Mercedes-AMG E 63: King of the boardroom brawlers

The black-hearted bogan of the E-Class family has arrived with a gargling gorilla roar. All hail the mighty E 63 S.


TWENTY-four hours ahead of the regional media taste of its latest hotshot sedan, Mercedes-AMG received from an arch rival rock-solid confirmation it has headed down the right track with this new car.

That’s because on Wednesday, the day before the E 63 S was released here, the Munich brand announced that its rival M5 – out next year – will do exactly as the new blitzer Benz has done, something unprecedented for either: Pump out its super power through an all-wheel-drive system.

Audi, of course, must be laughing. That means both rivals for its RS6, which has always traded on its Quattro difference, are now finally recognising that adoption of all-paw traction is absolutely required to improve performance.

BMW has yet to confirm exactly how much grunt the M5’s 4.4-litre biturbo V8 will produce. Yet it knows by heart the target figures the car has to match or better.

An RS6 in Performance trim generates 445kW and 750Nm, which is akin to Lamborghini’s current Huracan LP610-4, which lists 449kW and 560Nm.

That’s a lot for family car. Yet the E 63 S I drove yesterday from Melbourne to the quaint country town of Yea and return, however, has even more: 450kW and 850Nm.

Despite what the badge suggests, this is not a big bore eight-cylinder. The 6.3-litre of yore is long retired; now AMG – in the interests of better emissions and economy - raises hell with a 4.0-litre.

It’s a mighty big ‘small’ engine.  Benz claims 0-100kmh in a supercar slaying 3.4 seconds. Also, the S will hit 300kmh before it’s game over. The key, of course, is that it conforms to Audi and BMW form in another respect, taking twin turbochargers.

So much power. So little opportunity to use it on our press drive, because we were contained to country roads and motorways on which the posted speed limit was never greater than 100kmh. And if you know about how strictly policed Victoria’s roads are, you’ll understand why we were reluctant to push the envelope.

So why not a race track? Well, the brand assures, that experience is coming for media and, one assumes, owners too. Two years ago the brand took over Bathurst for a week. This year talk is of Phillip Island. Both tracks are big enough to allow demonstration of that epic top speed.

But for now, it just wanted us to discover that this beast could, when circumstances demanded, behave just as responsibly as a standard E-Class.

They’re right. The car can. It was we drivers who had trouble keeping to the script. In a machine as potent as this one, I discovered you’re just a toe twitch away from happily sitting on the right side of the law and hitting speed returns that would earn a place on the Highway Patrol all-time top 10. I found myself caught out more than once … it’s just amazing how 100 can suddenly become 100 and … well, never mind the specifics.

It’s not just the incredible pace that makes this car special. It also has incredible cornering dynamics, brilliant brakes and super-precise steering.

And then there’s the mischief aspect. One special tweak: A Formula One-style launch control. Another even better one: This all-wheel-drive E can still be adjusted to revert to the rear-drive its forebears got by with, and because of that it has … a drift mode.

How many captains of industry will feel the need to release their inner Ken Block by laying out some circle work within the executive car park? Mercedes Benz here says it is impossible to say, but they hasten to add that people should not get the wrong idea about where this car’s personality is heading or, for that matter, their level of corporate responsibility.

It is not, I was assured, a ‘hoon’s car.’ 

“It is very much male-skewed,” spokesman Matt Bruce said. “But is also very oriented to the mature male buyer.”

Point taken, but even so, there seem to be a lot of enthusiastic mature male drivers around given that, while Bruce identifies that even though the large luxury sedan sector as a whole is down, the performance sub-sector seems to be … gulp … growing.

“We think we can do well with it,” he said of the S. The barometer being used is the RS6. “They sold 59 of those last year, plus 15 S6 and a similar count of A6. So we think we can do at least just as well.”

If this $229,900 derivative seems too much, there are options. In December this edition will be joined by the $199,900 E 63. Same drivetrain and engine, but tuned back to 420kW and 750Nm, which means a 250kmh top speed and a 0-100kmh time that’s 0.1 seconds slower.

If that doesn’t meet your idea of restraint, there’s also an E43, with a 295kW/520Nm biturbo V6, also with 4Matic all-wheel-drive and a high level of luxury, priced at $166,900.

Interestingly both V8 models can return an identical 9.3 litres per 100km fuel burn in optimal conditions – which are, of course, conditions you would never likely replicate in the real world. For the record, during my 152km stint in the S, the average came to a more sobering 14.4L/100km. It might have been better had I not discovered the extreme performance modes.

The S breaks from AMG tradition in one respect, insofar that it doesn’t look all that mental in the metal. To the casual observer, it could almost pass as a slightly tweaked mainstream model.

