Still crazy? AMG E63 S 603bhp + 4WD = fun. AMG wants its latest cars to be more civil. We, on the other hand, don’t. So does the new 603bhp E63 S look to the future or the past – or both?
Mercedes-AMG E63S - #AMG
has set a new benchmark in the saloon power wars, but has the latest E-class sacrificed its mojo in pursuit of refinement?
We’re reaching a tipping point. It wasn’t all that long ago that hot hatches were fairly modestly powered things, but these days the quickest of the breed are closing in on 400bhp. Supersaloons are now beyond 600bhp, too, thanks to the new #Mercedes-AMG-E63-S
. The darling old brake horsepower is going to have to be retired soon, the poor little poppet. As a unit for describing a car’s performance, it’s just falling hopelessly out of touch.
But there could be a solution. Perhaps we can adapt the earthquake-measuring Richter scale, reimagine it for our own purposes. As the fastest, baddest cars on the planet, the million-quid, carbonfibre-everything hypercars would slot in right at the top with a 9.0, which, according to the wording of the Richter scale, is enough to cause ‘permanent damage to ground topography’. Seems about right. A really quick sports coupe, meanwhile, would come in at 6.0 (‘damage to a high number of poorly built structures’) and one of those baby-faced little electric cars would be rated at 2.0 (‘felt slightly by some people’).
I reckon that would place the new E63 S at around 7.0: ‘causing damage to many buildings, even some welldesigned ones’. But, strangely, it wasn’t the ludicrous power output that made me spit tea at my keyboard when the car was unveiled ahead of the LA motor show in November last year, but the inclusion of a drift mode. It caused outrage amongst well-adjusted individuals, as well as some stupid ones, because a drift mode – the very hallmark of a pea-brained performance car – seemed so incongruous on such an expensive and prestigious sports saloon.
The E63’s 4-litre twin-turbo #V8
is familiar from the AMG GT and the smaller C63, but this version, the most potent one yet, gets uprated internals and twin-scroll turbos. The range-topping S model is good for 603bhp and 627lb ft from 2500rpm, while the entry-level version plods along with a mere 563bhp and 553lb ft.
For the first time on an E63 there’s no rear-wheel-drive option, which to sideways merchants everywhere must seem like a monumental disaster, but to the rest of us comes as quite good news given that seismic power output. The 4Matic+ system sends drive to the rear axle only until it senses the rear tyres losing traction, at which point up to 50 per cent can be diverted forwards. The base model gets a mechanical locking differential in the rear axle while the S uses an electronically controlled item. The gearbox is a newly developed nine-speed automatic.
The chassis uses clever air suspension, with double wishbones on the front axle and a multi-link setup at the rear, just like a regular E-class. However, the AMG gets a reinforced bodyshell, a new rear axle, wider tracks, a hollow rear anti-roll bar, bespoke wheel carriers and more aggressive suspension geometry. Indeed, the chassis makeover leaves no kerbstone unturned in the pursuit of sharper, more responsive dynamics.
Eighteen hundred and eighty kilograms plus enough torque to rotate Anglesey requires some stopping power, so the front brakes use 390mm discs with six-piston calipers. Carbon-ceramic brakes are an option on the S and come with huge 402mm rotors at the front.
That all looks very promising, but there is one little bug hiding away in the spec sheet. The steering is an electrically assisted system with a variable, speed-dependent ratio. Mercedes claims it delivers ‘optimum steering feel’. If that turns out to be true it’ll be a world first, because most variable steering systems are remote and unintuitive.
Clearly, modern AMGs are quite different to the fire and brimstone, all torque and no traction brutes that defined the brand for so long. Four-wheel drive and downsized, turbocharged engines are a far cry from the likes of the 6.2-litre C63 AMG or the untameable SLS AMG Black Series – cars that dripped with character and had no need for such artifice as a drift mode. They would have kicked such a thing to the ground then done a burnout on it.
AMG CEO Tobias Moers has been on a crusade to refine the brand’s image and bring some civility and dynamic precision to its cars – to inject its road-going models with some of the polish of Mercedes-AMG’s ultra-civilised and ultra-precise Formula 1 team. That’s all well and good, but let’s just hope he’s remembered the importance of character and a little bit of old-fashioned silliness in amongst it all.
This new E63 doesn’t have the wings and diveplanes and distended arches of the most extreme AMGs, but it isn’t that sort of car. Beneath an autumnal Portuguese sun, it looks the part, the sinister Grey Magno paint with dark wheels being a particularly gorgeous combination. The cabin, too, is superb, with premium materials and a low-slung driving position.
Although the car is refined in town and on the motorway, and the ride quality is mostly very good, there’s just enough about the tension over bigger bumps, the subdued rumble from the exhaust note, the stiff-feeling structure and the weight in the steering to let you know there’s something more to this E-class. It’s familiar but different, like shaking hands with an athlete.
