AMG built its brand by making some of the world's finest luxury cars some of the fastest performance cars as well. Based on a "one man, one engine" philosophy, each AMG engine is hand-built by a single person, and then signed, giving owners a level of exclusivity that's hard to match. Expensive? Absolutely, but ask AMG customers and they'll tell you it's worth it.

The problem is that a lot of customers want the AMG experience, but the gap between a non-AMG car -- what Mercedes-Benz calls its "series" cars -- and their AMG equivalents can be huge. For example, there's about $50,000 separating a 2017 E300 and an AMG E63, leaving many customers who want the looks, cachet and performance AMG models out in the cold.

Filling the gap

To fill this gap and give customers some of that AMG experience, Mercedes-Benz is introducing an in-between AMG model. With the numerical designation "43," these nine new models bridge the gap between the regular production cars and the V8-powered AMG 63 models, both in price and performance. Available on the E-Class, C-Class, GLC, GLE and SLC, the new AMG 43 models get the same engine and transmission; similar performance-tuned suspension, steering, and brake upgrades; and unique styling to differentiate them within their respective lineups. With so many models, it's an Inception-like brand-within-a-brand-within-a-brand.

The key to the new lineup is the drivetrain: a 3.0-liter twin turbo V6 engine with 396 horsepower in the E43, and 362 horsepower in the other vehicles, and 384 lb-ft of torque in everything. While not adhering to the one-man-on-engine philosophy of the V8 and V12 AMG models, the V6 more than a series production engine thanks to AMG engineering throughout. All but the SLC43 roadster use an all-wheel drive system with a heavy rear bias, and all nine vehicles use the same 9-speed automatic transmission. The combination is good for 0-60 mph sprints ranging from about 5.6 seconds for the GLE43 to about 4.6 seconds for the C43, SLC43, and E43. 

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

AMG Dynamic Select

But speed is only part of the equation. Also part of the bargain is AMG Dynamic Select, a driving mode system that allows the driver to choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ or customizable Individual. All the cars we drove had the system, and not surprisingly, Comfort was best for cruising around town, while Sport+ was our preferred mode for tackling the Malibu canyons. Interestingly, the Sport mode was something of a meh compromise between the two. Being neither comfortable for daily driving nor sporty enough for more aggressive stuff, it became a waypoint on our way from Comfort to Sport+.

We had the opportunity to drive several of the new AMG 43 models in and around Los Angeles and in the hills around Malibu. The cars varied in size and purpose, from the older GLE43 and GLE43 Coupe SUVs to the E43 based on the brand-new E-Class sedan. And while we wouldn't characterize any of the vehicles as "bad," it was clear that the AMG 43 upgrades were more successful in the newer models, where the upgrades were designed in from the outset. Our impressions, ranked from most to least successful, are below.

2017 Mercedes-AMG C43

It's possible to think that this new, lighter-weight AMG 43 lineup isn't a "real" AMG. If that's your thinking, then take the 2017 C43 AMG for a drive on your favorite road, and offer your apologies. From the crisp steering, to the powerful engine, to the spot-on suspension calibration, the C-Class-based C43 AMG is definitely the one to get. Light weight is part of the reason, with the C43 AMG coming in at about 400 pounds less than the E43, and a whopping 1,300 pounds less than the GLE43. Beyond that, the C43 is available in all three C-Class body styles: sedan, coupe and convertible. The mode selection here works better than in the other cars, with Comfort offering a good ride, and Sport+ very good handling. Like the rest of the cars, the regular Sport mode was neither sporty nor comfortable. The C-Class is a car we already enjoy immensely, seeing as it won the luxury car category in our Best Buy competition a couple years ago. The C43 AMG enhances power, responsiveness, handling and braking, all while diminishing virtually nothing we already liked about the car, and even keeps a relatively low starting price of about $55,000. Win, win, and win. 

2017 Mercedes-AMG E43

As the newest vehicle to get the AMG43 treatment, the 2017 E43 AMG got slightly bigger turbos and a bump in power. The extra power, plus the suspension and other refinements, elevate the E43 AMG to a level well beyond the various SUV versions. The E-Class is already an excellent car, with plentiful features and tons of options to inflate the roughly $55,000 base price. The AMG treatment's extra power, sharp steering, and crisp handling makes the adaptive seats seem less like a novelty and more like a necessity. The suspension is firmer without doubt, and the E43 AMG had some difficulty on the expansion joints on some L.A. freeways thanks to the very low-profile 20-inch wheel and tire combo on our test car. Then again, those are tough to handle for any car, and the majority of the time Comfort mode was fine. Flip it to Sport+ and we were rewarded with a quick to react transmission that eagerly shifted to make the most of the powerful V6. 

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC43 Coupe and GLC43 SUV

The GLC43 Coupe and GLC43 SUV both weigh about 800 pounds less than their GLE equivalents and it shows. These smaller, lighter SUVs are downright agile compared to the ponderous GLE43 pair, with notable improvements in acceleration, handling, braking, and even ride quality. The acceleration advantage is obvious: With the same engine doing less work, the GLC43 is quicker. The same is true with braking: there's less actual vehicle to bring to a stop, so brake response is better. As for the suspension, the GLC43's "Comfort" mode is actually comfortable, good enough for day-to-day living. In the hills, Sport+ was the way to go, since Sport was only a so-so compromise between the two extremes. The GLC43 took on tight and fast turns with equal aplomb, wasn't upset by mid-corner bumps, and was far more fun to drive than the GLE. If you must have your AMG 43 drivetrain in an SUV body, the GLC43 Coupe and GLC43 SUV are the way to go.

2017 Mercedes-AMG GLE43 Coupe and GLE43 SUV

GLE43 Coupe and SUV suffer from the same underlying problem: Weight. They weigh just under 5,000 pounds each, and it's just too much mass for the twin-turbo V6 to overcome with any verve. The more powerful V8-powered GLE63 AMG models are undoubtedly quicker, but that additional power won't cure the ponderous handling. The suspension is fine in Comfort mode, with a ride that's mostly acceptable if a little lumpy at times. But as the road tightens, especially if it's bumpy, the GLE43 Coupe and SUV lose their composure. Switching to Sport+ helps, but the resulting stiffness results in enough head bobbing and shaking to cause a headache; Sport mode was neither controlled nor comfortable. There's just too much mass for the suspension to find a sweet spot among the competing goals of controlling the heavy body, proving good handling, and enough compliance to absorb mid-corner bumps. Hopefully, this older model's successor will lose a significant amount of weight when it debuts in a year or so. 


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