Beyond the usual larger tyres and wheels, the performance enhancements amount to a slight flare to the arches, moderately enlarged openings for cooling air up front.

The under bumper quad exhausts are neatly packaged, the boot lid spoiler is discreet and if you don’t understand the colour codes of the brake callipers – gold for ceramic discs, blue or red for the standard four-piston stoppers – then they won’t attract petrolhead attention, either.

Benz have also avoided being too extrovert with the interior, too. The most obvious cue to it having range-topping sporting status is provided by the deeply bolstered and rather firm sports bucket seats, placed almost race-car low in the cabin.

Beyond the smattering of AMG badging and AMG-specific buttons, though, it’s pretty much familiar E-Class. It’s only when you start messing with the infotainment settings and find that there are AMG-only areas that the car’s true nature is exposed. I’m pretty sure the mainstream E-Class doesn’t have G meters and track lap timers.

Of course, the deception ends the moment the engine is activated (by push button, of course) because the thing has an unbelievably deep idle rumble, and definitely when the throttle is opened, when – if you’ve chosen one or other Sport, or the more extreme Race, setting - it affects an utterly ferocious exhaust roar.

That’s a sound proudly made, given that most of the development money has gone into making the thing blur down the straights and stick like glue to corners.

The engine is not all new, having been used in other AMG fare, but in this setting it is different, gaining new twin-scroll turbochargers, tougher and lighter internals and better breathing to liberate the extra power over its other applications.

The 4Matic system is also one used elsewhere in the Mercedes-Benz range, but unsurprisingly it has been heavily modified to make it suit AMG.

It can send as much as 50 percent of drive to the front axle, but defaults largely to a rear-biased drive when conditions allow. How much it does so depends on the driving setting.

Over lunch, too, Benz’s people explained drift mode. Disengaging front drive completely requires pulling both the up and down change paddles towards you simultaneously and then confirming with a pull of the right one. Sounds like fun. How about demonstrating this in the main street of Yea as a parting gift for the gold folks’ hospitality? Er, nein to that one.

Once you adapt to the throttle sensitivity, which obviously depends on the drive mode, you find that keeping the car in check isn’t too bad. It definitely has a whole lot of engine, but the chassis is accomplished enough to ensure it isn’t going to knock a square hole into the scenery at the first sight of a corner.

In that respect, this car on first impression has a more feel and sensitivity than the Audi effort; it’s pushing rather than pulling through corners, so you still have good steering feel and decent balance. It’s worth mentioning that the S gains a cleverer electronically controlled rear differential (over the standard E 63's mechanical one) and I guess that is having positive effect as well.

Whatever’s going on, the limits would seem to be very high. You might discover extremis behaviour on a track, but on the roads around Yea, when keeping a wary eye out for the police? Not a chance.

I swept through a series of downhill bends at about double the signposted speed with not so much as a hint of understeer, tail-squirm or tyre noise. It just turned in, hunkered down and held the chosen line. Traction never seems to be much of a problem, either.

Like lesser E’s, this car has the Air Body Control system, with three-chamber air springs and adaptive dampers, but AMG has retuned the settings to suit the elevated performance ambitions.

Basically, it seems to mean the softest setting, Comfort, on this car is almost as firm as Sport is on the regular edition.

From thereon the level of yield diminishes to the point of almost total eradication in Sport Plus, which is almost too harsh for ripply secondary roads, but would probably be still too soft for a race track. I tried Race only fleetingly, but determined staying there on the road would be taking too much risk: The car is incredibly feral, then, because all the stability and traction aides are deactivated.

AMG also dabbles with the new nine-speed gearbox. There’s a wet clutch for quick shifts in the full manual mode. The cog count is extreme for our speed limits – basically, it can run happily at open road pace in seventh, eighth or ninth, with the rev burden only increasing slightly, from around 2200rpm in the lower setting to just 1200rpm in top (and even then you can accelerate without it lugging).

If you want to make real noise and effect seatback-smashing speed, simply push the button that opens up the exhaust pipes and lever the gears back to fifth, then hammer the throttle. You don’t even need to use the Sport modes, though if they are eschewed and you want to sound out your attack then it pays to hit the button with the exhaust pipe, to enhance that glorious sound. 

So what comes next? Not a family beyond the four-door booted format. AMG has no interest at this time in creating this concoction in the coupe styling that is now also just arriving here and, though there will be a station version in time, it’s not being considered for New Zealand introduction.

So, at the moment, the only chance to go bonkers is with a car that looks surprisingly executive normal yet, when you get to drive it, proves anything but – even when operated at less than half its full potential.