Driven: Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG 4Matic

The list of interesting cars never made in right hand drive has just lengthened. The new E63 4Matic is perhaps the fastest way yet devised for travelling pretty much anywhere on the public highway with several people on board. It will be built in left-hand drive only, meaning UK-domiciled hedonists will have make do with two driven wheels for the time being.

Facelift adds completely restyled nose
Facelift adds completely restyled nose
The significance of the move to 4WD perhaps outweighs the knowledge that this is the most drastic facelift a mainstream Mercedes has ever been subjected to. I suppose it was inevitable that the front axle would be seconded into duty at some point; power and torque figures reached a point where just two tyres were no longer man enough for the job more than ten years ago.

More of everything
Adding 4WD to the E63 also adds 70kg, but this isn’t a problem when you have an extra 32hp and 15lb ft over the last model. Of course there are bound to be some frictional losses, but those will probably be overcome by the optional S pack which brings a monstrous 585hp and 580lb ft. The E63 4Matic S does 0-62mph in a claimed 3.6 seconds. That is bonkers for a 1,940kg saloon car.

Interior is pretty standard Merc fayre
Interior is pretty standard Merc fayre
Best of all, this is a rear-biased 4WD system – out of dry second gear hairpins the car just bungees itself towards the next turn, but on a damp surface, with the systems deactivated, the rear moves wide. This means the car always feels far more rear-driven than front in a way that some very fast 4WD machines never seem to.

Naturally, there are some significant upsides to this extra traction – on damp or wet roads, where the 2WD car would constantly trigger the chassis electronics, this version doesn’t. It doesn’t turn into the corner quite as sharply, but the difference is so slight on that entry phase, and the added traction so remarkable on the exit, you barely notice.

Character shift
Instantly, the character of the E63 has changed from muscle car to point-and-squirt weapon, and that places new demands on the transmission, some of which it struggles to handle. I’ve long been a fan of the AMG wet-clutch seven-speed auto, but with this new chassis configuration it is somewhat exposed. There are no problems in the auto-shifting modes, but in manual the delay between paddle-pull and actual shift is now too slow given that the car can use most of its power, most of the time. You simply have to anticipate shifts in the first three gears to avoid hitting the limiter because the car accrues speed at a rate previously not experienced in an AMG E-Class.

Auto box a tad sluggish; 'S+' works best
Auto box a tad sluggish; 'S+' works best
Strangely, it works best in the most aggressive automatic shifting  (S+), whereas in the 2WD car I find that needlessly abrupt.

The 70kg weight penalty isn’t ideal, but the car still comes in at under 2,000kg which is at least a small mercy. Torque split is a fixed 67 per cent to the rear and all the electronic systems have naturally been recalibrated to work with this new found traction. It’s a devilishly clever conversion with a transfer-box integrated into the MCT transmission and a prop shaft taking power to the front axle, or rather the front right – the front left is reached via an intermediate shaft which passes through the sump pan.

Circle your wagons
You can also order the E63 as an estate, which should make Audi wince a bit because after this drive I wouldn’t look at the last RS6 compared to this car. But then we haven’t driven the new RS6 wagon, and the RS boys are probably due a moment of inspiration about now, so the Merc might yet have some competition.

Estate version trumps last-gen RS6
Estate version trumps last-gen RS6
People who hanker after M5s will probably always just want an M5, but they really should do themselves a favour and try one of these first. As for the 4WD question, I find it especially hard to decide if I’m happy that the E63 will remain 2WD only in the UK, and ours will be the only market that will sell the silliest E of all – a 2WD S model with the full 585hp.

On the one hand its muscle car status remains intact and the transmission isn’t exposed as being too slow-witted. But the 4Matic system suits the car so well and it so cleverly executed that you do wonder if we might be missing out.

5,461cc V8, twin turbo, direct injection
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Power (hp): 557@5,500rpm (S: 585@5,500rpm)
Torque (lb ft): 531@1,750-5,250rpm (S:590@1,750-5,250rpm)
0-62mph: 3.7sec (Estate: 3.8sec; S: 3.6sec; S Estate: 3.7sec)
Top speed: 155mph (limited - all models)
Weight: 1,940kg (Estate: 2,045kg)
MPG: 30.7 (combined)
CO2: 242g/km (Estate: 246g/km)
Price: €106,981 (German market; not available in UK)

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (75) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Corkman 18 Feb 2013

    What's the reason for the 4matic not being available in the UK (RHD)? Is it technical or a marketing decision?

  • JayEll 18 Feb 2013

    never been an MB fan, but always loved the AMG versions. This, however, is fugly IMO. Impressive stats though. Will BMW have to put xDrive on the next M5?

  • gofasterrosssco 18 Feb 2013

    I know its not the truest of performance indicators, but 3.6 seconds to 60mph for a ~2 tonne estate car seems unneccessarily bonkers... eek

    Great isn't it..

  • franki68 18 Feb 2013

    Terrible travesty that we cannot buy this,

  • Stu R 18 Feb 2013

    Almost the perfect everyday family car lick

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