Every now and then I’m privileged to get behind the wheel of a car that offers such amazing performance; words are tough to find to fully describe the experience. The new Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG is such a car. Its only real downside as far as I found is that it’s really expensive.
The E-Class is the bread-and-butter of the Mercedes lineup, and last year the world was treated to an all-new example that represents the ninth generation of the car. From taxis in far-flung parts of the globe, to the “safe” choice for those moving up the ladder of driving prestige, the E-Class might not always be the most exciting sedan in its class, but it always has lots of takers.
For 2010 the selection is quite broad with the E, as Mercedes-Benz launched a coupe version right alongside the 4-door and will soon offer a convertible, a wagon, and even a clean diesel sedan later this year. And for those of hearty appetite in the performance department, as well as hearty financial status, the ultimate E-Class is waiting to be released from its cage.
Any Mercedes product wearing the AMG badge is a vehicle that’s been essentially re-engineered — from its nearly over-engineered beginnings – to perform at a level that even its most skilled owners will probably never even attempt. From the hand-assembled engine, to the racing-grade brakes, to chassis upgrades, an otherwise competent car becomes a supercar.
In the case of the E63, the V8 engine turns out a whopping 518 horsepower from 6.2 liters of displacement. What’s amazing is that it’s done without the aid of a supercharger or turbocharger. Just gobs of air and fuel getting sucked in, and gobs of power going to the rear wheels.
The engine is just the tip of the performance iceberg, of course. The 7-speed automatic transmission is also treated to a lot of engineering too; offering multiple personalities for whatever driving task may be at hand. Mercedes calls it “Speedshift,” and it lets you set a dial for the way you’d like it to perform. The default is “C” for comfort, but then “S” and “S+” settings allow the gears to be shifted quicker and in conjunction with what the engine and chassis are doing, as if a skilled racing driver were helping you shift.
Another switch controls the Adaptive Damping Suspension, which stiffens up the shock absorbers to either of two levels of extra firmness. There’s a neat new feature for this car right next to the gear lever: a button simply labeled “AMG” that essentially sets everything to “maximum” to save you the trouble of having to fiddle with each control individually. This could be nicknamed the “I’m serious!” button, as it transforms the car with one move.
The E63 doesn’t really need a lot of transforming, as even in default mode (which it goes to at every restart) the car is a stellar performer. The engine is as docile as any other built by Mercedes for everyday driving, but any extra throttle input will immediately summon a whole bunch of that hand-crafted horsepower. This is truly a Jekyll and Hyde car. Mild-mannered when you just need to travel, but downright ferocious when you want to travel very quickly.
It’s tough to come anywhere near this car’s performance potential on public roads, as this really is a car that should be exercised in a race track setting. However, I did get a chance to just kind of stick my toe in the ocean of internal combustion awesomeness in one of California’s sparse desert areas. It’s not unlike the first time you wave your fingers through the flame of a burning candle: a feeling of bravery mixed with a good dose of fear.
To play with the fire in this car, you select AMG mode, then grip the wheel firmly, as your thrill ride is about to commence. Right foot down hard on the throttle, and instantly all your physical being is mashed back into the contoured leather seat as the engine roars like a mighty lion. The transmission thrusts the car forward ever harder with each split-second gear change, the tachometer spinning rapidly toward its 7200 rpm redline again and again. Mind-boggling speed is at hand before you know it.
Time to back off. Time to settle down. The E63 then returns to its other meeker persona with a quiet murmur. A long highway journey is a cinch, with adaptive cruise control acting as a radar-guided autopilot. Fuel mileage is even acceptable too, with the 20 mpg highway rating easy to achieve and even surpass by a bit.
This ultimate E-Class is by no means cheap, as I already implied. Base price? Gulp…$85,750. Price with options, including some gee-whiz technology and a $1700 gas guzzler tax? GULP…$102,245. That’s some serious coin, even for a car that can do the job of both a luxury sedan and an exotic sports car.
But there’s got to be some way to calculate how many adrenaline rushes this car could provide over the course of ownership, then divide that into the staggering price tag. Looking at it that way, each thrill it brings to its driver really isn’t all that much, is it? I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.