Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+: Review

"We have 4Matic+ and all you want to do is use Drift Mode," sighs the man from AMG as I await my run at the sectioned off Portimao corner we're using to vapourise his stock of Pirellis. He has a point. There's an awful lot more to the new Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ than the showboating mode that disables the clever four-wheel drive and puts all 612hp and 627lb ft through the rear wheels.

But seeing as I'm here...

Driving mode to Race, ESP fully off, manual gearbox selected, tug both paddles to raise the 'are you sure about this?' disclaimer on the dash, pull the right-hand one to confirm you are that juvenile and fill your boots. With peak torque arriving in a great turbocharged surge from 2,500rpm, you need to have your wits about you in the slower corners to arrest the slide from the inevitable 'meant to do that' doughnut. In the faster ones it's easier, third or fourth gear giving you headroom to feed the power in, wind off the lock and watch the smoke fill the mirrors. Bear in mind at this point you'll be travelling really quite rapidly though. And with the wheels spinning be ready to grab the next gear to maintain the slide.

Later the same day two colleagues and I complete our 'cool down' lap mostly on the lock stops, this having been shown some manners by Bernd Schneider in a typically no-nonsense interpretation of ducks and drakes track instruction. After three laps of mainly failing to keep up with Bernd's GT S we take advantage of him backing us up for the run back to the pits to have a bit of a drift-off, mainly conducted in fits of giggles and massive clouds of tyre smoke.

What was that I was saying about drift modes being pointless? Anyway, with that out of my system I can tell you about the rest of it.

Act your age
Because, even by the standards of the genre, this new E63 AMG is quite some car. And will be prompting some thoughtful faces in Munich as they put the finishing touches to the new M5.

In typical AMG fashion this is a proper job. Fears the new range of V6 '43-badged AMG models would dilute the brand appear unfounded; they've simply used this as extra headroom to make the senior cars even more ridiculous. Bravo. So we've got a new version of the M178 'hot-V' 4.0-litre V8, now with twin-scroll turbos, 612hp and 627lb ft. Even the entry level non-S version has 571hp and 553lb ft, which isn't far off the outgoing 5.5-litre S and comfortably thumps the standard (outgoing) M5. Credit to AMG for standing by its traditions and first putting this most exotic and powerful version of its V8 in an E-Class saloon too; even the GT R only gets 585hp.

The results are extraordinary. Even in a car 50kg short of two tonnes the S will punch out a 3.4-second 0-62 time (two tenths faster than that GT R) and maintain that rate of progress until running hard into the 155mph limiter. One imagines it'll still be going pretty strongly if you've raised that to 186mph with the optional AMG Driver's Package; certainly with the new nine-speed Speedshift MCT gearbox it's never going to be caught short in the wrong gear.

Tech spec
The mechanical and software engineering putting all this to the road is formidable too. Front and rear suspension - the rear based on the 12-link AMG-specific axle debuted on the C63 Coupe - sets the '63 apart from lesser E-Classes; extra bracing ensures solid mounting to the body and there's a boast of a 30 per cent increase in camber stiffness over the last E63. Unlike the steel front/air rear springing of the old one, new Air Body Control three-chamber air springs now offer fully variable spring rates as well as adaptive damping; this helps waftability on the road but can do clever stuff on the track too, like increasing the spring rates at the front under braking to prevent dive. The S gets active engine mounts too. Steering is electric with a mechanically variable rack - this as well as shift strategies, engine response, ESP, throttle response, the four-wheel drive and any number of other attributes are configurable via the five-way AMG Dynamic Select drive modes. As development boss Oliver Wiech puts it to me over dinner the technology gives his team near-limitless ability to tune the car to do exactly what they want.

Thankfully none of that tech gets in the way of you enjoying the fundamental lunacy of over 600hp in a relatively understated Mercedes saloon. And that's the real trick.

En route to Portimao the E63 wafts along the motorway like any other well-equipped E-Class, albeit at a relaxed cruising speed that'd have you in some serious bother back home. Body control, refinement and the restrained sense of opulence are all very Mercedes. More AMGness is but a flick of the mode button away though.

It would be lying to say the E63 ever shrinks around you because this will always be a big, heavy car. But the way it contains the violent undulations on the road up to Portimao with all four struts working in unison and not a hint of the porpoising motion you might expect speaks volumes. Artificially heavy steering in the sportier modes aside, control weights and responses are all brilliantly judged too. And you can dial that out in the Individual mode if you want.

