You know what the best wake-up call in the world is? It's not your favorite radio station, nor is it the tender embrace of family or even a puppy licking your face until you stir. It is, in fact, a 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 with 612 horsepower singing the song of its people. I know this, because to get to the new Mercedes-AMG E63, I flew from London to Portugal on two hours' sleep. When I plonked myself into the car, I was barely awake, but when I fired it up, brain caffeine happened.
Before we get to the noisy stuff, it's time for a refresher on the many toys that come with the E-Class. The car we drove earlier this year claims to be the most intelligent on the road, and the E63 is no different. It comes with all the tech you get on the standard car, including the semi-autonomous(ish) Drive Pilot and its sibling suite of gadgets.
Drive Pilot can do a lot of the boring bits of driving for you. It'll follow cars at up to 130 miles per hour and keep a safe distance from them, and even read traffic signs and adjust speed accordingly. Mercifully, you can deactivate that last bit if you really like speeding. Steering Pilot will keep you in your lane when you can't be bothered to, which is a handy thing when the drudgery of traffic makes you want to scream at small animals, children and the elderly.
The car can also brake for you, assist with evasive steering, and, if it detects you're about to have a crash (front or rear), it'll pretension your seat belt and ready itself -- and you -- for a shunt. It can be a bit overeager to step in, though. When I was driving toward a cameraman, it thought I was going to plow straight into him and decided to drop the anchors and pin me to my seat. Better to be safe than sorry?
Stepping inside the E63 is a treat. The standard E-Class cabin is a thing of beauty, but giving it the AMG treatment has only added appeal. AMG badges are thrown around the place, nods to its performance and heritage are evident. The sport seats are comfortable and super adjustable. Everyone should be able to find a position that suits them.
Most impressive is the dual-screen setup. Much like Audi's Virtual Cockpit, the E63's instrument binnacle is actually a 12.3-inch LCD that can be configured to your aesthetic preference and displays about as much information as you could ever need.
The center console gets another 12.3-inch LCD, and it's hooked up to Mercedes' COMAND infotainment. It's big, offers great clarity and it works well enough. I've never found COMAND as intuitive to use as Audi's MMI or BMW's iDrive -- the latest iteration of which is even better than before. The touchpad control never really seems as precise as it should, which is a letdown.
The E63 is comfortable and has more than enough space to keep you and your family happy while hauling a trunkload of stuff. A wagon is on the way as well, so your dog can also experience more than 600 horses on the highway.
The big change in this E63 over previous models is that it's all-wheel drive only. Previously, AMG would give a standard car a ton more power and suspension tweaks to make it lairy at speed, but with this much grunt on board? AWD all the way. The 4Matic+ system puts power where it needs to be for maximum speed and grip. Where once your E63 might've stepped out on you mid-bend, causing the traction control light to angrily flash at you, the car will now guide you along skid free and with a big grin on your face.
Unless you activate the E63 S Drift Mode, that is. This sends the power to the rear wheels only and allows you to destroy as many back tires as you can afford in as little time as possible. Mercedes-AMG doesn't want to ignore its past. No sir.
The E63 comes with a few driving modes. Individual allows you to set the car up as you see fit. Comfort softens the car for smooth driving. Sport tightens things up and simultaneously slackens the leash on various safety watchdogs. Sport Plus more so. Race mode's a bit of a hero mode. It activates Sport Handling mode so you can slide around a little before being scooped up by an electronic nanny.
Sport and Sport Plus were the most fun to drive over a few hundred kilometers. They allowed the sedan to feel taut and agile. The nine-speed automatic reacted quickly (and loudly), throttle response was super sharp and the steering was perfectly weighted, but a little vague in places. It also felt a touch springy as you entered a corner. Fine on the way out, though. Keeping the car's systems set to angry did show off how brilliant its chassis is, though. It's endlessly adjustable mid bend, without any fear of the end wishing to swap places with the front.
Braking isn't ignored in the new E63, either. The pedal feel is pretty stellar -- it's easy to modulate and offers great feel. With more than 4,000 pounds to stop, that's a good thing.
Thanks to adaptive air suspension, the Merc corners wonderfully. Paired with well-weighted (but oddly springy) steering and that AWD system, you find yourself going into corners faster and faster, your grin growing with each apex.
Unsurprisingly, this new E63 S from Affalterbach is a fine steer. Most people won't experience that, but they will experience its growl. A 4.0-liter twin turbocharged V8 provides not only 612 hp and 624 pound-feet of torque in its uplevel S trim, it also delivers a noise that's simply anti-social. Standard E63 models make do with a paltry 563 and 553, respectively, but who's kidding whom? You're going to splurge for the S because that's what Mercedes officials say most buyers do. In for a dime, in for a hundred-thousand dollars. Maybe. Mercedes hasn't released pricing for this new model yet, let alone fuel economy estimates.
While this 4.0 may not be as sonorous as its naturally aspirated forbears, it's still indecently loud and delightful to hear. So much so that those of an immature disposition will pop the gearbox into manual, knock it into second or third and play with the throttle. The cracks and bangs are worth the regular trips to the fuel station.
Fear not, the noise does come with some speed. Wonderful, brain-fizzing speed. Mercedes says the E63 S will crack the 0-62mph run in 3.3 seconds, making it the quickest-accelerating car AMG has ever produced. That's something. Should you have a runway and some spare time, it'll top out at 155mph, unless you throw even more money at Mercedes -- then you get 186mph.
During some hot laps on Portimau's finest raceway, not only would it power out of a corner with gusto, but the E63 S didn't seem to run out of puff on the straights. I saw 140 mph (ish -- my mph-to-kph conversion isn't that hot at speed) and the car showed no sign of running out of juice.
Do you really need this much power in a sedan? Really? Frankly... yes. Because it's awesome.
A few things did irk. The steering, as mentioned earlier, is springy and not as communicative as I'd like it to be. Perhaps the switch to AWD has taken some of the feel out.
The COMAND system isn't as good as its rivals' interfaces, either. It's not a terrible system by any means, though.
Sadly, there's one thing that does rather spoil this car's long-distance usability: tire roar. Loads of it. On what seemed like decent tarmac, noise positively spilled into the cabin. The rougher the road got, the louder it got. Wind noise was intrusive, too.
Irritants aside, the E63 S is a fantastic car. The next BMW M5 and Audi RS 6 have a job on their hands to best it. It's powerful, characterful and a handful if you want it to be. But only if you want it to be. The rest of the time, it's good ol'-fashioned fun.
N.B. Mercedes-AMG has confirmed that the only version of the E63 to go on sale in the US will be the E63 S. DRIFT MODE FOR ALL!