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First drive: Mercedes-AMG E63 S blasts off

Coming soon: The latest Mercedes-EMG E63 S 4Matic should arrive in Australia about May next year.

Mercedes-AMG’s brutally fast E63 S 4Matic gatecrashes the supercar scene

30 Nov 2016


MERCEDES-AMG will start rolling out its fastest-ever E-Class-based super sedan from early in the second quarter of next year globally, with Australia one of the first markets in line to be offered the all-new E63.

Initially available only in top-spec E63 S 4Matic sedan guise, the Affalterbach firm’s answer to the BMW M5 and Audi RS6 Quattro has been engineered to not only eclipse its compatriot competition from Munich and Ingolstadt respectively, but also show up more rarefied opponents from the next class up and beyond, such as the Porsche Panamera, Maserati Quattroporte and Bentley Flying Spur.

“The target was to make the perfect car at every level, and by that I mean in every way,” according to Mercedes-AMG development overall vehicle manager Jens Hueser. “And I believe we succeeded.”

The most intensively modified Mercedes that AMG have ever tweaked, the catalyst to elevating the long-lived E63 series into the supercar sphere was the adaptation of the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.

Previously only available in left-hand-drive formats, the all-paw configuration was future-proofed from the beginning in the MRA modular rear-drive architecture that underpins all Benz passenger vehicles from the W205 C-Class up.

As a result, Australians simply didn’t know what they were missing.

It requires a bit of a keen eye, but the stylistic differences compared to the regular W213 E-Class sedan are effective.

Everything forward of the windscreen base has been changed, or pumped up, with wider guards to accommodate the fatter tracks, a more sculptured clamshell bonnet, massive lower air-intakes and a coupe-like grille with big three-pointed-star badge.

Out back it’s even more discreet, save for the boot-lip spoiler and de rigueur bumper-mounted diffusers and twin tailpipes, which make quite the noise.

We drove several examples in pre-production German-spec trim levels in southern Portugal, and while the low-key muscular aggression translates inside with racing-style sports seats, Alcantara-swathed flat-bottomed steering wheel and Nappa leather-clad material applied liberally everywhere, some of the lighter carbon-fibre-style trim appliques left a bit to be desired.

However, this is nitpicking, because as with all modern E-Classes, the vast triple-screen multimedia dashboard, multi-configurable ambient lighting and overall packaging is at the apex of the premium large car class. The E63 S 4Matic simply adds an athletic edge to all that.

Pushing the chintzy looking engine start button is a transformative thing because of the way the exhaust note infuses your senses. You cannot see the 450kW/850Nm 4.0-litre biturbo V8, but you can feel it stir as it idles impatiently. It’s as if you’ve just realised a waking bear is in the same room as you are.

Performance wise, the 0-100km/h sprint time is in 3.4 seconds, top speed is limited to 250km/h unless you throw a wad of cash for the AMG Driver’s Package, in which case it’s 300km/h, although the rumour is that 320km/h-plus is possible.

All four wheels are driven permanently and variously, depending on conditions, via a nine-speed multi-clutch transmission (like a dual clutch, but with six of them), and all contained with multi-configurable driving modes depending on whether you want to just potter around (Comfort), get around with some attitude (Sport), show everybody’s who’s boss (Sport Plus), or defy the laws of physics on your favourite track (Race).

What Mercedes-AMG sought to achieve – and have succeeded brilliantly at – is creating what might be a sports sedan that can do luxury comfort like an automotive Clark Kent, but then turn superhero supercar crime-fighter, thanks to all newly-acquired superpowers. Actually, the Superman analogy is probably less apt than the Iron Man one, since it’s all come through technology.

In the past, AMG sports sedans were a lot like bulls in a china shop because their supercharged V8 and V12s could hardly be contained by their rear wheels.

Now, with 4Matic, the boffins can – and have – turned up the wick to 11, knowing that electronics, trick diffs, and AWD can meter out the madness in measured, maniacal manner. So G-force-actuating acceleration that feels like space and time can be manipulated by your right foot is possible (Sport Plus), with none of the tail-out snap-oversteer hysteria of old.

Unless you kill the ESC, select Race mode, prod the manual-mode button, and pull the paddle shifters towards you. Then it’s 2004 all over again and Michelin and Pirelli will be kept in business as you burn all that rubber.

So supercar performance is expected and delivered, but it’s what you might not have seen coming that might make you fall completely in love with the E63 S 4Matic – like the suspension’s ability to soak up bumps instead of pummel your posterior (that’s in Comfort and Sport – thanks air springs, another AMG-tech supercar enabler) or the way the car can shrink around you in the single-lane villages as you barrel your way up goat tracks in Sport Plus, marvelling at the sheer nimbleness of what actually is a five-metre sedan.

But it was at the Autodromo International Racetrack in Algarve, Portugal, that the E63 S 4Matic’s supernatural abilities came to light.

Tight, curvy, undulating, with blind corners and weird cambers to scare even seasoned test drivers, the Mercedes-AMG’s speed and controllability through this circuit seemed otherworldly for a 1.9-tonne executive sedan, blasting through like a supercar with far less weight and a much lower centre of gravity.

In Sport Plus mode it held on like it was mesmerised by the track in Race mode with competition-tune ESC, the chassis gelled to deliver epic controlled slides, Starship Warp-9 levels of thrust, and pin-sharp cornering capabilities.

We were too chicken to turn all of the safeties off, but there is some of that hairy chested fire-breathing old-school AMG brute just under the surface and aching to be let out if you’re brave enough. Especially if that exhaust is allowed to bellow its thunderous raw.

As we said, a transformative experience.

Later on, driving on normal roads, some of the E63 S 4Matic’s flaws started to come through – some very obvious tyre roar on certain types of bitumen a bit more body control in Comfort would be desirable, as the car seems to move a tad too much on its suspension in this mode (though really only obvious after a stint in Sport/Sport Plus) the AEB autonomous emergency braking seemed a little over-eager to engage in tight corners with cars parked safety to the side (better to be safe than sorry though), and the sat-nav on two of our test cars went on the fritz.

But these are minor foibles in what is a truly incredible achievement from Mercedes-AMG. The E63 S 4Matic can be as docile as an E250, more muscular than an M5, just as athletic as a 911, and more rousing than a Bentley Continental GT.

Come next May (ish), at about $250,000 (plus on-roads) a pop, a new performance sedan yardstick will have been established.

Considering how talented it is, we reckon Mercedes will have a massive hit on its hands. Right now, there is nothing in the world quite like it. BMW and Audi, the massive wrecking ball is in your court.

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