The Mercedes E-Class has never been sexy. Until now. In the pumped-up, slickly-finished form of the E63 AMG, here is a car that makes its rivals look a little one-dimensional. With a 557PS power punch, it's devastatingly quick with a soundtrack that's utterly addictive.
If you want the best executive super saloon, you bought the BMW M5. That was the way it was and has always been until now. Yes, you could buy an Audi RS6 or a Jaguar XFR and not look as if you'd made a complete horlicks of your car buying decision but if you wanted the best, you turned to Munich. Mercedes-Benz had made some hot versions of the E-Class down the years but they were often all go and no subtlety, heavy, uncommunicative things that didn't reward the skilled driver. Yes, they worked well if you had an autobahn to crack along, but they seemed the automotive equivalent of a flat track bully. AMG, the go-faster division of Mercedes, has come good in recent years. It has engineered tactility and subtlety into its products and nothing shows this off better than the transformation of the AMG-branded E-Class. This latest E63 AMG is a vehicle that doesn't just deserve consideration. It's now the car that the rest of the class has to measure up to. It's quite a big ask.
So, the basics first. Up front is a twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 that develops 557PS. That's enough to catapult two tonnes of car to 62mph in just 4.2 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. If that's not enough, then you can specify an 'S' model which ups the power by a further 28PS to 585PS. The AMG RIDE CONTROL sports suspension features steel springs up front and a full air suspension system at the rear axle. Some 700Nm of torque arrives at said back axle via an AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT-7 transmission which features four modes - "C" (Controlled Efficiency), "S" (Sport), "S+" (Sport plus) and "M" (Manual). In "C" mode, the ECO start/stop function is active, the shift action is softer and the car typically starts in second gear. The engine and transmission are far more responsive in "S", "S+" and "M" mode; in addition, the ECO start/stop function is deactivated. An automatic double-declutching function for downshifting and the RACE START function are also featured. Little prepares you for quite how well all this technology hangs together. The E63 AMG feels properly well-sorted. It's not one of those cars that shrinks around you, but so confidence-inspiring is the chassis that you don't feel intimidated in driving this car hard and the torque makes mincemeat of hills or slower traffic. It's utterly addictive. What's more, unlike some of the Mercedes' rivals, you feel that the technology is working with you rather than serving to baffle or mask shortcomings. Here's the new class benchmark.
The E63 AMG doesn't major on in-you-face brashness. When you run down the list of exterior changes compared to a standard E-Class, there's quite a few of them but the end effect is remarkably subtle. Perhaps the exhausts are the most overt giveaway, especially if you've chosen the badge delete option, but there are a few other things that you'll need to look out for. Like the 18-inch ten-spoke AMG alloy wheels painted in titanium grey with 360mm brake discs peeking through the spokes. The front wheel arches are 34mm wider with cut outs on the trailing edge. There's an AMG front grille and splitter and high-performance LED headlight units that offer absolutely remarkable night clarity. Flowing light elements within the headlamps ensure that the "four-eyed" look which is typical of the E-Class has been retained. The nappa leather AMG sports seats are electrically adjustable and heated and there's an IWC-branded analogue clock inset into the dash. The AMG performance steering wheel has a flattened top and bottom section with perforated leather at the sides and aluminium shift paddles just behind. The AMG Drive Unit in the centre console incorporates the gear shifter, along with controls for the transmission, the ESP functions, the suspension set-up and the AMG programme.
E63 AMG buyers have a choice between a standard 557PS version of this car or an 'S' version with a potent 585PS. For the first, you'll need to budget around £75,000. For the second, the budget will need to be in the region of £85,000. This is for the saloon bodystyle. In either case, expect to add a premium of around £1,800 if you want the estate variant. The asking prices are hardly insignificant but can seem a bit of a bargain in the context of the ability and workmanship that you're buying. Next to, say, a Porsche 911, the E63 AMG looks a lot of car for the cash. Standard equipment includes Collision Prevention Assist, a radar-based warning system with adaptive brake-assist systems. The sheer amount of sensor technology that can be specified into the E-Class - with both long and short range radars and stereo camera with smart software that recognises pedestrians at road intersections - is quite astonishing. As, indeed, are the fully integrated social media functions that can be specified. Got an iPhone? You can integrate pretty seamlessly. It's just a shame you can't as yet on the much bigger selling Android smart phone platform.
Mercedes makes great play of the fact that the E63 AMG has the most efficient powerplant of its type but then fails to define exactly what that 'type' is. Nevertheless, efficiency measures aren't as dreadful as you might expect. The specification sheet claims an average of 28.5mpg, with emissions rated at 232g/km. On an admittedly hilly test route and being pedalled rather enthusiastically, we returned 12mpg. Drive with a little more restraint and you'd probably do a lot better. That emissions figure is excellent and isn't far off what we used to consider a decent average for something like a V6 Ford Mondeo. Residual values are some of the best in the sector although you will have to keep an eye on options pricing if you want to keep a cap on your pence per mile figures.
The Mercedes-AMG E63 firmly establishes itself at the top of the executive super saloon class. It's not perfect though. I'd like a little less weight in the chassis and a gearchange that wasn't quite so reluctant to override the driver on manual downshifts, but other than that, it barely puts a foot wrong. It looks good, it rides brilliantly for such a focused car and the chassis balance is extremely good, allowing the keen driver to unleash the E63 AMG's playful side. The interior is beautifully finished with some of the best sports seats I've ever encountered and a quality of materials that you'd hope to find in a car that carries this sort of price tag. As long as you can afford the running costs, the E63 AMG, especially in estate guise, is a car that can do virtually every task without ever appearing to be a master of none. It's hard to see how Mercedes could have pitched this one better.