We drive Mercedes' rocket powered E class.
At first it’s not easy to distinguish this car from your everyday E-class. The view over the bonnet with the three-pointed star bobbing lightly is the same, the levels of pampering inside the cabin are just as good and, on a light throttle, this E feels as well mannered as a crisply ironed English butler. Only occasionally, when you accelerate lightly, do you hear a distant rumble and wonder, “is that thunder or is it me?”, flexing your right foot a bit more to check. Then rear seat comfort is just as good as that on the standard car, this car is just as solidly built and acoustic refinement and sealing are also pretty impressive as well. And the cabin is tastefully trimmed in large swatches of suede or Alcantara leather.
However, pay more attention to the car and the slightly more athletic character shines through, especially from the suspension. The rear, for instance, doesn’t have that extra bit of suppleness all Mercs possess and, despite the rear suspension being air sprung, body control is tight and rigid; no hint of typical Merc wallow detectable here. It’s as if the the E is flexing its muscles a bit tighter.
Of course, all doubts about this being an ordinary E-class dissolve like paper in aqua regia as soon as the Affalterbach-built E63 AMG gets a whiff of an open road. Even a half-hearted prod on the accelerator rouses the beast under the bonnet, and then it’s down the gearbox and into the sweet spot of the power band, your back now glued to the seat as the E just runs away from you. Your head does a bit of a toss, you tighten your grip on the steering wheel and, then slowly, the corners of your mouth curl up in a smile. And that’s what AMG is all about, swapping that slightly haughty expression Merc owners have for a beaming smile but without getting rid of too much Mercedes-Benz character.
It all starts at the nose, where you have a more aggressive chin and wheel arches that have been pushed out, and carries on to the rear where four square stub exhausts tell you something evil is lurking under the hood. And, of course, does anyone make better wheels than AMG? The simple answer is no.
However, under the skin there are massive changes. The front struts, suspension arms and
anti-roll bars are totally changed from the standard E-class, the front track is much wider, the steering system has been made more direct and the wheels have been given a negative camber for more grip. Plenty of updates have been carried out to the rear suspension too, with a more rigid sub-frame added for greater stiffness.
The biggest change, however, lies under the hood. Here lurks a massively powerful 518bhp customised V8 that is redlined at a dizzy 8000rpm. And AMG has a custom seven-speed auto too; there’s no torque converter but a compact wet multi-plate start-up clutch that allows lightning-quick shifts.
So, when you really step on it and want to kick the tacho needle up into the loud part of the power band, mechanical fingers fly though the filing cabinet of gears and pluck exactly the ratio you are looking for. The motor now breathes in deep through individual throttle flutes, variable vales allow massive amounts of air into the combustion chamber and the beefed-up fuel system opens the floodgates. Now, among other things, your eyeballs get gently pushed back into their sockets, you experience a few violent gearshifts and the exhaust note changes from a NASCAR rumble to an angry snarl. Despite the mass of the car, 100kph can be dispatched in a scant 4.5 seconds and there is just no let up in thrust. Remember this isn’t just a 6208cc engine, it’s 6208cc of purpose-built menace. After 3500rpm, this car feels monumentally fast, with enough performance on tap to keep up with outwardly sportier cars.
And the performance is additive. This car trawls the rarified region between 180 and 200kph as easily as the standard car attains 100kph, and you simply never get the impression you are even close to running out of steam. On empty stretches of unrestricted autobahn, near AMG’s home in the sleepy town of Affalterbach in Germany, the manner in which the E63 slips regularly past 230kph with such ease is stupefying. Does this motor have a weakness? Well, not really, but I wish there was a bit more grunt below 3500rpm. But then I’m just being picky.
What’s completely vice-free though is the handling. Once you’ve configured the car right for the conditions, via the panel near the gear lever, and set the electrically adjusted side bolsters on the sports seat, this big saloon turns into something that feels as agile as a two-seater, as clichéd as it sounds. There’s masses of feel from the quick-steering system, the front end bisects ‘too pointy’ and ‘lethargic’ bang in the middle and the car gives you so much confidence and feedback that you always feel you are going too slowly. It just corners flat and the slack-free steering places the car exactly where you want it. And that’s on long corners, through tight twisties or over and around evil dips.
That the best E-class is also the most expensive at approximately Rs 1.5 crore is a bit of a shame. But if you want something understated and suave on one hand but equally hardcore and metal on the other, this one’s for you.