AMG is a youthful company — the average age of the workforce is about 28, and at 28 years old, product manager of the new E 63, Jonathan Schopp, is a consummate employee.
At the launch of the most-powerful E-Class yet, the fourth-generation 2017 model in Portugal — where Mercedes trucked over all three predecessors from Sindelfingen — Schopp and I had eyes only for ‘The Hammer’, the one that lit this whole super-saloon wick, a limousine with Persian rugs for floormats that could run as fast as a Ferrari or Porsche or Lamborghini… Back in 1988, Schopp was just a toddler when AMG released it. The Hammer was insane, but insanity prevailed. Today we test a five-seater luxury saloon with 604 horsepower.
Schopp’s first gig out of university was the Porsche 918 Spyder. Figuring “job done”, he moved to Affalterbach to the E 63, arguably as technically impressive as Zuffenhausen’s hypercar. There are consequences to young engineers and designers and marketers nurtured in a digital age of the automobile. There are so many gears and clutches in the new E 63, and differentials and drive shafts and so much torque, and all that links me to that excess is a mouse-click behind the wheel every time I try to change gear manually. AMG could’ve driven some Ghiblis or Giulias to see how shift paddles are done. I don’t blame them if they missed the Italians coming — what do the kids think is cool today anyway?
Actually love for classic cars and motoring runs all the way through AMG, whoever you talk to. Schopp winds up about Mercedes’ legendary design boss Bruno Sacco, and the W129 SL Roadsters and that whole golden era of ‘horizontal homogeneity’ and ribbed taillights. Both AMG powertrain boss Wolfgang Novak and E 63 development boss Mathias Schöttle would love to wind the clock back to less power and less weight. But this is what the customers want; they want bigger numbers and they want to all-wheel-drive all things. At current count, AMG’s line-up is 18 all-wheel-drive cars out of 23. How do you say quattro in German again?
So the new E 63 comes in two flavours the sweetest of which is S — both the base car and the S are stupendously fast. Only the S comes with an electronic rear limited-slip diff (the non-S with a mechanical unit). Only the S comes with 40 extra horsepower and a top speed governed to 300kph. Both will be in the Middle East next summer
(S arriving first) from about $140,000 (Dh515,000). Both are exclusively all-wheel drive…
Both AMG powertrain boss Wolfgang Novak and E 63 development boss Mathias Schöttle would love to wind
the clock back...
It was inevitable: competitors like Porsche’s Panamera sell overwhelmingly favouring all-wheel drive and even Maserati sees a 70 per cent take for Quattroporte Q4s. In its fourth-generation the E 63 comes with 604 horsepower from a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 shared with Mercedes’ fastest road car ‘round the ’Ring, the two-seater AMG GT-R. Except here it makes even more power, with more torque and more gears, and a quicker 0-100kph time. Without all-wheel drive it wouldn’t be able to go in a straight line. The drawback is about two-tonnes of kerb weight, and massive and incredible brakes that poof away after three laps of the Algarve circuit. Mind you, the car’s then cooled down and sent back out again with another journo at this launch, day in, day out.
Marketing rules, and just as long as the E 63 can back its claims — the claims that sell cars such as “mine’s bigger than yours” — merely once, it’s done the job. So the E 63 has to be good around a racetrack, even if less than 5 per cent of customers will ever get anywhere close. Schopp admits that only around one in 20 AMG owners track their cars and that’s your Europeans doing Nordschleife tourist laps in C 63s. For the bigger, plusher E 63 that number is lower.
And so it has to have Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s also — tyres reserved for the most extreme road cars on the market such as the AMG GT-R we mentioned and the 918 Spyder. Go for a drive in the E 63 then, any drive, and you’ll have so much tyre roar for company. On the highway, the B-roads, on narrow climbs up hills covered in blue gum trees, man it’s loud in there.
Schöttle says the new E 63 offers output with no compromises, but a noisy and harsh ride is hardly a quality. Of course if they’d put soft, comfortable tyres on there, the numbers would look all wrong, with 0-100kph in 3.9 seconds or something pathetic like that.
While the Michelins work great on track, the slower turns also uncover lots of understeer. The car displays an amazing ability to flatter any kind of ham-fisted driving. I tried, and you can’t really unsettle the all-wheel drive E 63 wrongly within the safety of a modern circuit, and the torque-splitting and -vectoring electronics do a good job of keeping the car in line without asking for extra steering input. You feel like you’re doing all the right things, all 1/20th of you.
Of course if they had put soft, comfortable tyres on there, the numbers would look
all wrong, with 0-100kph in 3.9sec...
Just as well that barely anyone will track a new E 63, because it’s better on the road. It’s easy to flow, even with its size (over 130mm longer than before) where the car feels lighter than it is and the electric steering, in Comfort mode at least, strikes a sweet spot and even allows some road vibrations through. It’s really neat for an electric system.
Through the drive modes, Sport+ is AWD-hero-mode with a safety net and Race is reserved for smokeouts, where you’ll find the Drift mode and all 604 horses at the rear. A new nine-speed transmission is a conventional torque-converter unit without the torque-converter — a second wet-clutch is responsible for start-off and saves weight doing it. Permanently dunked in delicious oil the clutch gets loads of use and brutal launches are hard to believe — zero to 100kph two-tenths quicker than the fastest Panamera Turbo.
Even with 850Nm of torque, the engine is almost a backdrop to this limo’s drivetrain. Almost… AMG puts its turbos, now twin-scroll units for the first time on the M178 V8 to lower lag, inside the V of the cylinder banks. Or rather right on top. It’s for compactness and reaction times (shorter piping), and also for reasons of packaging because two turbos hanging off the sides wouldn’t leave much space for the bits driving the front wheels. Every engine comes with a small metal plaque engraved with the name of the builder. Out on the highway the plaque may as well say Pratt & Whitney. When I first merged I was in, maybe, fourth doing 70 or so with a long empty hill ahead, and I put foot and it didn’t even bother to drop a gear and 100kph later, still in fourth, I ran out of hill. There are nine gears to choose from, but the E 63 S only needs one.
All that torque and flexibility makes it a smooth cruiser, the Mercedes side of Mercedes-AMG. Rear passengers have nearly S-Class levels of legroom. The seats are big lounge chairs and there’s enough technology onboard to offer an infinite spectrum of mood lighting colours all the way to autonomous driving in heavy traffic. Mercedes Middle East already staged a run between Dubai-Abu Dhabi in full autonomous mode with a W213 E-Class earlier this year. But how could any autopilot ever appreciate the insanity of 604bhp in a five-seater executive saloon on track tyres? And a good thing it prevailed.