E63 AMG: Benz's Belting Bruiser

E63 AMG: Benz's Belting Bruiser
Mercedes AMG E63

The E63 AMG is the latest in AMG’s endless friendly rivalry with BMW’s M division. There have been fast, big German sedans for three decades now, each new generation upping the ante. BMW went mad once and threw a V10 at the M5, which was wonderful.

In 2017, we got a new E63, based on the fourth-generation E Class, the W213. Bigger, louder, faster and packed with technology, can this E63 really, properly, truly, take the fight to BMW’s M5?

E63 History

I was never an E63 AMG fan. Nor was I particularly attracted to its E50/E55/E60 predecessor, an unattractive mass of metal based on the W210. It was an ugly car, a hangover from the huge, slabby S Class of the 1990s.

It was, however quick and became something of a cult classic. Under its over-creased bonnet and behind those stupid headlights eventually lurked a 6.2-litre V8. Mercedes messed around with this car’s spec when it really should have concentrated on making it not ugly.

The most powerful version pumped out 298 kW (405 PS), which was a lot of power for a car in 2003.

The W211 didn’t get much better looking and wasn’t a patch on BMW’s V8-powered E39 M5. Sure, it was a good car, but it wasn’t really one you’d play around in.

Between 2003 and 2006, the 211’s range-topper was the E55, a supercharged 5.4-litre V8 with 350 kW (476PS) and 700 Nm. It was pretty wild, a sledgehammer of a car that continues to command respect.

At the 211’s mid-life refresh, lots changed. Power went up to 378kW (514PS) but torque fell to 631Nm. A new seven-speed automatic transmission joined the party and ensured a 0-100km/h (0-62mph) of 4.5 seconds.

While all this went on, M messed about with its bonkers V10-powered M5, complete with single-clutch semi-auto.

Staying with the ugly theme – Mercedes really doubled down on the E-Class’ Grandpa Express aesthetic – the W212 arrived in 2006. For the first part of its life, the E63 ran a 6.2-litre V8 with 386kW (525PS). The M5 had 373kW, if you’re keeping score.

Then came the mid-life facelift and the switch to the 5.5-litre V8. That engine had anywhere from 410kW (557PS). It also changed its name to the E63 AMG and scored a seven-speed automatic.

The W212 helped cement the mythology of the fast E. Engine capacity went up again to a 6.2-litre supercharged V8. The smaller, more heavily-modified C63 had made waves so the E followed suit with a new front axle, new panels and a more aggressive suspension tune.

As with the 211, the 212’s mid-life refresh brought a down-sized engine, the 5.5-litre twin turbo V8. Power stayed at 386kW (525PS), although there was the 410kW (557PS) Performance version. The 430kW (585PS) S version arrived in 2014.

As the 212 progressed, the styling became more aggressive and its final facelift added all-wheel drive. The S headbutted 100km/h in just 3.5 seconds.

Right. That was a long one. Let’s head to the present.


Mercedes AMG E63

The fifth-generation W213 E Class arrived in 2016 and the E63 quickly followed. Very quickly. As before, the E63 is available in standard and S tunes and all-wheel drive.

It’s a much better-looking car than its predecessor. While nothing spectacular, the angles and creases are gone – the old car was so conservative.

The shapely headlights frame a more organic looking front end that’s less imposing, less bombastic. It looks a lot like the smaller C-Class and therefore looks smaller. It’s almost five metres long but doesn’t present that way, which is fine by me. The C appeals to younger buyers, too, so with a similar look, the this E63 should snare a few less old men (and women).

E63 Drivetrain

Mercedes AMG E63

The 212’s 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 is gone, with the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 now all over the Mercedes range. The M177 is available in two tunes, but in the S you get 450 kW (612PS) and a robust 850Nm. That huge torque figure is available from 2500-4500rpm for a fat mid-range wallop. That’s a narrower range than the standard E63’s 720Nm, but I don’t mind.

Mercedes’ own nine-speed automatic feeds the power around all four wheels. While its rival BMW has ditched the seven-speed DCT twin-clutch for the ubiquitous eight-speed ZF, Mercedes is sticking with clutches.

The nine-speed uses a pack of wet-clutches rather than the ZF’s torque converter. This might be a problem. We’ll soon see.

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Mercedes AMG E63

The base car’s mechanical diff is replaced with a locking electronic differential and you can turn off all-wheel drive with a sequence of button-pushes and paddle pulls. Pull the right paddle instead of both and you get Drift mode, which is wild.

The E63 weights over 1800kg, so static suspension just wouldn’t do. It’s hard to make a heavy car ride and handle – you can’t have both, which is what you need at this level. Dynamic dampers take care of dealing with the body roll while the air suspension on S does the rest.

The other part of the equation is the set of 20-inch alloys running 295/30 Michelin rubber, which absolutely should not deliver anything approaching comfortable.


Mercedes AMG E63

This E63’s predecessor’s tended to have the feel of epic engines looking for a  chassis to match. And on first acquaintance, it’s entirely possible things haven’t changed.

Its immediate predecessor was very good, but if you were a driver (and that’s why you’re here) you’d find it difficult to choose it over the M5. The Audi RS6 wasn’t even really in the running despite its charismatic twin-turbo V8.

Before you light the fire in the belly, the E63 is very civilised. It’s firm, even in Comfort mode, just enough to let you know what’s going on. It’s fluid, though, and wafts along on that huge boatload of torque.

The usual nitwits fired up about the E63 moving to all-wheel drive. The reality is, if this car was rear-wheel drive only, it would be difficult to handle for most of the time you would just burn through the tyres. Which is pointless. You buy other cars for that kind of fun, this is meant to be a daily driver.

Kick it in the guts and the E63 S is utterly, bewilderingly fast. The patented AMG Pop und Knistern from the exhausts is mighty. There is no turbo lag to speak of – the turbos are crammed into the V8’s cleavage to get close to the exhaust ports. That means a shorter path for the gases to travel to spin it up and, presto, less dreaded turbo lag.

That means you’ve got total confidence on the throttle, you don’t have to drive around the lag. We’re probably getting to the point where the next improvement is electrically-spun turbines but I’m pretty happy with this. This is good. This is fast. It’s fun.

What I really wasn’t expecting was how light on its feet it would be. The big sticky tyres obviously contribute a lot, but being able to throw this thing around is pure joy. You never really get away from the weight of it but it does feel lighter.

The steering really plays into your hands (pun absolutely intended) with good weight and feel. The suspension, while very firm in Race, delivers a stable, sensible platform while the rear diff lets you wiggle and slide with impunity.

Switching out the front wheels – as you can in the new M5 – transforms the car into an absolute bruiser. While it has the surefootedness of the RS6’s quattro grip but with better turn-in and – if it all possible – even more exhaust histrionics, in rear-wheel drive, the bets are off.

The W213 E63 S is a bit of a revelation for me. It’s the first AMG I’ve ever really properly gelled with. AMGs are good, but this one is fun. Proper, versatile fun. So is the new all-wheel drive M5. Which means the rivalry is set to burn bright.