THE new Mercedes E-Class has impressed us a lot since it launched earlier this year, and the recently released Estate version adds a dose of practicality to the range. Apart from the Mercedes-AMG E 63, which arrives next year, the E-Class line-up hasn’t really had a sporty top-spec rival to the Audi S6 or Jaguar XF S. But that’s about to change with this latest E 43 model. This car gets a tuned version of the turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 we’ve already tried in the smaller C 43, now delivering an extra 34bhp over that car, at 396bhp. The torque figure is unchanged, though, at 520Nm. It means the E 43 is actually one-tenth faster from 0-62mph than the smaller, lighter C 43 saloon, taking 4.6 seconds. That puts it between the S6 (4.4 seconds) and XF S (5.3 seconds), although the former does have a 4.0-litre V8 under its bonnet.
All three are priced around the £55,000 mark, making them closely matched on paper. The Jag is rear-wheel drive, however, so the 4×4 systems give the Audi and Mercedes an advantage off the line. The E 43 feels rapid in the real world: the V6 engine is very flexible, giving you plenty of performance in any gear. It’s at its best while kept at low revs, using the strong torque and enjoying a pleasant growl.
Performance is excellent but it’s not got the most exciting soundtrack, with a fake-sounding noise in the cabin. Matching the engine to the four-wheel-drive system is a version of the nine-speed automatic gearbox found in all E-Class models, which shifts faster than in the lesser diesels. It’s an excellent unit day-to-day, with smooth, almost imperceptible changes most of the time. Put it in manual mode and you’ll find yourself short-shifting, though, because if you wait until the red line there’s a huge lurch. At least the E 43 handles well enough in either mode.
As you’d expect, the four-wheel-drive system means there’s a huge amount of grip available, giving you loads of confidence to drive the E 43 quickly. It makes the car more accessible than the old E 63, but takes away some of that car’s sparkle. It does feel large, but there’s enough steering feel to place the car on the road without too much fretting. Although the wheel is a little bit light in Comfort mode, in Sport and Sport+ modes (changed using a dial on the centre console) it weights up nicely. While we’ve yet to try it in the UK, the E A3 rides nicely in Comfort mode and stiffens up enough to keep body roll in check in the Sport modes, which gives the car an extra degree of all-round appeal. There’s also an Estate version, which for many people will be even more attractive.
This offers a 640-litre boot (100 litres more than the saloon, and 1,820 litres with the seats down), four-wheel drive and all the performance in one neat package.
It’s a tenth of a second slower from 0-62mph than the saloon, but feels almost identical from behind the wheel, if a little noisier inside over rough surfaces. The E 43 Estate claims 32.5mpg fuel economy, but this four-door is a little better, promising 36mpg. The saloon’s figures beat the Audi S6’s 30.7mpg, with the JaguarXF S claiming 34mpg from its supercharged V6. None is particularly frugal next to the punchy E 350d diesel, but with this kind of pace on offer, something had to give.
All of these cars offer a great balance of ability, but the E 43 marks itself out with its high-quality interior, complete with the twin 12.3-inch display screens. There’s loads of space inside, while the comfortable seats offer plenty of support. Tech such as Mercedes’ self-driving system, Drive Pilot, is a huge plus as well. This set-up can drive the car itself on the motorway, accelerating up to a set speed and slowing down in traffic as well as steering for you to ensure you stay in the centre of a lane. If you take your hands off the wheel fora prolonged period, it will eventually pull over to the side of the road and turn on the hazard lights.