Life isn’t about how much horsepower you have but how you use it. Armed with the 603-hp version of AMG’s twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 engine, Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S falls short of Dodge’s 707-hp Charger SRT Hellcat and Cadillac’s 650-hp CTS-V. (The non-S E63, which we don’t get in the United States, makes “just” 563 horses.) And yet thanks to its new nine-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic+ all-wheel drive, the AMG lays down its lesser output far more effectively than either of those rear-drive muscle machines.
Just 3.0 seconds. That’s all it takes for the E63 to launch itself to 60 mph. Four seconds later, the Mercedes is traveling 100 mph. Those acceleration times are 0.4 second and 0.2 second quicker than the five-pound-heavier Hellcat and far ahead of the 458-pound-lighter CTS-V, neatly summarizing the benefit of all-wheel drive in launching high-horsepower cars from a standstill. The preposterous list of vehicles that the E63 beats or ties to 60 mph includes Mercedes-AMG’s own GT S sports car, the McLaren 570GT, and the dozen-plus non-Turbo 991.2 Porsche 911 Carreras we’ve tested. Among four-doors, only Tesla’s Model S is quicker to 60—and just barely—while the Porsche Panamera Turbo ties the AMG but fades behind by the quarter-mile mark. BMW’s new 600-hp M5 sedan, now also with all-wheel drive, is a direct competitor that we’ve yet to test—it might come close.
Mercedes-AMG’s launch-control function is invitingly straightforward: Thumb the driving-mode switch to Sport, Sport+, or Race; hold the brake with your left foot; and depress the accelerator until the revs stabilize at 4000 rpm. When your left foot steps off the brake, the E63 rockets forward ahead of a wave of rippling V-8 noise. Our test car’s tailpipe music was enhanced by the $1250 dual-mode AMG Performance exhaust option. Some additional sound also is piped in through the speakers, but it sounds like a live recording of the actual engine, so we’ll give that trickery a pass.
Continue on to felonious speeds, and by 110 mph the E63 is reeled in by the Dodge and its advantageous power-to-weight ratio. After that, the Hellcat nips the E63 by mere tenths all the way up to 170 mph. Both cars are among the rarified few (Lamborghini’s Huracán supercar among them) capable of accelerating past that speed—and braking before running out of road—on the 1.6-mile straightaway where we conduct acceleration and braking evaluations. Our E63 did manage to outawesome the Charger’s 13-mpg fuel economy, averaging a profligate 12 mpg overall during our test.
The rest of the E63’s dynamic repertoire builds nicely on the foundation laid by its less powerful, comparison-test-winning, six-cylinder Mercedes-AMG E43 sibling. The E63’s staggered-width Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summmer tires have a 20-millimeter-larger cross section than the E43’s Pirelli P Zero Run Flats, which helped our E63 notch an additional 0.09 g of grip on the skidpad, for a sticky total of 1.01 g. That same rubber, in combination with the $8950 carbon-ceramic brake option, bolstered our test driver’s confidence in pushing for speed on our straightaway. We noted zero fade after repeated anchor drops, ultimately returning a 155-foot stop from 70 mph.
This athleticism is barely concealed on the highway, where the ride is decent and quiet in the suspension’s Comfort mode, and the steering’s well-defined on-center valley and heavy weighting make for relaxed cruising. Even so, everything about the E63 feels drumhead tight, a trigger-pull away from twitching into action. (The thin-sidewall performance tires literally are drum tight, as road impacts slap and twang through to the driver’s ears.) Switching to Sport, Sport+, or Race modes cuts through the genteel veneer, progressively skewing the E63’s ride ever more geological and shoving cocaine up the powertrain’s nose.
Drivers should come prepared to match the car’s reflexes. The new 4Matic+ all-wheel drive can send 100 percent of engine torque to the rear axle. Midcorner throttle applications provoke the rear-biased 4Matic+ system and electronically locking rear differential to initiate gentle, controllable drifts. Bigger throttle openings net larger effects. And as we discovered at this year’s Lightning Lap track test at Virginia International Raceway, where the E63 posted the fastest-ever lap time for a sedan, the chassis enthusiastically rotates off throttle, too.
Should these handling behaviors fail to result in a satisfactory rate of yaw or sufficient consumption of the rear Michelins, there’s also the E63’s Drift mode. It declutches the front axle from the transfer case, sending torque only to the rear wheels. Compared with activating launch control, initiating this process is considerably less simple: First, select Race mode, then switch the transmission to manual shifting mode. Next, press and hold the stability-control button until it switches off, pull back on both shift paddles until an “Are you sure you want to do this?” message appears in the gauge cluster, then pull back once on the right-hand paddle. Not-so-presto, you’re ready to make bad decisions with 603 horsepower, two driven wheels, and zero stability-control intervention.
Spared from predicting how much help will come from the front axle, you’ll find that applying a rubber coating to the pavement is both easier and more controllable in Drift mode. You will get no help and like it, and like it we did. You’ll also experience the new nine-speed automatic’s near instantaneous response to manual gear selections. When left to shift automatically, the nine-speed’s gear selection is impeccable, and its tall top gear keeps revs low and quiet on the freeway. Although it still uses a clutch pack in place of a torque converter as did the seven-speed it replaces (allowing for brutal launch-control starts), the new transmission exhibits low-speed behavior that is vastly improved and nearly torque-converter smooth.
As it did with previous E63s, Mercedes-AMG wraps the new model’s rage in discreet and upscale clothing. It’s the automotive equivalent of Daniel Craig’s James Bond, an anger-management head case in a tuxedo. Aside from its burbling quad exhaust pipes, wide-mouth front air intakes, and our test car’s $1700 black-painted forged-aluminum wheels, the E63 looks like any other E-class or—depending on the viewer’s distance—any Mercedes C- or S-class. Until it kicks you in the face.
There is the matter of the immoderate price. The AMG is $36,305 dearer than a Dodge Charger Hellcat and a $16,905 leap above a Cadillac CTS-V. Our test car’s additional $29,935 in extras elevated the total cost to $135,330. Call it justified, though, as this counts as downright cheap for a machine capable of reaching 60 mph so quickly (not to mention doing so many other things well). Alternatives include the $135,000 Tesla Model S P100D and the $151,050 Porsche Panamera Turbo. Price notwithstanding, if you could own just one vehicle, this would be a good choice. Plus, there’s a wagon version.
Price starting at: $105,395*
*Listed MSRP is for a AMG E 63 AMG E 63 S 4MATIC Sedan Box base trim with no options. Includes destination fee. Does not include sales tax.