REVIEW DATE: 08 Apr 2009
The latest E 63 AMG is fearsomely fast. No surprises there then. Steve Walker takes a look.
AMG has made its name out of making big, luxurious Mercedes-Benz motorcars go like the clappers. It's not the most politically correct business model but for the committed petrol-head, there are few causes more noble. We've seen some stupendously powerful and capable cars carrying the AMG insignia down the years and despite the pressures of the modern market, the latest E 63 AMG seems to be continuing in a similar vein.
As the car buying world has its collective consciousness focused more and more intently on environmental issues, some automotive brands are going to have a more difficult time of it than others. It's not hard to pinpoint the ones which might be in a spot of bother if they don't make changes and as the creators of monstrously powerful Mercedes-Benz saloons, estates, coupes and 4x4s, AMG must surely count amongst them. That's why, upon announcing the latest E 63 AMG super saloon, the brand gave top billing to a 12 per cent improvement in fuel economy. AMG fans would have been dismayed. Had Merc's uncompromising performance tuning arm gone green? They needn't have worried. With 518bhp and 630Nm of torque from its 6.3-litre V8, it looks more like business as usual.
Mercedes engineers have dropped big hints that the horsepower arms race in which the AMG models have been embroiled virtually since their inception could be drawing to a close. The German manufacturers that have traditionally set the pace may be looking at other, more efficient ways of enhancing performance rather than continually cramming in more lusty engines. That said, the E 63 AMG is still packing a 518bhp 6.3-litre V8. That's 11bhp up on the previous generation E 63 that used an ostensibly similar engine. Torque of 630Nm points to hugely muscular performance and the car will dispatch the 0-62mph sprint in 4.5s. Together with the advanced AMG Speedshift MCT 7-speed gearbox, it makes for a quite formidable powertrain.
".the car still looks uncompromising in the best AMG traditions."
The Speedshift MCT transmission can be set to any one of four modes. The C mode is Controlled Efficiency where gears are selected for optimum smoothness and early up-changes are made to conserve fuel. Then come the S (Sport) and S+ (Sport Plus) modes, these settings employing an increasingly aggressive shift pattern designed to make the most of the engine's performance. The final option is M or Manual mode which enables the driver to take complete control via the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. In its more dynamic settings the seven-speed gearbox will automatically perform throttle blips on down changes to match the engine speed with the gear being selected. The technology can even partially suppress the operation of individual engine cylinders to increase the speed of gear changes under high throttle loads. The result is that the E 63 AMG can move from one gear to the next in as little as 100 milliseconds. The in-built Race Start launch control function means that the car will be similarly rapid out of the blocks.
The usual AMG formula applies when it comes to the visual enhancement of this ultimate E-Class. A lower, wider front apron with oversize air-intakes dominates the front end while four chrome exhaust pipes protrude from the black diffuser at the rear. Side skirts and 18" alloy wheels serve to further underline the car's potency. Inside, it's a case of figure hugging sports seats that adjust electrically every which way, a four-spoke AMG steering wheel and sports instruments with more AMG branding. The centre console houses the AMG Drive Unit control for the car's various performance functions including the MCT gearbox, the ESP stability control system and the Ride Control sports suspension.
'Ride Control' is AMG's electronically controlled damping system which is designed to enable the E 63 AMG to perform on the race track while still remaining a usable everyday car. The unique suspension set-up uses steel springs at the front for their greater tactility and precision while employing air springs at the rear which use self-levelling technology to maintain a constant ride height. The damping characteristics are continuously adjusted by the Ride Control software according to the driver's choice between the Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus settings.
All E 63 AMG models come with nappa leather upholstery and a comprehensive safety specification as standard. The ESP stability control system has three stages - On, Sport and Off - so that the driver can select the degree of slide that will be allowed before the electronics intervene. The braking system uses 360mm discs on all four wheels with Brake Assist Plus technology and the full array of Mercedes other electronic safety aids are included as standard.
No prizes for guessing the cars which the E 63 AMG will be competing against. It's the Audi RS6 and the BMW M5, but there are any number of desirable ways for customers with a £70,000 budget to spend it. Indeed, it will be relatively easy for E 63 AMG buyers to push the cost of their car up well beyond the quoted list price with the vast range of optional extras that's available. By the time you've ticked the boxes marked AMG 19" alloy wheels, AMG locking rear differential, AMG performance suspension (a stiffer set-up than standard) and AMG exterior carbon package, the bottom line will be looking a lot plumper.
Even AMG needs to be seen to be doing the right thing by the planet these days and the company was extremely keen to underline the fact that this E 63 AMG is 12 per cent more fuel efficient that the old model. It's true but on the combined cycle, the improvement only equates to 22.4mpg so this car is hardly a paragon of eco-friendliness. Insurance will be group 20 too but it will all be forgotten by buyers the first time they deploy that 518bhp.
By now, we know what to expect from an AMG Mercedes - power and lots of it. The E 63 AMG doesn't disappoint on that score. In fact, the only people likely to feel let down by this barnstorming super saloon are those who were seduced by reports that AMG had gone soft and was turning over a new environmentally-friendly leaf. Efficiency is improved but that's hardly relevant in an executive saloon packing the far side of 500bhp. With a startling array of electronic systems helping the driver get the most from all that power, this is AMG pushing the envelope once again.
The future for the super saloon does look bleak and at some stage manufacturers will certainly have to explore other avenues to enhance the performance of these cars rather than just relentlessly upping the horsepower stakes. There are signs of AMG moving along these lines with the technology in the E 63 but the car still looks uncompromising in the best AMG traditions. Perhaps we should just enjoy it while we can.
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