And when you switch the car into Sport Plus, that athlete turns out to be a mixed martial arts champion who’s suddenly got you in a headlock with one arm while smashing you in the mush with the other, your face both reddening and whitening as the punches rain in but the oxygen drains away. It’s quite a transformation. It’s true that all AMG E-classes have had a split personality of sorts, but there’s more bandwidth now between the buttoned-down Monday morning and shirtless Saturday night aspects of its persona.
It’s just so damn fast. With close to two tons to haul, it doesn’t quite fling itself down the road with the ferocity of a 911 Turbo or modern McLaren, but with huge performance, so much grip on turn-in and mid-corner, unimpeachable traction and such good body control, it picks apart a twisting road with a grace and agility I’ve never before experienced in a car this vast.
There’s good pliancy over bumps in all but the stiffest damper mode, and even in the most comfortable setting the chassis keeps the huge body weight under tight control, so it rarely feels as though the car is getting wayward or scrappy. The way it responds to steering inputs is very impressive, too, helped by the fact that the E63 is technically a rear-wheel-drive car on the way into bends. Four-wheel-drive cars can feel understeery because their front tyres are dealing with steering inputs at the same time as trying to transfer torque to the road, but the E63’s 4Matic+ system only sends drive to the front axle on the way out of a corner. If you stand on the power very early you can just about feel the rear axle starting to swing around, but as quickly as it begins, that oversteer is stamped out by the four-wheel-drive system shuffling torque forwards.
Hit a compression heavily or rattle the E63 over a rough road surface at speed and you quickly appreciate the quality of the damping. The steering is very good, too, and although ‘optimum steering feel’ is somewhat misleading, the rack is very direct with a predictable and intuitive rate of response.
Any number of pseudo-biblical phrases could be used to describe the E63’s engine, but ‘thundering powerhouse’ would seem to do it best. It combines massive torque output throughout the rev range with the response and linear delivery of a normally aspirated engine. Even the massive, rumbling soundtrack is right on point despite the muting effects of two turbochargers. The gearbox is quick and responsive, too, only losing out to a dual-clutch transmission when upshifts are called for right at the limiter.
Inevitably the car starts to feel a little out of its depth when we’re released ducks-and-drakes style onto Portimão circuit, but with the pace set by the brilliantly disobedient Bernd Schneider – who may well have been instructed to keep us hacks under a watchful eye but after two or three corners has clearly stopped giving a damn – we do have an opportunity to try out the controversial drift mode.
And let me tell you now: we were wrong. The E63’s drift mode is a wonderful thing. All it does, and I really mean all it does, is make the car rear-wheel drive. Whereas the system in the Focus RS overloads the outside rear tyre to pitch the car into a slide before firing torque forwards to gather itself up again – easy, prescriptive and not particularly rewarding – the E63’s drift mode simply locks the centre-clutch open, dumping every ounce of power onto the rear axle.
Sideways merchants rejoice! Whereas other drift modes do all the work for the driver, the E63’s still requires skill and judgement, which is where the fun in such loutish behaviour comes from. If there’s a fundamental problem with the E63’s drift mode, it’s simply the choice of epithet.
This is where AMGs old and new intersect. This E63 is the fastest, most refined and most clinically effective car of its type, but with that centre-clutch locked wide open it suddenly becomes as brutally overpowered and wantonly excessive as any fast Mercedes to date. Slotting in right at the top of the class, the new E63 has just caused permanent damage to the supersaloon establishment.
‘It picks apart a twisting road with a grace and agility I’ve never before experienced in a car this vast’
Top right: drift mode in all its sideways, smoky glory. Right: 4-litre V8 gets twin-scroll turbos for the first time as well as new pistons; it also features cylinder deactivation. Below right: deep bolstered sports seats are paragons of support.
Above: ceramic brakes are an expensive option, but perhaps a worthwhile one given the car’s 1880kg kerb weight. Above, far right: dash is dominated by a broad digital display featuring instrumentation and the infotainment system.
TECHNICAL DATA 2017 / #Mercedes-AMG-E63-S-4Matic+
/ the two-tonne limo that goes like a supercar / #Mercedes-AMG-E63-S-4MATIC-W213
, 3982cc, twin-turbo CO2 203g/km
Power 603bhp @ 5750-6500rpm
Torque 627lb ft @ 2500-4500rpm
Transmission Nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive, limited-slip differential, torque vectoring
Front suspension Double wishbones, hydraulic cylinders, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Multi-link, hydraulic cylinders, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Ventilated carbon-ceramic discs (option), 402mm front, 360mm rear
Wheels 9.5 x 20in front, 10 x 20in rear Tyres 265/35 ZR20 front, 295/30 ZR20 rear
0-62mph 3.4sec (claimed)
Top speed 155mph (limited; 186mph with AMG Driver’s Package)
Basic price £85,000 (est)