2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 first drive

Big Gulps. Animal Style. Smothered, covered, chopped, and chunked. America’s shameless and torrid affair with the over-the-top isn’t limited to food. When it comes to luxury and performance cars, we like them big and brawny, too. Alpha-numeric sequences like CTS-V and E63 and M5 activate overworked salivary glands as quickly as a whiff of TurDucKen. Which makes Mercedes-Benz’s new 2017 AMG E43 sedan is an interesting bet, because it’s a lot like a juicy burger–with a side salad.

Everyone loves french fries, but most waistlines do not. Beefy goodness is one thing, but there are limits, realities that come with adulthood. The Mercedes-AMG E43 understands this implicitly, balancing the saturated fat joys of the AMG E63 with the enlightened refinement of the standard E-Class sedan.

With a fixed 39:61 front:rear torque distribution through its all-wheel drive system, and 396 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque from its twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter AMG-tuned V-6 engine, the 2017 Mercedes-AMG E43 is quick, hitting 60 mph in a claimed 4.5 seconds. The E43 surges forward under throttle, easily outpacing the standard 2017 E-Class sedan, but not quite leaping like the E63s do, with their 577-hp V-8s hurling them to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds. Nevertheless, paired with the nine-speed 9G-Tronic paddle-shift automatic transmission, the E43 is never caught out wanting for power or torque, and shifts are smooth and seamless–except when you don’t want them to be.

The automatic transmission’s behavior, along with throttle response, electric power steering effort, and multi-chamber air suspension tune, can all be adjusted with a toggle of the AMG Dynamic Select lever, with modes including Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual. Eco and Comfort modes are great for the daily grind–Eco mode even disengages the engine from the transmission and allows the car to coast when the driver lifts off the throttle at speeds between 37 and 99 mph, saving a little fuel in the process. It’s the other three modes that drivers seeking the sharper edge of the E43 over the standard E300 Sedan or E400 Wagon will want to investigate. Sport mode is a mild change from the default Comfort settings: throttle and steering become snappier, gearshifts a bit more abrupt, suspension firmer. Sport+ takes everything up several notches, most noticeably in the transmission shift algorithm.

Instead of the buttery, almost unnoticeable shifts you’ll find even in spirited driving in the other modes, Sport+ brings a much more jarring shift feel–and it’s baked in on purpose, according to Michael Kelz, chief engineer for the E-Class. The 9G-Tronic transmission is more than up to the task of handling the 3.0-liter V-6’s torque, even with AMG’s enhancements, says Kelz. The jarring shifts of Sport+ are just the way the engineers tuned the transmission to behave, presumably to emphasize some conception of “sportiness.” If you can live with the unsettling shift quality, Sport+ also adds some rather intelligent auto-blipping downshifts when entering a corner on the brakes and holds gears well when negotiating transitional stretches. Of course the system can always be put into manual mode via the center console-mounted button, ensuring the transmission does not upshift until you tell it to. During my time hustling the E43 along winding back roads near Hamburg, Germany, and along unrestricted stretches of the Autobahn, I found Sport mode to be the ideal mode for the drivetrain, balancing quick, responsive shifts from the paddles without the sharp, often weight-transferring shifts of Sport+ mode.

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