Pitchforks at the ready, purists: BMW’s dinkiest now comes without rear-drive
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£88,035 when new
Just how mighty is the new Mercedes-AMG E63 S? Right to the crux of the matter I see. Well here’s the answer: currently this is the mightiest production super saloon of them all. Others may have more torque (Bentley Mulsanne Speed) or a higher top speed (Porsche Panamera Turbo), be more dexterous (the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio) or be able to match the E63’s titanic acceleration (the Panamera again) but doing the actual business of being a menacing, growling super saloon? The Mercedes E63 all the way. Americans will now remind you about the Cadillac CTS-V. Of course they will and it is epic – 640bhp, 200mph top end. But it’s not available in the UK. Which is a pity. But we are now driving the E63 in the UK, as opposed to at a Portuguese racetrack. Ah, bumpy B-road as opposed to polished racetrack?
Precisely. When I drove the E63 over there I said ‘I do wonder if you might find yourself hanging on to it a bit on a bucking B-road’. And if you don’t have it in the right mode, it can get away from you. The dampers have three settings and the Goldilocks setting, predictably, is the middle one. Comfort is a bit slow and soft to deal the speed the E63 is capable of generating, while Sport+ stiffens things up to the point that the wheels can start to skip. Sport is just right. The E63 works better in the UK than I expected. Good news, now wind back a bit and tell me what else is new. Well, the heart of any AMG is its engine, in this case the familiar 4.0-litre twin turbo V8. It’s not lifted lock, stock from other AMGs; instead there are new lighter pistons, air intakes, a charge air cooling system, cylinder shut-off (between 1000-3250rpm in Comfort mode) and, most importantly, a pair of twin scroll turbos, which means exhaust gases enter the turbo through two pipes rather than one. This smoothes out the air pulses and improves response and torque at low revs. The nine-speed multi-clutch transmission fires all this power and torque - 604bhp and a frankly ridiculous 626lb ft at just 2,500rpm – at all four wheels. Or alternatively, just the rears… Ah, the fabled Drift mode. Indeed. Don’t use it. I mean you have to have it, clearly, but don’t use it. Not unless you’re in the middle of Bonneville or can at least measure the tarmac in terms of hectares. There’s a sequence you have to perform to access it, which includes shutting off all the stability control. So 626lb ft under the command of your right foot and a pair of 295/30 ZR20 rear tyres. Which don’t even come close to coping. The tech is very clever and the central clutch pack is tough enough to send 100 per cent of torque to the front axle alone, as well as the rear. Not that you’d ever want that. Is Drift mode standard? Yes, provided you have this, the £88,295 E63 S, not the lesser £78,935 E63. Besides the opportunity to impersonate Chris Harris on your way to a massive accident, the S features an extra 41bhp and 73lb ft, bigger brakes, a cleverer vectoring diff, a Track Pace app and dynamic engine mounts. Worth it? If I’m honest, probably only in terms of bragging rights. I think a 567bhp/553lb ft E63 is going to feel plenty fast enough, although the E63 has such a big personality (it’s much more extrovert than an Audi RS6 or BMW M5) there’s an argument you might as well have the most extrovert one…
Describe it in one word. Positive. Is that a, pardon the pun, negative? Not at all. Look, the E63 is not as supple and cosseting as a current M5, it’s also notably more aggressive than an RS6. As a daily driver it’s fine, but this is Mercedes proving it can build a super saloon that’s super first, saloon second. So although it will cruise well, there’s some tyre roar and an awareness that the ride has a bit of grumble to it. You’ll be buying it because you have a family I suspect, you might even be tempted to hold on for the estate, for maximum hound points, and I’d be with you. But I tell you this: the family is not going to enjoy the ride as much as you are. They’re going to think you’ve bought a silly car and you’d have been much better off with the diesel. The family is wrong, of course. At least you’ll be able to show them how beautifully put together it is and how elegant the interior design looks. As we’ve pointed out with E-Class’s before, it’s the interaction with it that’s the issue – there’s a heck of a lot going on and it’s hard to pick your way through the menus. The sports settings are more logical as they’re laid out on the centre console – a roller switch to shift between modes and then you can tune dampers, exhaust etc individually, too. Sport mode’s all you need right? Yep, and maybe put the traction into its midway setting. Then get on a favourite road and prepare to be amazed. Because with the engine roaring and the chassis digging deep, the E63 is shot through with a sense of urgency and potency that’s utterly compelling. Treading on the loud pedal elicits a sound akin to stamping on a T-Rex’s toe, and the way it homes in on the 7k redline is addictive. It’s a bananas engine, hits hard and fast with zero turbo lag, and makes mincemeat of the two tonne kerbweight. The suspension and traction then do a superb job of metering out all this thrust. There’s not much natural steering feel, but that 4WD system does a superb job of keeping the front end sharp. The suspension is surprisingly agile on the way into corners and as soon as you get back on the power you feel the diffs tighten, the torque is perfectly apportioned, and you rocket out the far side. It holds its line, it feels taut, you know where you are with it at all times. Body control for a car of this size and weight (1950kg) is exceptional, making the car feel smaller, lighter and more placeable on the road than you’d credit. But all this is merely icing on the cake. What you chiefly aware of is the E63’s vast force of personality. This is a car that erupts into life, rumbles with volcanic energy and generally wants to tear the place apart, be it Portuguese racetrack or British B-road. As the driver your job is to hold on and have fun. What about the gearbox? It’s OK. I don’t remember having an issue with it last time round, but on this occasion downshifts were tardy. Not much wrong with the upshifts, mind you. Conclusions? I think this is a statement car from Mercedes, it feels as if they’ve poured everything they know into it and at the moment I think this is the most compelling, exciting super saloon of them all. Much more exciting than a Panamera Turbo – and better controlled, too – more hardcore and more neutrally balanced than an RS6. It’s a very, very effective cross-country weapon. Put it this way, the new M5 lands this autumn and I reckon it’s going to have its work cut out… Photography: Rowan Horncastle