From the first slither of the back end off a damp roundabout, I knew. I knew that this Mercedes-AMG E63 S and I were going to get along just fine. I knew that I’d been worrying about nothing.
See, the E63 S wasn’t a car I’d been looking forward to driving. Sure, as a technical achievement it’s astonishing: a big, near-two tonne saloon car that’ll do 0-62mph in 3.5 seconds. For context, that’s two tenths faster than a Ferrari Enzo.
But on the road where its full 603bhp can’t be fully exploited, and dicking around with its rear-drive only Drift Mode is realistically not an option, surely this five metre-long, all-wheel drive missile would just feel over-powered, over-capable and too damn excessive? Like opening a particularly stubborn jar of jam with an AK47?
Thankfully not. In fact, during a five day road test I enjoyed it more than any super saloon I’ve ever driven. Yes, part of my time with the E63 involved driving it back from Germany on several bits of de-restricted autobahn (where traffic and intermittent rain mean I could ‘only’ manage 145mph), but back in the UK, the fun didn’t subside.
I’ve been trying to work out why the E63 doesn’t feel too much on the road as I expected it too, and I’ve narrowed it down to two main factors. The first we’ve sort of touched on already: the all-wheel drive system.
I was prepared for the E63 to have vast reserves of grip, with the limits of the system being impossible to safely reach without a ruddy great airfield at your disposal. But no. It’s the most rear-led all-wheel drive system I’ve ever sampled, and even in comfort mode, the E63 seems jolly keen to wiggle its behind. You don’t need something like that aforementioned greasy roundabout for such shenanigans, either: even in the dry, the chassis moves around beautifully. Why can’t Audi make its often understeer-prone all-wheel drive systems like this?
Next up, we have the automatic gearbox. Yes, nine speeds sounds ridiculous on paper, but it results in the first few ratios being brilliantly brief. First gear is done and dusted at just 24mph, and you’ll find yourself shifting into third at around 45mph.
Because of this, you can chop through a few gears (something the slick ‘box will do with ruthless efficiency) without reaching inappropriate speeds, ensuring you enjoy the full repertoire of the 4.0-litre, twin-turbo V8. And good God, what an engine it is. It’s the most powerful version of the ‘M178’ eight-banger we’ve yet seen, and it makes the the E63 frighteningly fast.
If you have it spinning at anything over 2500rpm, it’ll happily throw you back in your seat and make the outside world nothing more than an inconsequential blur. It also sounds better than any of the previous 4.0-litre-powered AMGs I’ve driven - they tend to sound a bit weird and synthetic about 3000rpm or so, but there’s something almost Jaguar F-Type R-esque about the brassy, gnarly tune the E63 belts out of its tailpipes.
It’s not easy to find fault with the rest of the package, either. The steering is direct, delivers some feedback, and it’s actually well weighted - AMG seems to finally be moving away from the light, nervous-feeling setups its been obsessed with in recent years.
The only real blots on the E63’s report card concern the brake pedal, and the ride comfort. The brakes themselves I don’t have a problem with (although a little more stopping power for the two-tonne brute wouldn’t go amiss), but the top part of the pedal’s travel doesn’t seem to do a whole lot, forcing you to bury your foot hard to get the brakes to bite. Granted, I do spend a lot of time bitching about over servo’d stoppers, but this goes too far the other way, robbing you of a little confidence when approaching a corner at speed.
When it comes to the ride, it’s borderline unacceptable in Sport Plus on crappy UK roads, and even in Comfort mode it doesn’t settle down as much as you’d like. That said, I coped with my 500 mile schlep home from Germany in it just fine.
That’s it, really, because the E63 is - so far as we can see -the best super saloon of any size right now. Maybe ever - it’s a triumph. It’s like a modern, tech-led muscle car, marrying - much like the AMG GT C we drove the day before taking this thing home - sophistication with sheer silliness. How it can drive the way it does given that it’s a vast executive saloon with a plush, tech-festooned cabin is beyond me.
You can even have it as an estate if you want, which strikes me as the car for all situations. Whether it’s confronted with a road trip, a hardcore Ikea session or a zombie apocalypse, it’d tackle the task in hand with ease. I used to think the RS6 was the best car for the ‘one ride for life’ remit, but compared to this, it feels blunt and lardy. But how about the new (saloon only) BMW M5, which has also gone all-wheel drive? Well, we’ll have to wait and see on that one, given that the only way you can currently drive it is in the laughably unrealistic world of Need For Speed.
For now, the E63 S is top dog. An angry yet friendly, dependable yet boisterous dog. I want one badly.