AN ALL-wheel-drive supercar-baiting Mercedes-AMG E63 will soon arrive in Australia. We get an early taste of it in Portugal.
WHAT IS IT?
The new E63 carries on where its predecessor left off. Being based on the still-fresh W213 Mercedes-Benz E-Class gives it the best possible start, with a brilliant cabin and a toyshop’s worth of standard kit. Power comes from a retuned version of the turbo 4.0-litre V8 that we’ve already seen in the C63 and AMG GT, with the S version delivering a mighty 450kW. The big news is the arrival of all-wheel drive – a first for right-hand drive – but don’t worry, there’s still a ‘drift mode’ that turns it into a pure rear-driver. The most powerful E63S will be going on sale in Australia around July next year, with the decision still being mulled over whether to also bring the 420kW ‘standard’ car.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Australia buys a higher percentage of AMG products against total Merc sales than any other market, with the new E63 set to build on the work started by its predecessor. The new car is faster than before – it’s the fastest production E-Class ever – but it also adds a generous dose of new technology, plus the dynamic stability of the all-wheel drive system. There’s still a big, loud V8 engine to provide huge performance, but Mercedes also claims the new E63 is more usable day-to-day.
BMW M5, Audi RS7, Maserati Quattroporte, Porsche Panamera
THE WHEELS VERDICT
AMG knows how to give its buyers what they want: huge performance, operatic soundtracks and all the comfort and usability of the Mercs they are based on. The E63 is an incremental step rather than a radical departure, but the arrival of the standard 4Matic system giving it enough grip to match its performance. Some purists might regret the loss of the old 63’s rear-drive character, but it’s hard not to see the towering appeal of a car that combines practicality with so much performance.
PLUS: Straight-line speed; twin-turbo V8’s vocals; comfort; drift mode keeps rear-drive hooliganism alive
MINUS: All-wheel drive kills some character; some low-down turbo lag
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE new E63 has a drift mode, not a function that would have been required in any of its predecessors, of course. Older generations of the AMG-tuned E-Class never had any difficulty going sideways, sometimes even when their drivers didn’t intend to thanks to the inability of less advanced stability control systems to keep the titanic torque outputs of their V8s in check. The switch to all-wheel drive has definitely changed the dynamic character of the new W213 version, although we doubt the oversteer function will trigger the same level of tabloid outrage as it did in the Ford Focus RS.
Don’t worry about the new tech; what needed to stay the same is unchanged. At heart the E-Class remains a complex car based around a simple mission, with a big V8 up front supplying a surfeit of firepower. The engine is a developed version of the 4.0-litre eight that we’ve already seen in the C63 and AMG GT, but with new twin-scroll turbochargers nestling in its vee to boost power up to 450kW in the brawnier S version. That makes it the most powerful engine ever fitted to a factory E-Class – there’s also a fractionally less brawny 420kW non-S version, but that’s not yet confirmed for sale in Australia.
The new donk delivers AMG-appropriate levels of both performance and character; any fears the downsized powerplant will feel lacking next to the old 5.5-litre V8 are quickly dispelled. Straight-line urge is laugh-out-loud comical; Mercedes claims a supercar-baiting 3.4-sec 0-100km/h time and that number feels entirely believable after one full-throttle blast.
The engine pulls from the basement to the penthouse; there’s some low-down lag if you go looking for it, but left in Drive the new nine-speed auto is adept at kicking the turbos into life. At the top end there’s an entirely Affalterbach-appropriate level of Gotterdammerung as the engine closes in on its 6800rpm limiter, and even with the switchable exhaust in its quiet mode there’s plenty of V8 burble. Hands down, this is a more charismatic engine than those in the outgoing BMW M5 or Audi RS7.
Not long ago the praise at this point would have grown muted; with old AMGs you bought the engine and got the rest of the car for free. But this E63 is a proper all-rounder, one that manages to be very nearly as relaxed and comfortable as the standard E-Class. The E63’s cabin is as beautifully designed and finished as those of its lesser brethren, we’re told that Australian-bound versions will have ladled-on spec that will include pretty much everything. Ride on the standard air suspension is firmer than the regular cars, but it’s pliant and well-controlled with the suspension in “Comfort”. Even moving the selector switch to Sport or Sport Plus doesn’t turn it excessively harsh.
Yet something has been lost in the transition to all-wheel drive. The last E63 stayed rear-drive in right-hook markets only because of Merc’s well documented cock-up in making its all-wheel-drive system incompatible with having a steering wheel on the proper side; in left-hand-drive markets most buyers took the 4Matic system as soon as it was offered. But the combination of a surfeit of power and a deficit of driven wheels gave the previous 63 a brutish character that suited it perfectly – happy to waft but requiring full respect when pushed hard.
The new E63 is faster and vastly more secure than its predecessor, with a sense of total adhesion that will be familiar to the drivers of RS-badged Audis. It’s quicker, but less engaging – even with the stability control in its more permissive Sport setting it rarely feels rear-driven. Hence the inclusion of the Drift Mode, which fully disengages drive to the front, but which can only be accessed if the car is in Race mode.
There’s no official word on price, although we’re told the new car shouldn’t carry too much of a supplement over the outgoing E63; figure around the $250,000 mark with more standard kit including the full battery of active safety and assistance systems from the standard E-Class, including Drive Pilot. We know that AMG buyers tend to be looking for the fastest and flashiest but it’s worth pointing out that the new ‘entry level’ AMG E43 is pretty exciting in its own right, and comes with a serious saving. But as AMG has long since proven, nothing succeeds like excess.
Model: Mercedes-AMG E63S
Engine: 3982cc V8, dohc, 32v, twin-turbo
Max power: 450kW @ 5750rpm-6500rpm
Max torque: 850Nm @ 2500rpm-4500rpm
Transmission: Nine-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Weight: 1955kg (EU)
0-100km/h: 3.4 sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 9.1 lit/100km (EU)
Price: $250,000 (est)
On sale: July 2017