Like the sound of that?
It sounds incredible too. I get a very stern ticking off when I describe the 'noise' coming from the V8. "It is not noise," I'm told, "it is sound." A subtle distinction but one that matters to AMG, and its customers. Via the three active flaps in the exhaust it plays a proper tune, avoiding that awkward quiet/LOUD transition many similar systems have.

Sensibly Mercedes has customised the settings for the cars we drive on the road to disable Drift Mode; as it is the 4Matic+ system is massively confidence inspiring on these dry Portugese roads, the damping usable in all of its modes and the satisfyingly positive front-end allied to confidence inspiring steering weight all helping to make 612hp seem an entirely sensible proposition. When it completely isn't.

As we find on the track when we get to enjoy the full mentalist side. With Bernd setting the pace (OK, clearing off into the distance) there's little time for exploring the settings; rather it's Race for everything, ESP to Sport and give it all it's got. Only there's a problem. Down the back straight the ESP light is ablaze and the car feels held back on a choke chain, even at the straight and level. Bernd has disappeared by this point, obviously. Later the AMG guys look confused; rubber pick-up or imbalanced tyre pressures from the two previous fast right-handers are considered as culprits. In the moment there's only one thing for it though: ESP fully off.

Full beans
Now we're getting our full quota, the E63's 4Matic+ meaning it's less intimidating than the speeds suggest it should be. Globally 90 per cent of the previous E63 were 4Matics, right-hand drive markets like the UK sticking with RWD only. Previously 4Matic was locked out to 31:69 front to rear but the new 4Matic+ system is fully variable, this and the electronic locking diff meaning the car can approach the corner with everything 'open' to help turn-in and then progressively tighten things up as the power comes in.

If you're greedy with your entry speed it will push on but, once you've got the nose into the turn, the E63 is ready to rotate into enough oversteer to give you a sense of being rear-driven. While tactfully pulling the car straight and deploying that awesome firepower into forward motion. In Drift Mode let's just say understeer can be successfully dialled out via your right foot. Playful is probably a bit strong but it's adjustable, exploitable and far less intimidating than it has any right to be. With nine gears and such a spread of torque it takes a while to adjust to choosing the right ratio - a second gear hairpin is, by rights, a third or fourth gear corner now. Shifts through the lock-up clutch auto are crisp and fast though and, yes, it'll bounce off the limiter in manual mode. All the while sounding absolutely epic.

Then for the way home it'll slip back into wafting mode, cut to four cylinders when required (a graphic on the dash your only sign this is happening) and do everything you'd want of big, powerful Mercedes saloon. The brute force of the E63's performance is astonishing. Almost more so is the range over which it can be enjoyed and AMG's skill in getting the most out of technology without forgetting it needs to be fun too.

Your move BMW...

Drift mode demonstration


: 3,982cc, twin-turbocharged V8
Transmission: AMG Speedshift MCT 9-speed, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 571@5,750-6,500rpm/612@5,750rpm-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 553@2,250-5,000rpm/627@2,500rpm-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.5sec/3.4sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited, raised to 186mph with optional AMG Driver's Package)
Weight: 1,950kg/1,955kg (EU, including 75kg driver)
MPG: 32.1 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 203g/km
Price: TBC; UK deliveries summer 2017













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Comments (72) Join the discussion on the forum

  • nickwilcock 30 Nov 2016

    'Drifting' is juvenile nonsense. Quite why AMG provides such an option is unclear; why disable the safety of 4WD in such an overpowered car just to destroy your tyres?

    Those who want to mess about in such a puerile manner should go and find themselves a secondhand Caterham Se7en.

  • popeyewhite 30 Nov 2016

    Yes it's completely ludicrous. Why oh why are they limiting it to 612 bhp when the internals can easily handle >700?

  • Cupramax 30 Nov 2016

    nickwilcock said:
    'Drifting' is juvenile nonsense. Quite why AMG provides such an option is unclear; why disable the safety of 4WD in such an overpowered car just to destroy your tyres?
    Because Clarkson & Tiffany Dell.

  • Dan Trent 30 Nov 2016

    Well I enjoyed it*


    • Yes, with the luxury of an entire pit garage full of spare Pirellis waiting for when we were done, etc... I know, I know.

  • J4CKO 30 Nov 2016

    Cupramax said:
    Because Clarkson & Tiffany Dell.
    They can't win really, 612 BHP is too much for two tyres to deal with, even on bone dry tarmac, so they give it 4wd, but people will say understeer, boring, not lairy enough for an AMG, may as well buy an Audi, so they add some lairy back in, most will never use it but it's a nod to traditional AMG lunacy.

    BMW are going more AWD orientated as well, no point having 300 to 600 Bhp when half of it is redundant a lot of the time.

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