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Full Test: Mercedes E43 AMG is all lightning, no thunder

The last time Mercedes-Benz had a six-cylinder E-Class AMG there were no smartphones, Messi was still living in Argentina and the internet made a strange sound before allowing you to access a few bites of it. That was 1995.

In 2017 we have E43 AMG: 3-litres of twin-turbocharged V6 pulling along the lounge-on-wheels that is the current E-Class. It’s potentially a rather conflicted car, powered by an engine the size and formation you’d never imagine should apply to any E-Class assembled in Affalterbach.

Although its configuration might be odd for an E-Class AMG, with two cylinders less than you’d expect, the numbers aren’t unimpressive: 295kW, 520Nm and 0-100kph in 4.6 seconds. It’s that last statistic which is the telling one, this V6 E-Class AMG being very nearly as quick as the original 6.2-litre V8 E63 was. Without the booming piston-aircraft M156 engine sound, of course. Which is an issue. A significant one.

In many ways the 2018 E43 AMG is a superior, more liveable car than the E63. AMG’s V8 four-door is perhaps too fast, and similarly too loud, to ever reward in any environment other than a Kyalami track day or a mirage-inducing straight on the N14 between two nondescript towns in the Northern Cape. Attempt to start an E63 in any underground parking garage and there’s a choir of car alarms which trigger. Similarly, a sequence of ESP icons flash manically when you dart for a gap in traffic, applying three-quarter throttle in combination with half-a-lock of steering in E63. AMG’s V6 powered E-Class isn’t like that – at all.

The nine-speed automatic transmission in the E43 AMG has a gear for every occasion and unlike most rivals, when selected to ‘manual-mode’ it will allow you to buffer E43 up against its rev-limiter without any intervention. AMG’s adaptation of the 4Matic drive system always charges 364 of those 520 peak output Newtons to the rear axle, which mean it is hardly a sterile all-wheel system – though there is no E63-type drift mode.

Wonderfully fast and uncannily agile for a car of its size, you can truly immersive yourself in placing E43 AMG accurately at speed, revelling in its abilities – without having to worry about that rear-axle being overpowered and forcing you to attempt catching a falling knife. The ride quality is astonishing too, Mercedes-Benz’s air-suspension an order of magnitude better than anything on offer in an A6, 5 Series or XF.

It’s not quite perfect, there are issues. The cabin is vast, comfortable and its sweep of TFT instrument digitisation is intuitive and legible even in harsh African sun, but there’s way too much plastic masquerading as premium metal inside E43. I’ve always imagined a proper German four-door Q-car should be stealthy with its styling and E43 is elegantly so, but a Q-car should also never be mute when revealing true ability.

In South Africa AMG has conquered the market with cars that sound like nuclear powered pop-corn makers. Despite its brilliantly balanced portfolio of performance, E43’s exhaust note is just too Nutribullet to be a true AMG.

  • SPECIFICATION
  • Price (as tested) R1 165 800
  • 2996cc 6-cyl, twin-turbo, AWD, 295kW, 520Nm
  • 8.2l/100km, 192g/km
  • 0-100km/h 4.6secs, 250km/h
  • 1840kg
  • Tester’s notes:
  • E43 versus E63 is classic Cayman/911 conundrum, the cheaper car being better nearly everywhere, but lacking that true sense of occasion.
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