2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 first drive review: The deep-knee Benz

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It's time to come clean, friends.

Don't worry, You're in a safe space here. Just admit it.

You're power-hungry.

But just how much power will it take to get your fix? 300? 400? 500?

How about 603 horsepower—stuffed into the latest, greatest version of the Benz E-Class?

Works for us. We're just back from Portugal, after a first drive in the closest thing Germany has to a muscle car: the 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S.

AMG ABCs

First things first: you know it’s an E-Class by the outline, but you know it’s an AMG by the extras. Ahead of the A-pillars, the E63’s fenders swell out two-thirds of an inch to swallow wider wheels.

The grille gets twin louvers and an AMG logo. Down below a big front splitter moves air out of the way, and side vents pierce the fenders like arrows. At the back a body-color spoiler and metallic trim cap the look.

Inside, the E63 and E63 S (more on that distinction in a bit) get a flat-bottom steering wheel and an analog clock, and hard-sided performance seats, if you want ‘em.

All the cosmetics matter when you’re stopped. When you’re moving, it’s what’s underneath that counts.

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S

Enlarge Photo
2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S

Enlarge Photo
2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S

Enlarge Photo
2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S

Enlarge Photo

In which the Hammer gets hurt

Before you get going, realize being power-hungry means not being wedded to the past. Not many memories live up to closer inspection.

In this case, it's the AMG Hammer that gets pummeled. The E63 is the spiritual descendant of that Eighties poster car--and it just pulverizes that vintage ride's bona fides.

The Hammer bore a 355-hp V-8, cost $125,000, and took 5.0 seconds to reach 60 mph. Inflation-adjusted, that $266,000 warrior looks pretty weak even against today's V-6 Camry or Ford Fusion Sport.

For less than half that Hammer price, you get today's E63 with nearly twice the horsepower, almost twice as quick.

Even in the current AMG E lineup, the E63 is a bully. Its most junior partner, the E43, totes a 396-hp twin-turbo V-6 and all-wheel drive with a fixed torque split of 31:69. Fine, but not finer.

Finer would be the standard E63, which shows up a short time after the E63 S goes on sale next summer. The 63s share an engine, but in non-S cars, it's limited by programming to 563 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, available only with a mechanically locking rear differential, and held back to a 155-mph limited top speed.

(Update: In the few hours we've been home from this drive, Mercedes has decided to only bring over the E63 S to the U.S. No weakling 563-hp model for you!)

MORE: Read our Mercedes-AMG E43 first drive

For the full-bore, full-throated E63 S, AMG dumps in all the tech tidbits in its top drawer. The 4-cylinder and 6-cylinders from the rank-and-file E-Class sedans hot-swap out for a 4.0-liter V-8 with twin-scroll twin-turbos nestled "in the valley of a hot inner V."

Yes, that's how engineers describe it. A less lewd description would be that the turbos sit between cylinder banks, where their heat stays focused and relatively isolated, while heat can dissipate on the V-8's outside flanks.

("It's the McDLT of turbo designs," chimes in our managing editor, because everything has a fast-food news peg.)

Dropped into the E-Class engine bay, the engine fires 603 horsepower twisting up peak torque of 627 pound-feet from 2,500 to 4,500 rpm. It's the most powerful E-Class ever.

It rams all that brute force through a 9-speed automatic, a wet-plate clutch standing in for the usual torque converter, coupled into a variable-split all-wheel-drive system. So powered and geared, the E63 S catapults to 60 mph in just 3.3 seconds, on to a top end of 186 mph.

It'll show off its 7000-rpm redline when you engage launch control. To get there, you just dial the car into Race mode, then by pulling the paddles, pressing the brake, and flooring it.

On the opposite end of the fiend scale, the downsized AMG V-8 has cylinder deactivation, which shuts down cylinders two, three, five, and eight in light load conditions. It can declutch the powertrain between 37 and 99 mph for even better fuel economy--but so far, there's nothing in the way of U.S.-street fuel economy numbers.


 
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