Who would have thought that a sports sedan such as the 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S could be inspired by 1990s ‘soft roaders’ that have since been renamed as the ‘medium SUV’ set.
Wait, what? Well, a couple of decades ago the faux-offroader breed emerged nominally with all-wheel drive, but really they were just front-wheel drivers with a hint of power and torque going to the back wheels when the computers decided it needed to.
Now, the concept arrives - but in reverse - with the E63 S, which has long been a rear-wheel drive brute but is now nominally all-wheel drive – with a hint of its 450kW and 850Nm going to the front wheels when the computers decides it needs to. Yes, you get the picture.
Since the release 14 months ago of this latest Mercedes-AMG large car, however, arch rival BMW has followed the exact format-change above with its latest M5. All of which provides new context in which to assess this (sort-of) all-paw E63 S.
Mercedes-AMG has just replaced its E43 with a $7889-pricier E53 asking $167,129 plus on-road costs. Gone is the 295kW/520Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6, replaced by a 320kW/520Nm engine of the same capacity, but with a straight six cylinder, and altogether boosted to 336kW/770Nm via an electric motor and claiming 4.5-second 0-100km/h performance.
Or, for $210,128 (plus orc), the E63 arrives with a 420kW/750Nm 4.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V8 engine, reducing the aforementioned sprint to just 3.5sec. More than that, it also offers a 52mm-wider body above a 21mm-wider front track, plus redesigned rear suspension with a mechanical limited-slip differential (LSD) and all-wheel drive that is no longer fixed with a 69 per cent rear-bias as per E53. Instead, it is 100 per cent rear-drive until slip is detected.
This $239,529 (plus orc) E63 S gets a raise to 450kW/850Nm, plus a 3.4sec 0-100km/h. And it also goes a step further by offering a Drift Mode that can detach the front axle and become rear-drive-only – with the electronic stability control (ESC) disabled, just for racetrack usage.
For its $30K extra ask it also raises top speed from 250km/h to 300km/h, ups front brake size from 360mm to 390mm, gets lighter forged-alloy 20-inch alloy wheels, and adds a switchable sports exhaust, dynamic engine mounts and an ‘electronically controlled’ version of the LSD.
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 4.0/5
There is a tension surrounding the E63 S that some may find peculiar. This large sedan is the fastest version of the luxury-focused E-Class, and this Mercedes-AMG doesn’t really hide that given its retained chrome-licked exterior doorhandles and open-pore wood interior trim.
Only the ‘S’ designation, however, introduces those mean multi-spoke matte-black alloys, black mirror caps and – most notably – really aggressively bolstered front sports buckets. In fact these seats, which have electrically adjustable ‘hugging’ support, are obviously hardcore enough for Mercedes-AMG to offer a no-cost-option ‘comfort’ alternative with ventilation.
Complete with an Alcantara-clad steering wheel, the E63 S looks and feels as though it is a luxury car half-turned racecar. So is it a contradiction or a cool blend of disparate genres?
Well, with a brilliant driving position looking over high-resolution twin screens and a stitched-leather dashboard, there is little missing from this interior. Some of the infotainment menus and functions can be tricky to master, and only then the burden of complexity is lifted, but another reward is a voice control system that understands ‘one shot’ commands anyway.
Part of that complexity is also justified, because every new-generation E-Class features among the most advanced driver support systems available today. Features such as headlights that can detect forward or oncoming traffic, and block out only the strand of LED high-beam affecting each vehicle, remains as brilliant as the subtle-but-sure lane-keep assistance system.
If there is an area in which every new E-Class falls slightly, it’s in the back seat. Especially compared with the sumptuous seat support of a new-generation 5 Series/M5, the bench here is fractionally too low and too short for ultimate stretching and splurging space. It isn’t uncomfortable, particularly considering the decent side support for outboard riders, but unlike its BMW rival that is seemingly a mini-7 Series, this isn’t quite the mini-S-Class equivalent.
At least boot space, at 540 litres, is bang-on expectation for the large car class.
ON THE ROAD | RATING: 5.0/5
This is where, to an extent, the E63 S shrugs off its luxury roots and attempts to redefine how a sports sedan should feel in the modern era.
