Willing suspension of disbelief (and no, we're not about to quote the Blackadder Goes Forth
response to that statement) is something everyone is prepared to do from time to time. It's a case of going to watch a Marvel superhero film and accepting that a man has a miniature source of pure energy in his chest, or that someone can be shrunk down to the size of an atom, or that a foul-mouthed, fourth-wall-breaking genius who lives with a blind ex-cocaine addict woman can regenerate his limbs at will. Or even, more incredibly, we'll eat delicious fish-and-chip-shop curry sauce and not baulk at the name, despite the fact it bears no resemblance whatsoever to any type of Indian cuisine.
But a Mercedes E-Class, worked upon by fabled go-faster department AMG, that doesn't
have a V8? Come on, who is it trying to kid?! You can't expect us to believe this sort of underhand downsizing would ever work in reality. Madness.
That, though, is precisely the aim of the Mercedes-AMG E 43, here sampled in Estate form. AMG has recently announced the full-on E 63 and E 63 S models, complete with a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8, monstrous outputs (up to 612hp and 850Nm) and all the sort of demented, tyre-smoking lunacy you'd come to expect of the E-Class range-topper.
The less-powerful E 43, meanwhile, fulfils a function that's not that unusual, if you consider Mercedes' rival German manufacturers. After all, Audi has a stonking RS 6, but there's still room in the range for the 'lesser' S6 hot-rod further down the tree. BMW also leverages its M Division know-how, recently announcing an M550i xDrive
model for the latest 5 Series family (actually faster than the outgoing 'F10' M5 flagship; so the next M5, due in a few years' time, should be ridiculously swift).
Yet that doesn't seem to have saved the E 43 from some accusatory murmurs of 'doesn't feel that quick' from various critics. The problem is that Mercedes-AMG hasn't quite differentiated the badging enough: the 43 has the AMG logo on the left of the boot; and it has a two-digit model number, rather than the three figures of a common or garden E-Class. It therefore sets certain inflated levels of expectation in people's minds about what it's going to do, which can leave a few disappointed.
But, if you get to drive an E 43, you really don't need to be upset by it. This is yet another superb example of the latest E-Class. It's powered by the 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine that's found in other '43'-badged AMG products, but where it tends to make 367hp in other applications, for the E 43 it's boosted to 401hp. With 520Nm driving through the nine-speed 9G-Tronic gearbox to all corners of the car courtesy of 4Matic four-wheel drive, the on-paper stats are more than rapid enough for most people's needs: the Mercedes-AMG will hit the mandatory 155mph limited top speed and post a thunderous 0-62mph time of 4.7 seconds, which is not bad for a 1,930kg wagon.
Having sampled its stupendous all-weather performance, the E 43's problem might be that it's a bit too
smooth. There's certainly an initial impression that you're not going as fast as you thought 401hp and full throttle would be... right up until the point you look down at the speedo and actually clock what enormous velocity you're travelling at. Have the car in Sport or Sport+ modes, though, and it won't let you forget you're being naughty, courtesy of a rudely loud exhaust note that's totally at odds with the typical E-Class demeanour. We, of course, love such histrionics.
And we love this car. The E 63 is not so subtle, what with its flared wheel arches and stocky stance, so the 43 is more of a 'Q-car'. It has wonderful steering, AMG seemingly being the company that has best mastered EPAS set-ups thus far, really impressive brakes, and a superb balance of body control and ride comfort. Yes, it is firmer than, say, an E 220 d AMG Line on air springs, but it's not so uncomfortable at cruising speeds that you can't face taking it on long journeys (indeed, its damping really comes into its own in the 70-80mph bracket), while it is a much more engaging steer than a regular E-Class once the roads gets twisty.
What we're properly impressed by, though, is the extremely simple solution that Mercedes has come up with for the 'grimy winter reversing camera' issue. Rather than just leaving the exposed lens at the mercy of the road-salt elements (meaning you inevitably can't see a bleedin' thing out of it when you actually need to reverse), or even fitting a rather overblown washer-jet system (Audi A4 Avant and some Nissans are culprits of this), all Mercedes has done is hidden the camera behind a flap. The result? Crystal clear images of what's behind the car at all times, no matter how murky the conditions outside.
There are annoyances, however. For all its nine gears and turbocharging, measures supposed to give decent fuel economy if you're not 'on it', the E 43 spent most of the week hovering around 23mpg on country roads. One long 300-mile motorway return jaunt saw it giving back almost its quoted combined economy figure, with a best of 33.2mpg, and that was enough to boost our overall average to 26.9mpg across 476 miles at an average 44mph. However, we reckon in regular road use that the E 63 wouldn't be too far behind, as its much more powerful and torquier engine would be working less hard in all circumstances - and the V8 E-Class models are only 55-65kg heavier than the 43's kerb weight. Also, the seats might be lovely to look at, but the backrests are a weird shape that doesn't make them the comfiest chairs to sit in, and this 5,000-mile press demonstrator had already developed an annoying trim rattle near the passenger A-pillar.
Nevertheless, one easy solution to the incessant squeaking of the dash is to crank up the magnificent 590-watt, 13-speaker Burmester sound system (£750), which drowned out every other conceivable noise in comprehensive fashion. And, indeed, comprehensive would be a good adjective to apply to the E 43 Estate's range of abilities - in truth, after nearly 500 miles behind its flat-bottomed wheel, there was very, very little we could find to genuinely grouse about with this car and plenty of things we adored.
But is it the best vehicle in the E-Class range? That's a hard statement to justify. It's absolutely clear you can make fine arguments that lean either towards more economy or additional performance that would both undo the case for the E 43. If you do masses of motorway miles each year, an E 220 d is going to be massively better on fuel and have a more comfortable ride at c.70mph. If you want your E-Class to feel like it is trying to tear your face off every time you brush the throttle, then accept no substitutes and clamber into an E 63 S, because the E 43 is a slick go-faster Merc rather than an unhinged one.
No, the way to appreciate the E 43 is to suspend your disbelief about the fact that an AMG E-Class doesn't have a V8. Do that, and you'll realise this wagon is a frighteningly capable, incredibly engaging and beautifully understated performance machine. And it'll be then that you accept the Mercedes-AMG E 43 Estate is a quite brilliant, hugely desirable piece of Teutonic engineering. Just like Deadpool
is the best Marvel movie of the lot.