First drive: Mercedes-AMG E 63 fast and furious

Slick S version capable of 100km/h in 3.4 seconds, outshining BMW M5’s acceleration

Make: Mercedes-Benz

Model: E-Class

Year: 2016

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: November 30, 2016

Wed, Dec 7, 2016, 01:00

   

For the longest time, just three things have really defined the E 63: interior craftsmanship, straight-line speed and then the noise. This is no longer true. It has all three still, of course, and in greater quantities than ever before. Now it adds a lightness of spirit and the ability to tap dance. And it’s glorious.

Remember when you were a kid and loved nothing more than to hit the playground while Mum flapped her jaws with others of her ilk? Of course you don’t. You were three. You were told you loved it, but you don’t know for sure.

You won’t have that problem with the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S. You will have fun. You will be absorbed by it, teased by it, drawn in by it, hurled forwards by it like a proton in a Hadron collider and flung around the hillsides by it.

But you won’t forget it.

The E 63 has long been a dead-ahead sled, wickedly fast and loud in a straight line but little more than competent in the bends. This is Tobias Moers’s first full E 63 generation at AMG’s helm and he was determined to fix that. And, just like that, the E 63 S now comes in more than two dimensions.

When it arrives next year, it will do what it’s always done in past iterations, and it’s actually better at that stuff. It’s the first all-wheel drive E 63 to keep the front wheels punching after the switch to right-hand drive, so all the S versions (it’s what they’re now calling the old Performance Pack) all over the world throw you to 100km/h in 3.4 seconds.

That’s 3.4 seconds. Let that sink in, because that’s a lightweight, exotic supercar’s sprint figure, and the E 63 S has now put a full second into the BMW M5 to 100km/h. Put another way, it’s 30 per cent quicker than its rear-driven arch-rival.

The stock E 63, only has 420kW and 750Nm, but it still puts the 100km/h sprint away in 3.5 seconds. And it’s the girly one.

The E 63 S isn’t a lightweight, exotic supercar. It’s a full five-seater, likely to be priced near the old one, with 540 litres of luggage capacity, enough semi-autonomous technology to change lanes to pass traffic by itself at 180km/h and it’s trimmed in more leather than McDonald’s butchers have piled in a heap after lunchtime.

Great starting point

AMG was handed a great starting point by the engineers of the current E-Class, and they joined in the development process earlier than they ever have (and that’s a scenario you can expect to repeat now that ex-AMG boss Ola Kalenius heads Daimler’s entire R&D operation).

It’s the lead beneficiary of Benz’s move to modular engines, with the E 63’s V8 power plant downsizing from 5.5 litres to just 4.0 litres, but it’s bursting with more fast-twitch muscle fibre than ever before.

At its peak, 450kW of power tortures the tyres and there is 850Nm of torque from 2500rpm. The 3982cc V8 uses multiple technologies to climb to these numbers, but the heavy lifting is done by a pair of twin-scroll turbochargers mounted in the hot-vee, each capable of 1.5 bar of boosting pressure.

There are other tricks, like cylinder deactivation that turns it into a V4 when it doesn’t need to be angry, spray-guided direct fuel injection and an all-aluminium crankcase.

It’s a smaller, lighter engine than the one it succeeds, which helps the handling, and it rests on active engine mounts that can soften for bump absorption and cruising, but stiffen up to shrink the inertia of the car’s biggest weight lump when you ask the car to corner hard.

It mates to a new version of the in-house Benz nine-speed automatic transmission, complete with new ratios. AMG also throws out the heavy torque converter and replaces it with a wet-clutch pack that’s both lighter and shifts quicker.

Then there are the bits that actually separate the new E 63 from the old one. It’s pointless to try to describe the torque split front-to-rear of the new all-wheel drive system because although AMG set it up to feel a bit rear-drive, the split constantly varies as the grip or cornering force changes.

Nobody goes into any depth on these things, but the only time when the all-wheel drive system isn’t trying to steal the show from the mighty little V8 is when you’ve got it in drift mode (select Race mode, in manual with the ESP turned off, then pull the shift paddles back) and the thing is running as a beyond-hilarious rear-wheel drive.

The tail end of that is that the stock E 63’s mechanical limited-slip differential is turfed in favour of an electronically controlled one, and it’s incredibly accurate. The front differential is still open, though.

Suspension setup

The other unsung hero is the new suspension setup. The four-link front end is modified from the C 63, pushing the track out 17mm compared to the standard E-Class saloon. The five-link rear end scores an AMG-specific wheel carrier to push its track width out and a three-chamber air suspension setup governs it all. And governs it all beautifully.

The real genius of it comes when you push it into Sport or Sport+ mode. Then you find the front end stiffening up the spring rate whenever you brake hard and the rear end doing the same whenever you accelerate hard.

There is no other sports saloon out there that sits as flat in corners while it’s being flung about at increasingly ridiculous angles.

There was always core competence to the E 63’s handling, but now that’s been elevated to a starring role. Sure, the engine still takes the spotlight, but the car gets 450kW of power now and the margin between the engine and the rest of the show is a lot smaller than it’s ever been.

The throttle response of that V8 goes from calmly strong in Comfort mode to snap-quick in Sport+ and Race modes. It starts raucously enough, but there is a button on the transmission tunnel to make it even louder, and AMG suggests it wouldn’t be polite to turn it on in built-up areas. And good luck with that.

It’s loud at idle and it’s louder on full throttle, though the soundwaves have to work hard to keep up with the three-box bullet that keeps disappearing towards the horizon every time the throttle pedal is breathed on.

The rate at which the launch control hurls the car from a standstill is nearly breathtaking. It’s fierce, brutal and utterly controllable, even by novices if some of my colleagues were any guides.

And it’s almost frighteningly loud, with an engine note that owes little to operatic airs and more to sheets of corrugated iron being torn to shreds inside an enormous bass drum.

The gearshift slurs through the changes in Comfort mode, whips them through in Sport and the shifts fire through so quickly in the last two modes you wonder why others feel the need for dual-clutch setups.

The new E 63 S stands apart by combining all of that ability with a genuine love of being hurled at the scenery.

Ludicrous levels of cornering pace

There is a reliable, dependable front end that communicates nicely, with a beautiful weighting to the steering wheel. The result is a car that carries frankly ludicrous levels of cornering pace and can be thrown, slid and recovered at will from just about any angle.

Snap the throttle open coming out of a corner and it will sometimes fall into understeer. Open it more gently, with more discipline, and you move into a special zone; a place where you can use the rear differential to gently slide the rear into a corner and then use it again to deliver the most gorgeous, absolutely controlled, wickedly fast four-wheel drifts on the way out.

There were times on the track where the car hooked up so brilliantly out of corners that we had to back off so we didn’t hit the (rear-wheel drive) GT S sports car DTM legend Bernd Schneider was pacing us with.

And that’s with the skid-control system completely disengaged.

Switch it on, or on to its intermediate sports setup, and you’ve got a chuckable car that you almost can’t chuck away.

That’s not to say the E 63 S is perfect. There are some bits and pieces that could use a polish. It can get springy ABS pushback if it hits a sharp bump in the braking zone and is a bit slow to reassert its authority.

The thick A-pillar and the mirrors combine to create foot-wide blind spots on both sides of the car and, at night, the Engine Start button (hidden from the driver’s seat by the steering wheel) reflects from the top of the windscreen to create the impression that you’re chasing a permanent moon that’s always in front of you. And maybe it doesn’t look wild enough for some people.

But the quibbles are all minor.

It’s not just the best E 63 AMG has ever built. It’s the best AMG AMG has ever built.