I went to Portimão to drive the new Mercedes-AMG E63 S.
It felt good. It felt really, really good.
These days youngsters have taken to communicating through their phones and computers more than through actual conversation. One of the expressions that has spread like a Kardashian family tweet is OMG. That means “Oh My God” and it is used to express shock and awe.
I have a new expression that shows how it feels to drive an E63 S on the Portimão circuit when it is pouring down with rain: it’s AMG. As in “Aaaahhhhh My God!” Shock and awe alright.
The last time I had chased Bernd Schneider – five-time DTM champion – down a track, the sun was shining and the tarmac was as dry as the Sahara in the middle of summer. Not this time though. In a rather unusual turn of events, the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve was washed with rain.
Adding insult to injury, I was sitting in a 612 horse power, 1875kg saloon and told to ‘keep close’ to Mr. Schneider. Yeah, right. I did have fun though. Lots of fun. And after 10 laps in an E63 AMG, I was ready to forgive Mercedes for selling millions of front-wheel drive diesel hatchbacks – this is a magnificent car, a true world class Mercedes.
So, basic programme: go to Faro airport, pick up a new Mercedes-AMG E63 S, drive to the Portimão circuit via some very twisty roads, burn some rubber on the track and finish the day at the fabulous Conrad Hotel in Almancil. There are worse ways to spend the time.
Mercedes have been implementing a new strategy for AMG in the past three years that is meant to have an AMG version on virtually every model they produce, with only some minor exceptions (a B Class AMG would be pointless for example).
However, some of them already have a prestigious lineage and the E Class is certainly one of those: for decades it has been fighting against the BMW M5 for the title of the fastest, most exciting executive saloon on the planet. The new Merc is likely to give the chaps in Munich a very, very big migraine, because they have thrown the kitchen sink at the new E63 and came up with a seriously good car.
Everything is new, everything is state of the art and everything works together in a way that creates an extraordinary driving experience. At the heart of the E63 AMG is a 4 litre twin-turbo V8 with two power outputs. The standard version boasts 571 horse power, the top S version a staggering 612 horse power. Yes, you read that right: a Mercedes E Class with 612 horse power that any of us – money no object, of course – can drive on the street and do the shopping run in.
For any rational measure, 612 horse power is a lot. A rally car has 300. A low-grid F1 has 850. Neither one of them has to abide by road safety regulations, neither one of them has backseats, a boot, a navigation system so advanced it knows your backyard better than you do and can go for thousands of kilometres without visiting a workshop.
Mercedes also thought that 612 ponies would be too much to deal with and gave the E63 the perfect solution: four-wheel drive. That is why the whole name of the model we drove is Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+. The 4Matic+ stands for the latest generation Mercedes four-wheel drive system and it works a treat. Since the weather was a little wetter than we are accustomed to around these parts, the Mercedes shines even brighter.
I am fairly certain I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I did, both on some really nice mountain roads as well as on the track, with a rear-wheel drive, 612 horse power car. The 4Matic+ and the clever electronics are always on your side and allow so many liberties with the throttle that at times you feel like Bernd Schneider. At least until you start following him around the circuit and he is gone within three corners. There is even a Drift Mode that sends power exclusively to the back wheels, for when you are feeling Berndy. It’s all very clever stuff.
The nine-speed automatic gearbox is meant to balance sporty pretensions with high fuel efficiency and for the most part it manages it, although when you wring that last bit of revs from the engine there is still a small delay between the moment you touch the paddle and the actual gear change. A minor detail, really. When you are just gliding along, a cylinder deactivation system turns the V8 in a four-cylinder so you can do your part in saving the world from fossil fuels.
The biggest criticism I have regarding the E63 S is this: it’s so fast, so capable, so good, you can be doing 200km/h and feel nothing. In fact, for many times during the test-drive, when me and my partner for the day were just chatting about our thoughts on the car, we found ourselves two or three times above the speed limit. Sometimes more. The problem was, it was unintentional – the car just starts gaining momentum and you are a sitting duck to police radars.
Other than that, well, this is probably the most electrifying executive saloon on the planet right now. It is beautifully built, highly advanced in terms of info tech, safety features and good old automotive engineering. The chassis, in particular, is such a step forward it seems two decades have passed, not seven years, since the last E63 was launched.
Prices are yet to be announced but a well-specced E63 S will be nudging €200,000. Not cheap, but you get a lot of car for the money. A lot of a great, great car.
By Guilherme Marques