2017 Mercedes-AMG E63 S review: it's Not just about Drift Mode
The big news about the Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4MATIC+ is that it has a Drift Mode. At least that’s what I’d been led to believe by all the launch reviews. It’s a four-wheel drive supersaloon but when you want to have fun you can select Drift Mode to disconnect the front axle and vaporise the rear tyres at will.
The thing is, I‘ve just spent a week with the E63 S and not once did it occur to me to activate Drift Mode. The big news about the E63 S is, in fact, that it’s madly fast, bursting with character and huge fun… and that it demonstrates just how exciting a good four-wheel drive system can be. And if you think Mercedes’ maddest saloons MUST OVERSTEER EVERYWHERE then the E63 S will still oblige even with the front wheels still engaged.
Before we get to the finer points of the way it drives, let’s look at the pretty extraordinary spec. Like all AMG models the heart of the car is a 4-litre twin-turbocharged V8, here linked to the AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT 9-speed automatic ‘box. It produces 604bhp at 5750-6500rpm and 627lb ft from 2500-4500rpm. Just re-read that sentence. Six hundred and four horsepower. Six hundred and twenty-seven foot pounds of torque. It’s little wonder that four-wheel drive was deemed a necessity for this generation of E63 and E63 S.
Four-wheel drive the AMG way
The 4MATIC+ system (with rear e-diff in the S and a normal mechanical locking diff in the 563bhp E63) is fully variable but the principle is that the E63 S behaves as a rear-wheel drive car, with the traction and stability of a four-wheel drive. So for much of the time only the rear axle is driven, but when necessary torque is sent to the front wheels.
Mercedes-AMG claim the system is seamless and, of course, it allows the flexibility to have that rear-drive only Drift Mode. You have to be sure you want to experience 604bhp channelled through just two 295/30 ZR20 contact patches – you must be in Race mode, with the stability control deactivated and the gearbox locked in Manual. Then pull both paddles to select Drift Mode.
The result of this power and the traction afforded by the four-wheel drive set-up is that the E63 S can hit 62mph in 3.4-seconds. Go for the AMG Driver’s Package and the 155mph limiter is increased to 186mph. The E63 S costs from £88,490.
The transformation from milder E-Class models is incredibly thorough, with different rear axle carriers, a stiffer structure thanks to chassis reinforcements and, of course, the unique tuning of everything from the air-suspension system to the gearbox programming to the variable power steering system. And the results are pretty stunning. Whether in the more laid back Comfort mode or the angriest Race mode, the E63 S just oozes charisma, composure and a wicked sense of fun. There’s also an Individual mode where you can tailor steering, ESP intervention, suspension stiffness and throttle and gearbox response.
First impressions are dominated by the engine, which is fitted with twin-scroll turbochargers for the first time. It feels 8-litres strong and sounds hilariously OTT as it emits all sorts of cracks and bangs. The ‘box is good, too. I maintain a twin-clutch ‘box will always feel more instant and focussed than any auto, but AMG’s wet clutch/auto combination is as close as it gets.
The chassis feels more than a match for the engine. I like the dampers in their middle setting, the sweet spot where really strong body control melds with enough compliance to stop the car crashing over the road surface. The stiffest setting feels almost track-only in its aggression. For UK roads though, keep it in that middle setting and the E63 S feels almost invincible. It doesn’t exactly glide but the taut, highly responsive set-up allows you to almost forget about the car’s weight and just get on with enjoying that engine.
who needs drift mode?
As you’d expect, traction is superb but the promised rear-drive delicacy is genuinely evident. The steering is fast and clean, understeer isn’t an issue unless you literally pile into a roundabout at terminal velocity and for the most part the E 63 S feels wonderfully neutral mid-corner and then the sheer power on offer ensures you can tweak the tail into fast, driving exit oversteer if that’s your thing. Everything feels neat, controlled and purposeful.
I realise that sounds a bit worthy and that AMG’s reputation is founded on more light-hearted qualities. Like burnouts. But in reality and despite the poise and the almost GT-R-like pace, the E63 S is a rich, highly entertaining driving experience. Wring it out and you’ll marvel at the speed and agility, tickle around gently and you’ll chuckle at the engine note and the ever-present firepower. It just manages to get under your skin whatever the conditions.
I’m sure Drift Mode is hilarious on a track but this E63 S deserves to be recognised for much more than just a gimmick that will go largely unused. It’s a hell of a supersaloon and the new BMW M5 will have to be exceptional to even get close.
Engine: 3982cc, twin-turbocharged, V8
Layout: Front-engined, 4WD
Gearbox: 9-spd AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT
Power: 604bhp at 5750-6500rpm
Torque: 627lb ft at 2500-4500rpm
0-62mph: 3.4 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited) 186mph with AMG Drivers Package
Economy: 30.7mpg (combined)