Glen Waddington spent a week with the 604bhp Mercedes-AMG E63S to find out how it stacked up on UK roads.
It’s 18 months since I tested the Mercedes-AMG E63S on its launch in Portugal. ‘Mercedes-AMG claims it has redefined the performance sedan – and could well be right,’ I wrote after driving it for a couple of hundred miles on twisting mountain roads, motorways, and at high speed on track – Portimao circuit, no less. It was fabulous. But does that translate to the UK, on potholed roads during a week of commuting, away from the glamour of that Portuguese test route?
Fact is, you learn much more about a car when it’s outside waiting for you each morning. I soon found myself taking the longer, twistier route to the Octane office (only 15 miles or so, but an awful lot of fun), and it was equally adept at soothing about the place with a full boot and kids in the back seat: ‘Go fast again, daddy!’ Always happy to oblige, even on occasions when Sport+ mode is deselected in favour of a more comfortable ride.
With 604bhp at your command – that’s a couple more than a McLaren F1’s 6.0-litre V12 managed – performance is in supercar territory, in spite of the big saloon’s substantial (circa two-tonne) kerbweight. The source of that power is a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8, seen already in the smaller C63 and the more hardcore Mercedes-AMG GT coupé. Unlike the previous generation (in the UK at least), there’s four-wheel drive this time. It was specially developed to apportion torque to individual wheels as required, rather than simply front-to-back, and is hooked up to a nine-speed multi-clutch paddleshift transmission, combined with AMG-tuned air suspension that operates in three modes (Comfort, Sport and Sport+), gradually firming up with more aggressive throttle and gearshift mapping to match. There’s a rear-drive-only drift mode too, and the exhaust note is suitably encouraging, especially in Sport+ mode.
The E63S looks quite menacing yet tastefully so, and the theme continues within: lots of black leather, black gloss and aluminium accents, so it feels like an upmarket lounge bar. That V8 fires with a distant rumble; at idle, the exhaust is far more audible outside.
On the motorway it is supple and silent, in the kind of way you’d expect Mercedes to do best. Look down at the speedo (your choice of displays, thanks to a huge TFT screen that spans the dash) and you’ll find yourself travelling at unlikely speeds without realising. What feels like 60mph could easily be double that. And it’ll reach 62mph from rest in 3.4 seconds.
Away from the highway, Comfort mode is a bit too soft and baggy when the going gets twisty; Sport ties things down nicely but the big surprise is how Sport+ mode really works along tight and bumpy British B-roads, doing little to ruin the exceptional ride refinement while making turn-in sharp, keeping body movement in check and allowing you to exploit the Merc’s exquisite balance. The four-wheel drive helps to keep you out of trouble yet never gets in the way of enjoyment, and only through deep compressions are you aware of the car’s mass.
The new BMW M5
has also switched to four-wheel drive, so clearly Munich and Stuttgart have decided to follow Ingolstadt, moving away from rear-drive when there’s so much power. Perhaps the last generation was a little more characterful, but there’s no doubt that the latest E63 feels more luxurious and is easier to drive quickly, especially within the confines of this crowded island.
Words: Glen Waddington