Remember when Mercedes was a dour old man’s brand? Not dull exactly, but sensible and stoic, despite the DTM glory. It seems like a lifetime away. If Mercedes was more on fire right now it’d be a hunk of magma at the Earth’s core, an early Ferrari 458, or that tyre dump blaze in Wales that took 15 years to extinguish. And as for AMG, the guys at Affalterbach have more horny products than an African branch of Holland and Barrett. The latest is the all-new E63.
There was nothing wrong with the way the old E63 went: big rumbly V8, stacks of torque, surprisingly tidy handling. There’s one right outside my house as I write and the keys are in my pocket. I love it. But all of a sudden I love it just a little bit less.
The current E-class with its stunning dual-screen interior and limo-like refinement is a great start. The E63 builds on it with cool carbon detailing and – for the first time on a 63 – the option of proper bucket seats.
But the two big-news items with this latest E63 are the switch from 5.5 to 4.0 power and mandatory four-wheel drive across the board (previously right-hand drive cars remained resolutely rear drive due to a land rights issue between the steering and engine components).
The engine’s the latest version of the twin-turbo V8 also found in the C63 and AMG GT. Despite losing an entire MX-5’s worth of capacity over the old car it makes 575bhp as standard, or 604bhp in E63S trim; the old S got by with just 577bhp. Even the AMG GT R makes no more.
Start the new 4.0 from cold and it doesn’t have the same dirty grumble as the old 5.5. It’s a few notes higher, a more urgent sound. Less like a John Deere that’s been through the So-Cal Speed Shop. But it revs faster and further, and the new transmission, now with nine rather than seven speeds, shifts much quicker. It’s still not dual-clutch-rapid – it’s a traditional auto but with a wet clutch instead of a torque converter – but it helps you feel more connected to the wheels than the old car ever did.
Dial up the launch control – now a simpler prod both pedals process instead – and the S hurls itself with almost no tyre slip to hit 62mph in only 3.4sec. That’s as quick as a Lamborghini Huracan, for Christ’s sake, a perfect illustration of the joy of four-wheel drive. The misery that often goes with it is nose heavy handling and understeer more terminal than a ‘you’ve got three days to live’ prognosis from your doc.
Not this time. The old 4Matic E63 AMG used a fixed front-to-rear torque split. Ordinary new-shape Eees do too. But the AMG gets a fully variable set up that’s more rear biased than an arse-obsessed peeping Tom’s holiday snaps. Provided you get the weighty front end keyed into the corner, it drives just like a foolproof rear-driver, and that’s before you’ve even got to the Drift Mode. You’ll need an E63S to get it; regular 63s don’t have the additional Race mode in the Dynamic Select drive mode system. Switch out the ESP and pull both shift paddles and you pull the plug to the front wheels. Instant hooligan.
Four-wheel drive security when you want it, tyre smoking insanity when you don’t. The best interior of almost any car on sale and performance to make a supercar sweat? This must be the world’s most sorted car, with just one exception. And it’s one that’ll be fixed by late 2017: make mine a wagon.