211 miles of range, nippy acceleration and neat looks
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Haven’t you already reviewed the E-Class Estate? Yep, right here. But this is no ordinary E-Class Estate, it’s the first E of any bodystyle to wear an AMG badge. And not just AMG Line – Merc’s version of BMW’s M Sport or Audi’s S Line – but a proper one. One which signifies that more has been added beyond a pair of more aggressive bumpers and some sports seats. So it’s a V8? Nice. You wish. We’ll likely see the V8 E63 before the end of this year, along with an Audi A6 Allroad-style estate-cum-SUV modelled on the normal E-Class Estate, but for now it’s the Mercedes-AMG E43 and its 3.0-litre bi-turbo V6 that has to keep us entertained. You’re looking at 396bhp, 384lb ft, 0-62mph in 4.7seconds (the saloon does it two tenths quicker) and an electronically-limited 155mph vmax. The gearbox is a version of the standard E’s nine-speed auto with quicker shift times.
Can it at least do big, smoky drifts? Well, it might – if you have acres of space, skill and sufficient commitment to lob what is a near-two tonne car into a bend at silly speeds. See, the E43 is actually all-wheel drive – with a torque split of 31/69 front-to-back. We know, disappointment after disappointment, this. No good then? Not so fast, because first impressions are rather good. You get the normal E-Class’s opulent interior, only sportified with special seats and a truly excellent part-Alcantara steering wheel. Roll away and the firmed-up multi-chamber air suspension doesn’t jiggle your fillings loose – it’s still a properly comfy car – and the V6 remains hushed-as unless you provoke it with a decisive prod of the throttle. And you’ll want to, because once you pile on the revs it sounds quite exciting. We know it’s all exhaust, and the crackles and pops on the overrun are as manufactured as anything, but still – it’s motivation enough to hang-on to cogs right the way up to the 6,200rpm redline. Flick one of the metal paddles and there’s the tiniest of pauses before the next ratio is selected, which means if you’re chasing every last revolution and aren’t quite quick enough, you’ll slam into the limiter. Bad in one sense, because you lose a bit of momentum, but good because it goes to show Merc – or at least AMG – appreciates the importance of an automatic performance car that doesn’t shift up for you, even when it’s in its most manual mode. Does it handle like a proper AMG? As is the fashion, the steering is a variable ratio setup that changes depending on what drive mode you’re in. And it’s a bit lifeless in all of them, if we’re honest. Shame, because the rest of it’s quite good – at least on the smooth, German roads we drove it on. Power may be split 69:31 rear/front, but it never feels especially rear-drive, which is fine. This isn’t an E63, and Audi has been selling fast estates that promise limitless traction for decades… It does manage its substantial heft really rather well, though, exhibiting decent body control and little roll, although there’s little Merc can do to hide its proportions, most obviously its width. On the road it feels quite agile, but you’re reminded of its physical bigness whenever a car comes the other way, or when you hit the brakes especially hard. Maybe too big to enjoy properly on some smaller, British B-roads. And it’s quick, too. 396bhp doesn’t sound like a lot these days (remember, Merc has to leave room for the E63 above it…), but there’s torque aplenty and enough of punch on offer right the way through the rev-range. Maybe ‘brisk’ is a more fitting word. Should I buy one? Well, there is something rather appealing about an anonymous-looking, fast estate. And if you want something this vast, your choices are limited. An Audi S6 Avant perhaps, or maybe a BMW 535i Touring – and when was the last time you saw one of those in the wild? Good as the E43 is, it isn’t quite there. Not special enough to drive to warrant sacrificing a bit of the serenity of the standard car, or justify its price. An E43 saloon is £55,695, but prices for the estate haven’t been released yet. We’d wager on £58K or thereabouts. A heavily specified E350d might prove a more satisfying thing to own, yet still usefully quick off roundabouts.