From £79,1308
New-groove V6 AMG E 43 does enough to lift itself above its nearest rivals, but lacks the pervasive power, or driver involvement, of its V8 counterpart

What is it?

The Mercedes-AMG E 43 4Matic is the latest in this year’s line of all-new turbo six-cylinder, medium-hot performance derivatives from the factory Mercedes tuner.

Available in both saloon and estate bodystyles, this one probably plays a more important role than the other ‘43’ models we’ve reviewed already this year. With the E 63 moving into even more rarefied and expensive territory, there’ll be a fairly strong demand for this E 43, you’d expect, from people who like the idea of a fast E-Class, but for whom a near-£90,000 price tag and a 600-horsepower V8 seem a bit over-the-top.

And so, for the more moderate AMG faithful, the E 43 4Matic is powered by a 396bhp ‘biturbo’ V6 engine; ‘only’ a V6, perhaps, but one more powerful than the V8s of both the legendary ‘W124’ 500 E and the original E 55 AMG.

The technical differences between an E 43 and the new E 63 run much deeper than that, of course. The six-cylinder car does without the V8’s ‘speedshift multi-clutch’ gearbox, without its special four-link front axle, with a different steering system, and without the ‘drift mode’ facilitated by the E 63’s clever four-wheel drive system.

The E 43 is still four-wheel drive, though – and both saloon and estate versions are available for a sub-£60,000 price tag, which is competitive with what Audi asks for an Audi S6, what Maserati asks for a Ghilbli S . No longer can we necessarily all say ‘AMGs are great, but aren’t they expensive?’.

Merc e43 estate 2016 3108

What's it like?

In some ways, this is a car sprung from that familiar, demonstrative AMG mould. In some ways, it seems to miss opportunities to take the gnarly, serrated edge off that well-known AMG driving experience – which does suggest Affalterbach was keen we didn’t think of the E 43 as a soft option. Sure, it's a bit odd to drive a hot E-Class that doesn’t rumble down a dual carriageway like an extra from Days of Thunder, but that doesn’t mean the E 43’s V6 isn’t suited to this application, or isn’t one of the more effusive and characterful motors of its kind.

Unlike in other halfway-house V6 German performance cars of late, the E 43’s engine is vocal at all times: idle, town speeds and on the run. It isn’t as mellifluous as a V8, but it’s sweet and characterful to listen to and speaks clearly of a distinguishing level of grunt ready to be pressed into service.

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The E-Class has always made a fairly idiosyncratic basis for a hot saloon and still does. You sit up medium-high in the car for an executive saloon, and you’re surrounded by luxurious materials, expensive finishes and dazzling infotainment tech all dressed for a day at the circuit. It shouldn’t make for such a coherent cabin – and yet it so spectacularly does.

The car’s seats are good, though not quite as comfy as some we’ve found in AMG saloons through the years thanks to a slightly short, oddly-shaped squabs with contours that don't agree perfectly with this tester’s back. Otherwise, though, the E 43’s cabin is an exceptionally agreeable place in which to spend time – not to mention a predictably practical one if you opt for the estate, with its 1820-litre boot.

Merc e43 estate 2016 3110

Surprise number one will come when you sample the car’s fairly coarse, rumbling ride. Surely AMG might have taken the opportunity to better isolate the cabin of one of its bigger saloons here, you’d think – to juggle comfort against control in a way that’s different from its ‘63’ models? Nope. Whether you’re an E 43 or E 63 buyer, you're expected to value the clear sense of connection with the road that an AMG provides. That also means the car thumps insistently over ridges and drain covers.

The E 43 is air-sprung, like its bigger V8 brother, and that fact undoubtedly contributes to the distant hollow roar of its ride. And yet the car’s body control is at once close and progressive, with none of the disconnected wafty feel that air spheres can sometimes produce. It’s flat and nicely hunkered down at all times, and grips hard enough to encourage an enthusiastic turn of speed, steering with nicely matched weight and directness, and showing good basic chassis balance as it corners.

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The hooliganism oversteer of a rear-driven AMG isn’t possible – as little as that’s likely to matter to most owners. The car’s four-wheel drive system feels a bit dim and slow-witted if you barrel into a bend with the front axle loaded and then try to turn the car on the throttle. Grip levels aren’t so high here, not the front axle so wide or clever, that the E 43’s outside front tyre can necessarily be relied upon to stick when really subjected to duress. Meanwhile, when grip levels run out, the car’s four-wheel drive system seems to shunt torque around a bit crudely and in large, unhelpful, unpredictable lumps.

But let’s not pretend that shortcoming makes the E 43 any less appealing as a road car. Of bigger impact is the realization that 384lb ft of torque isn’t quite enough to make the E 43 feel effortlessly fast. You’ll need to use full power, and often have to wait until that nine-speed gearbox has kicked down two or even three ratios, to make the car accelerate with true urgency.

The V6 is at its best when zinging between 4000 and 6500rpm anyway, turbo or not, and feels more forceful on song than plenty of rival V6s we can think of. Still, you wouldn’t say this particular Mercedes feels over-engined or holds much power in reserve. Where AMGs are concerned, that takes some getting used to.

Merc e43 estate 2016 3118

Should I buy one?

Assuming a big, powerful, four-wheel drive wagon is what you want and £60,000 is the limit of your spending power, you should consider the E 43. Compared with its direct rivals, it makes a strong argument for itself, combining luxury, quality, usability, space, performance, character and handling appeal very successfully.

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Just bear in mind that there are hot diesel executive options (not necessarily from Mercedes, but good ones all the same) that are every bit as quick as this, and more effortless and economical with it. At the same time, there’s also a new E 63 that, on first inspection, would seem to be worth every extra penny you might lavish on it for its greater power, poise and excitement value. If you can afford the E 63, the E 43 will never quite scratch the same itch.

Deciding which big, bahnstorming German estate car to buy isn't an easy process, and it definitely just got even more complicated.

Mercedes-AMG E 43 4Matic Estate 

Location Feltham, Middlesex; On sale now; Price £58,290; Engine V6, 2996cc, twin-turbocharged petrol; Power 396bhp; Torque 384lb ft; Gearbox 9-spd automatic; Kerbweight 1930kg; 0-62mph 4.7sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 32.8mpg; CO2/tax band 197g/km, 36% Rivals: Audi S6 Avant, BMW 540i xDrive M Sport Touring

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Add a comment…
bowsersheepdog 23 December 2016

Pointless answer

It looks a bit hearsey in black. I'd prefer ambulancey white myself, being naturally disposed to maintaining hope. I wouldn't go for this model either. If I were to throw off the shackles of being sensible there wouldn't be much point stopping short of the full E63 madness, otherwise the E220 would be plenty quick enough at around seven and a half seconds to sixty. Okay it's a diesel, but for me the E-class estate choice would be between that and the E63.
bomb 22 December 2016

This review really puzzled me

This review really puzzled me and I can't help thinking it would read differently elsewhere. The author seems eager to always view this car within the E-Class hierarchy and its general perception simply because it wears an AMG badge rather than get on and tell us what it's really like.

Short squabs, coarse ride, could have more torque, it's not an E63 AMG. The E43 AMG.

jamesf1 22 December 2016

fairly appealing to me

its pretty quick and as for comments vs rivals - how much grunt do you really ne from a big estate. The only downside is the lack of drift mode - something I always insist on for my sombre big german £60k estate car.