Progress is unrelenting, but subtle. We all know cars are faster now than ever before, while at the same time the upper levels of performance are more readily available to mere mortals. However, knowing doesn’t always equal understanding. This is perfectly encapsulated by the Mercedes-AMG E63 S, which has been updated for 2021.
You may well know that this German brute uses a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 to send 450kW and 850Nm to all four wheels, helping lurch it to 100km/h from a standstill in a claimed 3.4 seconds. But understanding what that means is a whole other situation.
To provide the true scope of awe the updated E63 S deserves we need to go back 23 years, to the excess of the late-’90s. The GT1 category was in its final years of implosion, with the likes of Porsche, Toyota, Nissan, and Mercedes-Benz all building incomprehensibly expensive and complicated vehicles that barely met any definition of ‘road car’ in order to bend loosely written homologation requirements over their knees.
Merc’s answer was the CLK GTR Straßenversion. While the race car used both V12 and V8 engines in competition, this ‘street version’ (of which 25 were built) was equipped with a 6.9-litre naturally aspirated V12. Output? 450kW and 775Nm. At the time, it was the most expensive production car ever built, with a price tag of US$1,547,620 (equivalent to US$2.4 million or A$3.2 million today). A modern-day equivalent would be if Porsche took its 919 LMP1 racer, slapped a licence plate on the front and sold it to its favourite billionaires. It would be a performance car high-water mark that you’d expect to last more than a couple of decades.
Why are we talking about a low-volume hypercar from an era of excess? Well, the E63 S is as powerful (but with more torque), less expensive, and quicker than the CLK GTR that redefined the hypercar genre. Oh, and it can carry five people and luggage in comfort all day long. Progress.
WHAT IS NEW ON THE 2021 MERCEDES-AMG E63 S?
Now we have context for the new E63 S, what is it that has changed for 2021? Well, it has fresh styling, which includes a larger central air duct in the front fascia, new infotainment system, and updated steering wheel. While the powertrain remains unchanged, and Mercedes-AMG won’t officially confirm it, we suspect the air suspension tune and throttle calibration has been slightly tweaked compared to the pre-facelift version. Subtle, but definitely present, the changed behaviour in these two areas helps transform the E63 S’s character, giving it a more useable, approachable demeanour beyond its demented extreme.
There are really twin personalities hidden underneath that restyled sheet metal. There is the calm, soothing everyday cruiser that will handle a commute with ease and cosset you on long drives. Turn up the heat, and a beast emerges that is as ferocious as it is powerful, an absolute brawler that pairs a Mike Tyson punch with Usain Bolt footwork.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
That doesn’t come cheap though, with the E63 S wearing a sticker price of $253,900 before on-roads. Of the two options fitted to our test car, the cheaper was 20-inch forged wheels for an amenable $3400. The beefy carbon-ceramic brakes cost $15,900. Add stamp duty and luxury car tax to the mix and you are rapidly looking at a final cost that starts with a three. While AMG’s rivals are just as prone to suffering a blow to the knees from expensive options, they are starting from a lower base price. The M5 Competition starts at $244,900 (packing an extra 10kW but down 100Nm), while the arguably more practical RS6 is a comparative bargain at $216,000 before options and on-roads – though has a 14kW and 50Nm deficit to the E63 S.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
The twin-scroll turbos, mounted inside the vee of the E63 S’s engine, huff up to 21psi of boost into the V8. AMG’s engineers have worked magic, with the V8 devoid of any significant turbo lag despite having to shove 1.5 bar of additional air into the combustion chambers. Power is on-demand at all times, and while peak grunt only arrives near the top of the rev range all the torque is being deployed from just 2500rpm across a meaty band.
The throttle is well calibrated so that partial application, even in Race mode, is progressive. It remains sharp without becoming binary. However, as you press further, into the final 5 per cent of pedal travel, things become properly unhinged. You see, in that final few millimetres when the throttle presses into the firewall, this once tame highway cruiser sheds any and all pretence, unleashing the kind of absolutely primal savagery that is becoming of its staggering power outputs.
Torque is immense in every gear, providing frantic acceleration on corner exit. There is so much shove on tap through such a girthy power band that third gear can become a one-size-fits-all ratio. Put the big AMG into manual mode and you quickly discover that first is useless unless you are fully stationary, second disappears rapidly and you need to keep an eye on the shift light. By the next shift, you realise that the E63 S is unrelenting in its brute force and fourth is something that should be kept to track applications only.
