshift multi-clutch’ gearbox, without its special four-link front axle, and it also gets a standard E-class steering system rather than the custom ones on the V8 AMGs.
On the outside, there are styling tweaks too, with a more aggressive body kit, attractive AMG wheels and a new quad exhaust system rounding off what looks like a restrained but sporty package.
What's it like on the inside?
This biggest difference from the all new E-class sold in India is that this one isn't built on the longer wheelbase. So, get into the rear of the car, and there's no reclining seat and no acres of legroom. The back seat, however, is extremely comfortable with good thigh support and a nicely inclined and padded backrest. And legroom is more than sufficient too.
Up front, the cabin looks much sportier than the India car, and truth be told, a whole lot more attractive as well. You get the S-class-like twin LCD panels on the dash that this car gets in other markets, and that transforms the look and feel of the cabin. The dash is covered in red highlights and red mood lighting. You also get sculpted sports seats, a flat-bottom steering, and attractive double-stitched leather on the dash and door pads that have a rich texture as well.
What's it like to drive?
Extremely rapid, to begin with. It would be. With the traction of the four-wheel-drive system and the zingy engine pulling hard all the way to the redline, the E43 is capable of doing 0-100kph in 4.6 seconds; hardly junior sedan performance. And what makes it even more enjoyable is that this motor loves to spin fast. In fact, the faster you spin it, the smoother it feels, and is also so sweet sounding and characterful to listen to that you just revel in pulling it hard at every opportunity. So, if you are willing to work the mill, the performance is there. Still, there's no getting away from the fact that you miss the effortlessness of the V8-powered cars, especially the explosion or torque, and that NASCAR-like rumble from the exhausts.
Also absent is the playful and crisp handling of the full fat AMG products. The V8s have what is as close as you can get to a purpose-built chassis. Sure, in isolation, the E43's steering is pretty good and because it is air-sprung, it seems more stable at higher speeds. The four-wheel-drive system, however, feels a bit slow to react and the E43 doesn't take corners with the same poise and grip as other AMG cars used to. So yes, this is a clear step down by regular AMG sporting standards. But on the flip side, its softer and more rounded character is likely to have a wider appeal. It feels more Mercedes, to begin with. The car is still very comfortable to sit in, almost as comfy as a regular Merc, and the driving controls are nice and light as well, but dig a little deeper and it does have a hint of a sporty edge. Ride, however, is a bit stiff at low speeds, even in 'Comfort', and the standard Merc-spec gearbox feels a bit slow, especially when you are waiting for the next gear under power.
Should I buy one?
If you are someone who enjoys driving a Mercedes, enjoys all the smoothness and refinement of the regular car, but at the same time wants a lot more performance, this AMG is for you. No, it isn't as sporty or as hard-edged as the V8-powered AMGs, that track-car-like handling is missing and it isn't as refined as a regular Merc either. But if you are looking for the perfect halfway house between one of AMG's extreme machines and a regular Merc E-class, this probably is it. Yes, it is likely to cost around Rs 15 lakh more than the E350d, the one with the long wheelbase and air suspension, and that isn't an insignificant amount. But if you are self-driven and like a bit more punch, power and individuality, the E43 is likely to offer a lot.