Mercedes-AMG takes Merc's most intelligent saloon, the new E-Class, and pops its maddest engine under the bonnet to create the E 63 S supersaloon. Masses of power and a sophisticated chassis make for a very impressive drive, on road or track.
In the metal
This is AMG at its most restrained; at least as much as you can be with a 612hp super saloon. The casual observer might just miss the slight flare to the arches and the larger openings for cooling air up front; likewise they could miss the under bumper quad exhausts, boot lid spoiler and larger tyres and wheels. The E 63 S is discreet then, particularly in darker hues. Choose lighter colours, matte trim and black wheels, specify the carbon ceramic brakes with their gold painted callipers and those subtle looks are lost a bit, but even so the E 63 S isn't so wildly different in its looks to be a complete extrovert, which is rather a fine thing.
That's true inside, too, where there are obvious clues to the E 63 S's range-topping sporting status, not least the deeply bolstered, sports bucket seats, which, unlike some rivals sit beautifully low in the cabin. There's a smattering of AMG badging and AMG-specific buttons, but otherwise it's all familiar E-Class. Start poking around the infotainment settings and there are some AMG-only areas, things like G meters, track lap timers and lots of other stuff you'll show your pals, but never actually use. Like the regular E-Class the E 63 S is offered with autonomous features that mean it'll all but drive itself, though we cannot imagine why if you were buying it you'd ever want to hand over control to a computer...
Autonomy be damned: the flashing brake warnings and incessant beeping is more distracting than the traffic it's monitoring, and this is, after all, the E 63 S. That means there's a 612hp/850Nm version of AMG's epic 4.0-litre biturbo V8 engine under the bonnet. AMG has added twin-scroll turbochargers, tougher and lighter internals and better breathing to liberate the extra power over its other applications. There's a regular E 63 with a 'meagre' 571hp and 750Nm of torque, but given the fact both the full-fat S and regular E 63 emit the same 203g/km of CO2 and consume the same amount of fuel (officially anyway...) then there's no rational argument for it except for the price. The S is quicker too, bettering the standard E 63 to 100km/h by 0.1 seconds for a 3.4-second time, which is enough to leave all its rivals disappearing in the AMG's mirrors.
Power has never been an issue with AMG though, and in particular with its take on the E-Class, though control has at times. That's changed, largely due to the adoption of four-wheel drive. AMG boss Tobias Moers told us that, with the power outputs produced now, four-wheel drive was an inevitability.
The 4Matic system used elsewhere in the Mercedes-Benz range has been heavily modified to make it suit AMG, and it's even dubbed AMG Performance 4Matic+. This can send as much as 50 per cent 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, and it's possible to disengage that front drive completely by selecting the additional 'Drift mode' by pulling both paddles towards you and then confirming with a pull of the right one, allowing you leave your tyres in clouds of smoke and black lines everywhere at will.
That uncouth, drift mode aside, the E 63 S is a more mature take on the supersaloon from AMG, more so than its sometimes one-dimensional predecessors. Yes, it's lunatic fast if you want it to be, but it's no longer all engine and a bit of chassis to help it; indeed, when you sit behind the wheel for the first time it's not the engine that dominates, but what you're holding on to.
The steering delivers fine weighting, the chunky rim of the flat-bottomed wheel even delivering something approaching feedback. It's among the best electrically assisted set-ups out there, filling you with confidence to lean on the front axle. Do so and the E 63 S reveals real ability; turn-in is quick, the accuracy high and push-on understeer only really arrives if you're a bit optimistic with your entry speed and late with your braking. Do that and you'll feel the 4Matic+ system divert some torque to the front wheels to help sort things out, but otherwise the E 63 S feels very much rear driven, unlike its RS quattro rivals. Word is BMW will deliver a four-wheel drive M5 xDrive in 2018 - it's going to have to be very good indeed to match AMG's system in the E 63 S.
On the road the limits are so high that traction is never in question, though it's playful and engaging, rear-biased enough to require a touch of opposite lock if you're pushing hard, though its transition is easily read, and the chassis is benign rather than spiky or difficult to exploit. That communicative steering helps, but so too does the AMG-fettled suspension, which takes the E-Class's Air Body Control system to another level. With three-chamber air springs and adaptive dampers the E 63 S is able to manage its mass with remarkable control, the body movements kept in check even when dealing with tough compressions at speed, the ride remaining supple even in the more aggressive settings. That, as much as the engine, allows the E 63 S its incredible cross-country pace.
Mate that 4.0-litre biturbo engine to such an accomplished chassis and the result is very impressive indeed. There's a new nine-speed automatic transmission, too, featuring a wet clutch for quick, incisive shifts. It manages its many ratios very well, which is just as well given that cog count. Don't try to count them when you're shifting yourself, just change by ear on the paddles and you'll not only get a satisfying change, but hear the glorious sound of that 4.0-litre V8 biturbo wrung out to its upper rev range. It's an involving, exciting car when driven so, though crucially it feels special at more sensible speeds, too. On a track it reveals even more, the clear chassis balance, strong brakes and unerring performance making for a hugely satisfying drive, which, with the stability systems off, can be driven around at will at pretty much any angle, and for as long as you like such is the power and balance on offer. Not that anyone will, but it's good to know it can, and that underlines the E 63 S isn't all just about power, but poise too, something that wasn't always the case with its predecessors.
What you get for your money
The starting price for the E 63 is around €125,000, which is less than the outgoing BMW M5 the AMG comprehensively out-punches. The ceramic carbon brakes will add more if you want them, as will special trim options and matte paint. The S gains a cleverer electronically controlled rear differential (over the standard E 63's mechanical one), as well as dynamic engine mounts as standard. There'll be an estate version in time, and if you want to let everyone know you were among the first to buy the new car there's the Edition 1, which adds some extra standard equipment and brings the option of some rather OTT stripes... We'd avoid that one.
AMG is playing a strong game at the moment, and that's no more obvious than here with arguably its most important product. People within the company admit that it's the most difficult car to create, as it's so many things to so many people. We reckon it has nailed it though, as the AMG E 63 is able to span comfortable cruiser and lunatic track tool and everything in between with real ability.