While the tachometer reads to 8000rpm, you’ll encounter a 7000rpm soft cut in manual mode. However, the multi-clutch nine-speed is generous with its downshifts. If it can mechanically do so it will fulfil all requests, even dropping you down a ratio right onto its redline. Keep it in automatic and Sports Plus mode is intuitively calibrated – downshifting while braking so it is in the right gear and at the right revs for when you want to apply the throttle on corner exit.
Assisting the powertrain in deploying the prodigious power to the tarmac without erupting in billowing plumes of tyre smoke are Michelin Pilot Sport 4S treads, measuring 265/35 at the front and 295/30 on the rear axle. The optional carbon-ceramic brakes boost the front rotors in diameter from 390mm to 402mm (clamped by six-piston calipers), while the rear discs remain at 360mm with single-piston calipers. Although expensive, they are a boon for the AMG’s performance credentials. Speed is applied so rapidly on corner exit that you can be caught off-guard by how quickly the next bend approaches. While the braking performance is impressive, expect the E63 S to stop like a sportscar and you'll be bending Armco.
Steering, as is so common in modern systems, is well-weighted but a tad numb. To be fair to AMG, it is certainly better than the artificially viscous sensation BMW has engineered into its systems. Despite being just two turns lock-to-lock, the E63 S doesn’t feel darty, with the steering calibration being speed-sensitive. The quick ratio always feels natural, and is weighted in a way that gives credence to the nearly two-tonne kerb weight. The lack of fine-detail fidelity feel means your ears are a better indicator of front-end grip than your fingertips.
There’s plenty of front-end bite, but you do need to slow down on sharp bends and hairpins as the all-wheel-drive system and sporty rubber fail to completely prevent the harsh reality of physics. However, the E63 S shines if you tone down expectations of rapid direction changes, slowing the car for a more subtle entry speed before applying an initial small turning input to settle the car on the outside rubber. Once stable you can get on the throttle, and all that grunt results in corner exit speeds that you’ll need to redact from any pub convos for legal reasons.
When hustled the AMG has a ‘pick a line and stick to it’ mentality, particularly when it comes to open constant radius corners. Once you settle the car on entry you can simply apply more throttle until your licence begins burning a hole in your pocket. There’s not much in the way of malleability once you have initiated a turn, and while you will get small hints of oversteer when truly throwing caution to the wind that isn’t where the E63 S is happiest or fastest. That’s because of the all-wheel-drive system, which while shockingly good at deploying the weapons-grade firepower of the M177, talks it down from the ledge of all-out lunacy. There is enough mechanical and tyre grip that the electric nannies are rarely called upon, the AWD system making peak performance more accessible more of the time.
What makes the E63 S all the more impressive is it is shockingly good at going fast, without sacrificing the core of why people buy E-Class sedans – they are damn fine luxury saloons. You get heated and cooled seats that have a massage function with hot stone, heated armrests on the doors and centre console, a panoramic sunroof, informative head-up display and Mercedes’ latest MBUX infotainment system. There is enough room in the back seats for six-foot adults and rear occupants are treated to B-pillar air vents plus a central vent for each side, along with independent temperature and fan controls. Have your cake and eat it too. There are some interior foibles though, with some of the interior plastics – particularly those on the all-new steering wheel – feeling a bit chintzy and poorly fitted for a quarter-million luxo barge.
While comfortable enough to be liveable around town, the air-suspension is a tad nibbly even in comfort mode. It doesn’t have a wafting character, but thankfully is nicely damped to prevent crashing over big bumps. Sport and Sport Plus makes the car feel taut without sacrificing comfort – body roll is subdued while bump absorption qualities are maintained. Even in its most aggressive setting the suspension is not so stiff that it skips over mid-corner bumps, with the E63 S remaining confidently planted in the situations we threw at it on undulating Aussie B-roads.
In short, the updated E63 S is more comfortable than ever, while retaining an aura of power that leaves the hypercars of old cowering in the corner. Progress may be subtle, but the big stick carried by this super sedan sure ain’t.
2021 MERCEDES-AMG E63 S SPECS
Engine: 3982cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 450kW @ 5750-6500rpm
Torque: 850Nm @ 2500-4500rpm
0-100km/h: 3.4sec (claimed)
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Like: That engine; prodigious speed; versatile personality
Dislike: Expensive compared to rivals; interior details a tad chintzy