Portimao, Portugal - Often the discussion comes up among petrolheads, as a counterpoint to the typical “dream garage” fantasy-trip: What if your fairy godmother allowed you just one car to own, and keep for the next five years?
The new Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ will definitely be on many such lists, as it represents a best-of-all-worlds compromise. Here is a car that can accelerate like a Ferrari California, and yet accommodate four people with acres of head and leg-room and swallow up 540 litres of luggage.
Yet, when you turn it into a bend on a track day, despite weighing close to 1900kg, the E63 S steers arrow-like for the apex with a precision that would not disgrace many a hyped-up hypercar.
Bombing flat-out down the pit straight at the fantastic Autodromo Internacional do Algarve, just outside Portimao in Portugal on the E63 S’s international launch, one was amazed to find that this full-sized sedan had reached its top speed some three-quarters way down the straight, well before the braking area. A quick glance at the speed readout checked a speed of just under the 250km/h mark. Oh for the AMG drivers pack upgrade that raises top speed to 300km/h or more!
It’s amazing, driving this car on a world-class race track, because you reach this sort of speed with little apparent effort, and you still have so much more braking power and grip to play with too.
Everything seems to happen with no stress whatsoever. The car simply heads for the apex, and if you feed in the throttle gradually and open the steering appropriately on the exit, it just gathers momentum at a rapid yet somehow benign rate as you head up a steep hill that seems to point to the sky. Hey, are we having fun yet?
Manic twin-turbo V8, AWD control
A further examination of the Merc-AMG E63 S’s spec list reveals at least some of the clues to this stellar level of ability. As far as speed goes, the 4-litre V8 (used across a range of AMG products now) has been massaged for this E63 installation with a pair of twin-scroll turbos and various internal tweaks to increase power to 450kW. That output is right there in race-car territory! Then there is the torque, with 850Nm on tap from 2500 to 4000rpm, in that sweet spot right where you need it when accelerating out of corners.
The official 0-100km/h time for the E63 S is listed at 3.4 seconds, veritably a supercar-level time. The answer to the sweet handling lies in the new AMG Performance 4Matic nine-speed transmission and its special fully-torque-variable front axle system.
Not only are the ratios spaced super-close together, but the new 4Matic+ system allows the torque split to the front wheels to be variable from zero to 50 percent.
In the Sport + mode, the system detects when the driver is pitching a car into a tight bend at racing speeds and mid-corner, as you climb on the throttle, it shifts all the torque to the rear wheels to affect a rear-wheel-drive car behaviour.
The system, at a stroke, does away with the typical front-end wash-out suffered by cars fitted with traditional all-wheel-drive systems.
Then once you have hooked up the car mid corner and are dialling out steering lock on the exit, the system feeds a portion of torque through to the front wheels for maximum grip on the exit. It works seamlessly, and gives the car an agility that is almost out of keeping with its large sedan body.
It does comfort mode too
Out on the road, the car is as composed or as aggressive as you want it to be. Exiting the Portimao circuit we came upon some huge dips in the road at speed and braced ourselves for the shock wave through into the cabin.
But the suspension, based on the E-Class air suspension set-up, handled it beautifully. Probably a good thing that we were in ‘comfort-mode’ at that stage, though.
The stock E-Class body shell has been beefed up for this AMG model, both visually and from an engineering perspective.
The front end has a suitably aggressive front bumper-air-dam section with huge scoops to feed brake ducts, intercoolers, oil coolers and the like. The bonnet has also been re-configured to give a classic race-orientated ribbed look, indicating much power lurking within.
At the rear the boot lid is adorned with a cute, sliver-like spoiler which speaks of subtle performance. Those quad AMG tailpipes, though, can be tuned via the cockpit to be anything but subtle! And of course there are the beautiful forged alloy 20-inch wheels, in black or silver.
The suspension has been beefed up in the spring and damper department and the rear axle is an AMG-specific item allowing for a wider track to accommodate 20-inch wheels and 295/30 rubber. The fronts are slightly narrower.
Extra bracing for the body shell is inserted front and rear. The engine mounts are also of the dynamic variety to provide smooth isolation when cruising but more rigid powertrain location when needed for spirited motoring.
The cabin is pretty much a four-seater as the rear seats also have bucket-like contouring, and the front seats are AMG-sports items that hug the body. The AMG steering wheel is suede-covered, and the S model has, as standard, the AMG Track Pace dash-read-out which enables you to measure your 0-100 km/h time and analyse your driving performance on a race track.
As an all-rounder, this car is quite amazing. It is satisfying in a suave lux-limo context when it needs to be, and yet ruthlessly efficient and exciting when you dial in one of the sport programmes on the console. And consumption, driven moderately, should be in the 10.5 to 11.5 litres per 100km range. On light throttle the engine switches to four-cylinder operation mode.
Mercedes-AMG has got that throaty, gargling, rasping V8 engine note down better than any other manufacturer at present. And this car has the subtle sporty looks befitting of classy high-speed execu-jet-style ground missile.
The price, when it arrives here in the second-quarter of 2017 will be R1 849 900, excluding CO2 tax (which has yet to be finalised but should be in the region of R5900).