Its three-mode air suspension is very firm even in its softest Comfort mode. Here, however, firmness never means harshness, and this Affalterbach model avoids ever seguing into clichéd definitions of comfort because its ride quality remains perfectly level everywhere.
This ensures occupants aren’t tossed about either abruptly or in a wallowy way, and the same feat is achieved – perhaps even more impressively – in the screwed-down Sport and Sport+.
Perhaps, too, the E63 S has the best steering this side of a Ferrari, with only one mode that can’t be altered and doesn’t need to be. Smooth, connected, light, fluid, calm – throw any positive attribute you like at this set-up. But perhaps best of all is the fact that whether bumbling around town or navigating through country corners, feedback fizzes to your hands.
Of course the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 delivers devastatingly quick performance, yet it’s the tingling soundtrack and instant response everywhere that most delights. The nine-speed automatic is virtually flawless, too, with an uncanny ability to slink to tall gears when it detects calmer driving, then thump – literally – into action when it detects spirited driving.
If there is one area in which the Mercedes-AMG sides more with the likes of an Audi RS6 Avant than a BMW M5, though, it’s in the area of weight. With a 2031kg tare mass, this is broadly on par with those rivals, but the E63 S – as with RS6 – never really feels supernaturally light and nimble on its feet like an M5 does. It isn’t so much disappointing, though, but more a constant awareness that this really is a very large, very powerful sedan.
And despite that, the dynamics of this German large car are still simply incredible. Where no rival – not even a Porsche Panamera – can match this car is in the areas of emotion and driver connection, an occasionally raw and delightfully visceral experience that also in no way compensates for blunt or brutish handling. And therein lies a very high art; a triumph here.
In Sport+ drivetrain – although you can mix-and-match any settings via an Individual mode, to have that for drivetrain but Comfort suspension, for example – the active engine mounts harden and send shivers through the dashboard like an Earth tremor across a Versace store.
Suddenly, everything tenses and the driver feels what each 20-inch tyre is doing, gripping and slipping in the most wonderful, obviously rear-biased way even without Drift Mode.
Efficiency? Forget economy; the E63 S exceeded its claim by 50 per cent on test. But it also exceeded most other vehicles within cooee of this pricetag for driver enjoyment.
ANCAP rating: 5 stars – this model scored 36.3 out of 38 possible points when tested by ANCAP in 2016.
Safety Features: Nine airbags, ABS and three-mode ESC, forward and reverse autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with cross-traffic braking, 360-degree camera, surround parking sensors, blind-spot monitor and active lane-keep assistance including collision avoidance auto-swerve assistance.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Servicing: Annual or 20,000km intervals are impressive, however the first service costs $800, the second check-up asks a hefty $2680 and the third requires a $1380 outlay.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The RS6 Avant is the most practical weapon on-sale, despite it age, with a wonderful blend of high-end design and sheer spaciousness.
A new M5 perhaps better than anything crosses the extremes of luxury and sports, at one end feeling almost excessively indulgent and at the other supernaturally dynamically gifted.
In some ways the new Panamera 4S is the same, but it’s slower yet pricier. What none of the above can match is the sheer driver connection of this E63 S, however.
- Audi RS6 Avant
- BMW M5
- Porsche Panamera 4S
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 4.5/5
The E63 S is not a soft, quiet and pampering large car as some of its rivals attempt to be. Nor does it appear to attempt to be the fastest from point-to-point down a twisty road, despite its awesome straight-line speed. What the Mercedes-AMG does become, though, is a prime example of placing a toe in each camp and immensely satisfying both.
It’s possible to hit the patchiest bit of roadworks-scarred tarmac around town, and the air suspension will pitter-patter over them while keeping occupants’ heads untossed and never, ever allowing sogginess to seep in. Yet perfect steering, intimate throttle and a lovely sound permeate through in that setting, or on equally patchy country roads, or a smooth hillclimb.
In not trying so hard to be all things to all people, it somehow does a better job of effortlessly being just that than most of the competition.
And as for turning all-wheel drive, well, consider it a standing start bonus in a vehicle that still feels decidedly rear-driven. It also successfully elevates itself above the non-S version to give buyers a clear reason to choose this most hardcore E63.
- Interested in buying Mercedes-Benz E63? Visit our Mercedes-Benz showroom for more information.