REVIEW DATE: 25 Sep 2006
Whisper It But Mercedes AMG Products May Well Be Undergoing A Radical Change In Philosophy. Andy Enright Takes A Look At their E63 AMG Model To See Why
It's taken seven years but right now we're seeing the first real fruits of the changes that occurred at AMG on January 1st 1999. Product planning cycles being as long as they are, it's taken this long for the first truly clean sheet AMG models to arrive and they're rather different to that which has gone before. The reason? Since January 1st 1999, Mercedes-AMG GmbH - as it is now titled - has benefited from closer liaison with the product development boffins in Stuttgart. No longer are they seen as after-market go-faster masters. An AMG Mercedes is now an integral part of the Mercedes design process and in the E63 AMG, the Stuttgart company have a car that's able to mix it with the very best in the class.
You don't need to be fluent in doublespeak to realise that means the BMW M5 V10. The old Mercedes E55 AMG did its best but was outmuscled and left for dead in the technology stakes. What was needed was a fundamental; reappraisal; a way of delivering a product that didn't attack BMW head on but which stood out as an exemplar of engineering excellence and dynamic ability in its own right. Mercedes started to make its own rules and the E63 AMG is a better car as a result of this refusal to play constant catch up with the Bavarians. You pay £66,545 for the saloon and £68,045 for the Estate version.
Think of what an 'old' AMG model meant. Usually it would deliver a thunderous wallop of low-end torque thanks to forced induction. This made the car feel effortlessly quick but when you were really pushing on, it was easy for the sudden onrush of torque to overwhelm the rear tyres. Then things became rather suboptimal. The traction control system would work furiously to try to keep the car on the island, a telltale light on the dashboard reminding you that your rear rubber was waving the white flag. The intervention of the electronics was never particularly subtle either, and there was a frustrating lack of fluency about the controls. Most AMG models felt a million dollars when you were driving them at up to eight tenths of maximum attack. Drive harder and you started to fall into the voids between AMG and Mercedes' relationship.
That's no longer the case. AMG's latest philosophy is to develop an engine with an altogether different power delivery. Instead of twin turbochargers that pour an unmanageable tsunami of torque, they have instead resorted to good old fashioned normal aspiration in the E63 AMG, a car which uses a big 6.2-litre V8 engine to make the figures. In this case it's a full 503bhp, up from the 476bhp the old 5.5-litre V8 churned out.
"The E63 AMG is a model that rewards the well-informed customer"
That's still a thunderous amount of power, but control is aided by the fitment of the excellent AMG SPEEDSHIFT 7G-TRONIC transmission. With seven forward speeds and the most spectacularly clumsy name, this is probably the best automatic transmission currently made. No, scrub that. It's undoubtedly the best. Paddles behind the steering wheel allow you to control up and downshifts so that the engine isn't turning on the taps just when you want to rein the car in. Talking of which, the E63 AMG also features high performance AMG composite brakes to guarantee retina-detaching retardation.
This is an entirely different powerplant to those which have gone before it. Instead of using forced induction or relying on low-end lugging power, this 6.2-litre unit is like a scaled-up version of a hot hatch engine. Mercedes call it the high-revving concept and that gives you a clear idea of the character of this engine. Maximum torque doesn't arrive until 5,200rpm at which point you get a whopping 465lb/ft and maximum power arrives at a nosebleed 6,800rpm. The advantage of this is that even before you include any electronic control devices, the throttle pedal travel is acting as a traction control system. It takes some determination to hit 6,800rpm so when you get the goods, you'll probably know all about it. That's a smart move. Cars like the S65 AMG could give you the most almighty dollop of Newton metres just when you weren't expecting it. The raw figures are impressive, this heaviest of all E-Class hitters getting to 60mph in 4 seconds and runs into its electronic limiter at 155mph. Mercedes Benz engineers reckon that without the limiter, this car would top 190mph, so slippery are its aerodynamics.
Built entirely in-house at AMG, this 6,208cc behemoth feels utterly different to its predecessor. Although ultimately quicker it's much less dramatic. The linear nature of the power delivery makes for a more fluid, involving driving style. The bonecrushing wallop of the supercharged car is gone, replaced by a more scalpel-sharp tool. The steering is better resolved than the slightly vague helm of the BMW and body control feels tighter too, although turn-in isn't quite so rapid. The engine note lacks the NASCAR roar of the supercharged E55 but comes good at the top end of the rev Range - a place you'll spend quite a bit of time - with a keening yowl.
Ultimately, this car will be purchased by customers who are impressed by its cerebral nature and its tactility rather than headline numbers. I didn't think I'd ever hear myself saying so, but the automatic box fitted to this car is, for most people most of the time, a better and far more durable alternative than BMW's sequential manual. If you've got over £60,000 to spend on a car, apparently inconsequential things like fuel tank size take on greater relevance. You'll manage 294 miles between fills in an M5 while the E63 AMG will keep on for 388 miles. Crediting the public with intelligence is a risky strategy for manufacturers of big ticket items and Mercedes has gone out on a limb with this car. It's time to reward their faith.
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