2017 Mercedes-AMG E63 S review

The new Mercedes-AMG E63 S moves the game forward, but does it retain the old car’s hot rod character too?
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The new Mercedes-AMG E63 S was developed with a singular aim – to reset large sports sedan benchmarks. This new BMW M5 basher is a major generational change over its coarser predecessor, with no stone left unturned by the engineering army in Affalterbach.

Time on road and track at the global launch in Portugal this week revealed in brief the dizzying heights that this 1880kg family sedan is capable of hitting, and for the more than 200 buyers per year tipped to nab this circa $250k muscle car in Australia from June next year, it won’t disappoint (Australian pricing and specs are yet to be determined).

Under the bonnet is a hyped-up version of AMG’s familiar 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine, with the two twin-scroll chargers set within the cylinder banks. It may be 1500cc smaller in capacity than the outgoing E63’s, but is more powerful and torque-laden than ever.

Outputs have grown to a mammoth 450kW of power (at 5750 to 6500rpm) and 850Nm of torque (between 2500 and 4500rpm). That’s up 20kW/50Nm over the old E63 S’s 5.5-litre, and more powerful than the same 4.0 engine in the AMG GT supercar.

Matched to this is AMG’s own nine-speed MCT double-clutch unit (wet start-up) capable of rapid multiple downshifts and a full manual mode with paddles that’s reticent to overrule you unless the ECU deems your downshifts to be extremely imprudent, and launch control. We didn’t do much urban time on the launch, so inner-city behaviour is unclear.

As we’ve experienced in the AMG GT and C63 S, this raucous engine belies its capacity with nary a trace of turbo lag thanks to an extra-efficient gas cycle, and a hugely muscular mid-range, which really makes one wonder why nine ratios are needed. Anyway…

As with most AMGs, the car gets Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus, Individual and Race modes operated by a switch, which alter the throttle mapping, gearbox setting, damper resistance, steering resistance and even the parameters of the ESC stability control.

There’s also a new 4Matic fully variable all-wheel drive system in place of the outgoing E63 AMG S’s rear-drive configuration. The big benefit of the new AWD system beyond superior traction is the way it puts torque to the road – meaning lateral and longitudinal dynamics are improved.

The fact is, 850Nm of torque is best ‘tamed’ in this fashion. Note that the previous E63 was AWD in Europe, with Australian version made RWD because of the awkward right-hand drive steering box.

For the perfect getaway, mash the brake with your left foot, punch the throttle and let the onboard electronics set the ideal engine speed for take off. In full warp-speed Race mode, you’ll nail a 0-100km/h sprint in 3.4 seconds, which is supercar territory. You can also up the speed limiter to 300km/h, 20km/h higher than before.

Okay, the Tesla Model S P100D might have it beat here, but nothing else in the class does. And while the Silicon Valley superstar has the pace, the AMG’s brutal, gruff, lion-gargling exhaust note, replete with crackles on the overrun from the quad pipes, is everything you’d want from a muscle car.

On the other side of the coin, comfort mode, the un-fussed accumulation of speed is eye-widening. There aren’t many cars where you find yourself at 260km/h and feel completely at ease. This is one of them. Rather than a punch in the back, the E63’s power delivery is more like an uncompromising surge. Airbus A380 rather than F-35 fighter jet.

Rather awesomely, the permanent AWD system can also electro-mechanically decouple the front wheels, rendering the car completely rear-drive, with all the stepping-out you might envisage, further enabled by a drift mode built into the stability control (Mercedes actually calls it that in the literature). It can also shuffle torque distribution along each axle variably, instantly.

I’m not really any sort of wizard behind the wheel, but power oversteer couldn’t be easier in this car. If you like tyre smoke and more drama than a room full of drunk Kardashians, the E63 AMG S is the car for you.

That said, despite the obvious rear bias in the car and the tail-happy traits, carrying too much heat into a tight corner or putting the power on too early will find you some understeer. This is a two-tonne car with a big driver aboard, though at least the well-bolstered bucket seats fight centrifugal force.

Beyond these changes, AMG has also re-jigged and toughened the E-Class’ suspension, which is a good thing, considering we were not exactly blown away by the E200. You get multi-chamber adjustable air suspension, while the rear setup has also been designed to accommodate super-wide 295/30 Pirelli tyres with more negative camber.

The ride is certainly firm, even in comfort mode, and in typically German style, the car has a habit of thumping over sharp hit and square edges. There’s also no shortage of tyre roar, which is unsurprising, considering the low-profile rubber. Body control is generally quite good, with not much mid-corner rolling, and rapid settling after undulations at pace.

There’s also a speed-sensitive electromechanical steering setup, which doesn’t offer a vast amount of feedback, but which is light in a track-friendly way, and direct from centre, which comes in handy if you need a little counter-steer.

The car’s rear spoiler is small, but helps with downforce, though we did feel the odd squirrelly moment under heavy braking – the 360mm/390mm ventilated discs were glowing orange by day’s end, though never faded – at the end of Portimao’s long and fast downhill straight into a long right-hander.

So, on first impression, the E63 is a monster, though its towering competence is clearly a major departure from the outgoing car, which is basically an expensive hot rod. That’s not to say the new car has somehow been tamed, but it’s certainly wearing a more dapper suit. Is that a good thing? It’s an inevitable one, we’ll say that.

Design-wise, the car is understated yet menacing. though some may feel that the square-edged outgoing model exudes more menace. Still, the new E63’s sinuous edge drew many admiring glances.

Forward of the A-pillar, there’s a coupe-like bonnet, new radiator grille, diffuser and louvres and a front apron modelled on a jet wing. In matte grey, it’s drop-dead glamourous. There’s also a new rear apron with a diffuser-look insert, and large symmetrical pipes.

Mercedes-AMG certainly had a sharp starting point in sorting the cabin, given the new E-Class moves the class forward. The way the instruments and central infotainment screen blend into one, the head-up display, the silver finishes, Burmester speakers, leather and steel trims and ambient night lighting are pure S-Class limousine.

There’s also the full suite of partial vehicle autonomy from the E-Class, which Mercedes justifiably considers one of the most technologically advanced cars in the world. Radar cruise, lane assist, blind-spot monitoring, pre-crash preparation and autonomous braking feature, and it’s safe to say there’d be few cars you’d rather crash at speed.

The E63 S adds special racing-style leather seats, ample carbon-fibre style trims, AMG lettering, alloy paddles, a chunky steering wheel with contrasting trim at 12 o’clock, and configurable TFT instruments with multiple display modes, albeit ones adjusted by Benz’s Comand system which we’ve never found as intuitive as BMW’s iDrive.

You get features such as a lap timer and boost gauge, and you can make the instruments look like a classic analogue Mercedes set up, in digitised form. You can also make it flash angry red when manual mode is about to need an upshift. In short, it’s ace. And there’s obviously room for five adults and a big boot spacious enough for a few sets of golf clubs.

So that’s a quick launch review of the Mercedes-AMG E63 S. Here’s the thing – it’s tough to give a full assessment of a car on global launches, because the time is brief and the roads are foreign. So, until we spend time on familiar surfaces when the car launches in Australia around June 2017, and compare it to the M5, we’ll be cautious.

That said, the E63 AMG S is a car that’s seldom cross-shopped by brand loyalists, who will be more interested in wondering whether the new car is a worthy successor to the outgoing one. Yes, it is.

The E63 S is a technological powerhouse with a higher ceiling than the Sistine Chapel. Less hot-rod-like than before at times, but even more capable of tearing your head off and typically wild in ways we’ve come to expect from Benz’s tuning house.