“Ride-sharing, in the old days, was everyone hopping in the VW bus to see [the Grateful Dead’s] Jerry [Garcia]. Now it’s about getting a seat on a King Air 350i ”
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG
There's likely no finer V8 engine in car showrooms today than the 6.2-liter monster that propels the AMG version of Mercedes' newest E-class. The rising snarls and staccato twitches of the tach will curl the hairs on the back of your neck. It can drop-kick your rump down the highway with a savagery that the four-door body barely hints at. Sure, the AMG dressing drapes some early-warning touches on this wolf in mutton duds. But perhaps most memorable is the engine's relentless willingness to deliver prodigious and startling power. The E targets the same crowd that BMW and Audi put in their crosshairs with, respectively, the 5-series and A6-people who are a few rungs up the earnings ladder from the junior account personnel who pilot C-classes, 3-series and A4s. Senior management plump for the Mercedes E, BMW 5 and Audi A6, and their bosses settle into the spirited luxury of the S-class, 7-series and A8.
Then there's the recently more crowded niche between the senior-management and boss strata into which the Germans dangle this E63 AMG, the M5 and the S6, now joined by Cadillac's 556-hp CTS-V [see review in our February/ March 2009 issue-Ed.] and the 510-hp Jag XFR. There's still time for these buyers to risk a serious splurge while they have the youth to relish pulling some gs on the off-ramp, and these modestly proportioned sedans won't upstage the boss in the company parking lot.
The 6.2-liter engine (which this car shares with the SL63 AMG) is not the whole story since the seven-speed transmission through which it assaults the blacktop is equally capable. Instead of a torque converter, it has a ZF wet-plate clutch pack. In manual mode its paddles crack off gearshifts in 100 milliseconds, and throttle-lifted downshifts from fifth to fourth make enough explosive noises out of the pipes to suggest that the car is flinging chunks of raw meat in its wake. Full-throttle redline upshifts sound like a grenade going off. The noises are savage, visceral, sure to incense people who don't really like cars and just the ticket for those who do. ("Must find a tunnel and open the windows!") A "race start" transmission setting gets the most acceleration possible by minimizing wheel spin.
Instead of using the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, select "D" and Sport Plus mode and the box predicts your every move as if it were suddenly hot-wired into your synapses. Brake hard into a corner and the transmission will crack off two downshifts just as your head is telling you to get on the stick and clutch. No slush box here, and if this is the technology in place when taps for the three-pedal manual shift reaches a final and undeniable crescendo, I think I can live with it. I never thought this diehard stick-shifter would ever concede that, but that's how good the iBoxes have got. Still, though, I hear that insistent voice asking where's the skill, the making music, in paddles, console levers and computers?
The E63 AMG reminds the Mercedes faithful that, just as we were told at Sunday school, good things come to those who wait. Impatient buyers forked over the $200,000 sticker price on an S65 AMG three years ago to get not only the S-class top dog's 604-hp twin-turbo V12 but also a slew of ingenious technologies that can now trick out a $100,000 E63 AMG, among them Distronic cruise control (which maintains a distance from the vehicle ahead rather than merely holding a speed); Night View Assist; inflatable side bolsters on the front seats (rather like a jet fighter pilot's g suit, they inflate to counter the centripetal force that pushes the driver to the outside of a turn and are wonderful at making the driver and car as one); and adaptive AMG sports suspension. But wait, there's more-stuff that wasn't ready for prime time when the S65 AMG was top dog, such as blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist and autonomous emergency braking.
Base price on the E63 AMG we tested was $85,750, but the total ended up at $101,195 with the options listed above plus 19-inch wheels and Pirelli P Zero tires ($2,250); the $4,900 package that added GPS, traffic, voice control, 6-GB music register, heated and active ventilated front seats, drive-dynamic driver seat with massage, rear-view camera, bi-xenon headlamps with active curve illumination, adaptive high-beam assist, keyless on/off and electronic trunk closer; the $2,900 driver-assistance package (Distronic, auto braking, lane keeping and blind-spot assist); and a $1,700 guzzler tax for Uncle Sam's tank. Other clever/reassuring stuff in the base price included a driver drowsiness monitor and stalwart Mercedes safety items such as active head restraints, pretensioning seatbelts and rollover sensor.
Standard performance/handling gear on the E63 AMG includes the engine and transmission as already described, adaptive AMG sport suspension with springs and struts in the front and air springs in the back, AMG high-performance brakes with 14.2-inch rotors on all four corners gripped by six-piston calipers in the front and four pistons in the back, and an exhaust system to let the 6.2 liters holler.
Gripes: the positioning of the dynamic seat controls makes them hard to see when you're seated, and the seat heat was slow to be felt (we conducted this test in January). To the eye of this beholder, also, the exterior of the new E-class in general is a little over-embellished with creases, and the gills, mesh and other doodads on the AMG border on boy-racer unsubtle-the fat tires would suffice.
These quibbles will vanish, however, once you get stuck into the driving with this sure-footed, seriously quick and satisfying sports sedan.