9 / 10
At no point has any Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG driver thought this big, burly, twin-turbo V8 sedan needed more power. Not one.
Yet power is exactly what AMG, the Mercedes-Benz specialist performance division, continues to give the flagship E-Class. Prior to this facelift the E63 made 386kW of power and 720Nm of torque, with an optional Performance Pack taking those figures to 410kW and 800Nm; that optional extra and grunt advantage is now standard.
A new E63 AMG S-Model has been introduced, however, taking power to 430kW, and reducing the 0-100km/h sprint from 4.1 to 3.6 seconds.
To properly harness all that extra grunt the E63 AMG has migrated from being rear-wheel drive to all-wheel drive in S-Model guise only. Fears that an E63 sending partial drive to the front wheels would dilute the classic, tail-out oversteer antics for which AMG products are renowned are partially addressed by a fixed torque split – 67 per cent of drive always goes to the rear wheels, with only 33 per cent to the axle that does the steering.
Then came the big news that rested fears altogether – the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S-Model coming to Australia will get the maximum outputs but with drive only going to the rear wheels.
Someone in Affalterbach may have heard that Aussies love rear-drive Commodores and Falcons and sent the ‘drifto-spec’ E63 AMG to our shores, but the reality is much more pragmatic.
Simply, the front driveshaft props right (literally) out of the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox meaning that steering gear on right-hand-drive models wouldn’t fit beside it. Any E-Class 4MATIC model, AMG or not, can therefore only be made in left-hand drive.
On our punt through the hills of Catalonia, in central Spain, we split the difference and drove a facelifted ‘standard’ 410kW/800Nm E63 AMG rear-driver, and a 430kW/800Nm E63 AMG S-Model 4MATIC. No Australian-spec S-Model rear-pushers were available.
From the engine-firing ‘whumpf’, to the shrill past 7000rpm, and the cannon-fire exhaust blurt when changing gears under full throttle the 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG continues to be an experience beyond numbers.
Swapping between 410kW and 430kW versions doesn’t immediately reveal the sort of half-second advantage to 100km/h that the specification sheet dictates. That’s likely because the S-Model is 70kg heavier, and its quicker performance time is down to better traction off the line.
The S-Model also includes a sophisticated launch control system in addition to all-wheel drive, meaning more of what the huffing V8 offers can be transferred to the ground more easily.
It’s as simple an equation as digging a big hole with four shovels instead of two – the speed and effectiveness is doubled.
Most of the Spanish mountain roads were driven in the rear-drive version, the damp-to-west surface perhaps highlighting that a bit of front-end traction wouldn’t ruin the fun, but would help out with pace and composure.
Despite many regular E-Class models being offered with 18-inch wheels, the standard E63 AMG we drove gets 285mm-wide 18s, too – the S-Model upgrades to 19-inch alloys of the same tyre width. (Other S-Model distinguishers include silver seatbelts, an Affalterbach logo on the headrests, and high-gloss chrome inserts in the front bumper and rear diffuser.)
Tighter corners require a careful tip-in procedure. Ensuring that enough speed is washed off before turn in is paramount because the E63 AMG doesn’t have the sharpest of front ends for a sports sedan. It places pressure on the tyres early, and they will wash out if cornering with all the subtlety of crushing a tinnie on your forehead.
Yet corner exits also require extreme patience. On a couple of corners, even featherlight throttle applications had the rear-end of the E63 AMG wanting to step out slightly; no bad thing if intended, but there’s a definite snappiness or edginess that simply comes from lots of power being fed to relatively modest Pirelli P Zero rubber.
As with the pre-facelift version, the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG continues to be a sports sedan more about an immersive, communicative, theatrical driving experience than one finely honed to produce stunning Nurburgring lap times.
Maybe that’s what the S-Model all-wheel drive has been introduced to achieve, with Mercedes-Benz referencing a “less than eight minutes” lap time around the iconic German racetrack-cum-testing centre.
To call the E63 AMG narrow-focused is unfair, however. It certainly neccessitates a careful, delicate driving style to extract its best – unless there’s miles of tar-top to burn rubber and throw it around aggressively – but the way it can also perform the role of large, luxury cruiser is an impressive double act.
Ride comfort on the standard Airmatic air suspension is superb. In its softest setting, road scars are absorbed with soothing nonchalance, backed by wonderful noise suppression (of wind and road noise, not engine noise, thankfully) and a spacious cabin full of leathery loaded luxury.
Lots of cool circular switchgear beside the transmission lever also lifts the otherwise business-minded cabin and does some very important things, like dialling-up harder suspension, firmer steering and more aggressive throttle and gearbox calibration.
The latter moves through Comfort (with stop-start technology), Sport, Sport+ and Manual modes, with all bar the first setting offering faster shifting between gears and rev-matching on downshifts. ‘S’ is quite fine for around town driving, with a liveliness that isn’t felt in ‘C’, while ‘S+’ is a wonderfully disciplined, focused driving partner, holding gears assertively and fluently.
As with the regular E-Class, the adaptive suspension offers nuances of change from a fine, comfortable base, but the two harder settings in the E63 AMG do offer noticeably more bump thump and intrusion – save them for the race track.
Part of that immersive connection between driver and chassis is down to the steering in the E63 AMG – even in weightier Sport mode, which is a bit needless, the feel and feedback through the steering wheel remains A-grade. Curiously, the E63 AMG gets a fixed-ratio, linear steering system where all regular E-Class models gets a ratio that constantly changes to feel faster or more measured. Impressively, the switch to electro-mechanical steering hasn’t resulted in any dynamic downgrade.
There’s plenty of ultra-quick, fast four-doors on offer for upwards of $200,000 in Australia, not least the BMW M5 and Jaguar XFR. Our local HSV and FPV products offer a lot of bang for a lot less buck. None offer the tactility, theatre and – now, thanks to the S-Model – outright speed of the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG. Meanwhile only the HSV matches the E63 with wagon availability.
Most are probably better resolved overall, and quicker on a sinuous mountain road, but there’s a reason why die-hard AMG fans want their E63 in max-power, rear-drive guise. Lap times isn’t one of them.
Thank our right-hand-drive market, because come September we get the purist, if not the smartest, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S-Model.