2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 first drive review: the deep-knee Benz Page 2

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One more acronym: BPM

Don’t worry about pesky EPA numbers just now. Put your seat belt on instead and try to slow your heart rate when faced with an F1-ready track and about 45 minutes to get to know it intimately.

Dialing out of the pits at the Autodromo Portimao, it’s all you can do to concentrate on what’s ahead of you. Grey sky, grey clouds, grey pavement and grey cars—the best way around is to follow the bright-red brake lights ahead of you, and figure out this tough track, corner by corner.

It helps to know where you are, dynamically speaking, among all the toggles and switches on the console and steering wheel. Just about every major car-control system is configurable, from its electric power steering, to the stability and engine controls that operate in invisible concert.

The suspension goes far beyond stock E-Class: it gets a four-link front design and a beefed-up, multi-link rear to make way for the E63's wider track and boosted stability needs. There's more bracing and a tubular stabilizer bar at the rear, even adaptive engine mounts that reduce harshness on road and reduce steering interference in track driving.

For brakes, the E63 S sports six-piston 15.4-inch fronts, 14.2-inch single-piston floating calipers at the back, with carbon ceramics an option. Our test cars wore 265/35ZR-20 front and 295/30ZR-20 rear Pirelli P Zero tires.

For its final act of letting its hair down, the E-Class has three stability control modes: full on, Sport and its permissive levels of yaw, and Off, which isn't truly off since it comes back on during hard braking.

MORE: Read our 2017 Mercedes E-Class first drive review

All those pieces give the E63 the ability to do deep knee bends of the professionally aerobic order. It has the driving range of a docile roadmaster and of a super sedan, as its Dynamic Select system switches out of Comfort into Sport, Sport+, and Individual modes.

Dynamic Select has control over engine, transmission, suspension, steering, stability, and all-wheel-drive torque split. Beyond that, there's also manual mode for the transmission, with gear changes actuated by shift paddles.

Up until now, on the roads to the track, the E63's Comfort mode delivered just that: an eerily smooth ride that belied the big 20-inch wheels, low-profile tires, and AMG's reputation for stiff tuning. It's particularly unruffled on public roads thanks to the E63's three-chamber adaptive air springs and adaptive dampers.

Set it into Sport mode, let the 9-speed hustle through the gears or help it along with the shift paddles, and the E63 fires up some righteous sport-sedan moves.

Throw it around through the dips and dives at Portimao, and the E63 shows why it’s earned a reputation as a big bruiser and a world-class cruiser. It yanks you out of the pits with a frantic V-8 howl, turbos lighting off in unison.

Some engine noise pumps in the cabin through the sound system. It's de riguer for big quiet cars that need to sound alive. It's just more of the rippling AMG engine noise we love.

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S

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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

On the track, the E63’s huge Pirellis claw for grip, while the all-wheel-drive system shunts power front and back, and the torque-vectoring rear moves it side to side. That gives this E63 better power delivery than you could get from a fixed-split system, or even from a rear-drive car, AMG says. All the while, the E63's air springs are lasering off body roll, its adaptive dampers cauterizing the bumps.

Lap after lap, it’s relentlessly grippy—dial in some steering, dive into the throttle, and the only thing you’ll wonder about is how much longer you'll be going airborne over Portimao’s biggest blind hills until night falls.

MORE: See the 2018 E-Class coupe before its Detroit show debut

It comes soon enough, just before the hard-worked tires and brakes started to feel the strain of three packs of drivers pushing them morning, noon, and late afternoon. The tires were notable victims: on my first laps through, big chunks of something flew toward my car's windshield. At first, I thought the car ahead had puked a GoPro; on the next lap, I realized it was bits o' tire matter peeling up from road surface or from car ahead.

By lap three I figured it was vaguely normal and kept sliding through the wide arc of a final off-camber dip, edged and confident all at once, as the E63 rocketed back into Portimao's front straight.

Left unexplored: the E63's factory-programmed drift mode, disabled by the time our track group got to the fun part. It’s certifiably nuts for a car this big to do what a Focus RS was born to do, but customers want play time, AMG execs swear. To access Drift, you'll need to know the secret code: first, switch to Race mode, then shut off stability control and drop it into Manual shift mode, pull both paddles then flip one to confirm. Throw it into a loop, and the E63 sends everything it has to the rear wheels, shifting power to the outside wheel to keep it sliding sideways.

What about the tires? What, you don’t have a five-figure budget for track days? 

2018 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

2018 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

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2018 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

2018 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

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2018 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

2018 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

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Still an E-Class

Under all that, the E63 is still an E-Class. Drive Pilot takes the next few steps to autonomy with assisted steering, lane-keeping, and stop-and-go following at autobahn speeds. Ambient lighting and leather bathe the cabin in a rich glow. Twin high-resolution screens toggle through lots of looks, including a Track Pace mode that shows your laps, and where you were slow, and where you were fast. Track Pace plugs in to GoPros, too.

AMG lets you have your choice of seats with leather and microfiber, or performance seats with fixed headrests and hard seat sides. High noon is marked on the steering wheel so you know where you are, and there's an analog clock.

Freeze time right there if you want, but the power-hungry will want to speed up the clock to summer of 2017. That's when the E63 goes on sale in America, when silly things like EPA fuel economy will be confirmed.

By the time it gets here, we’ll bet on a price tag well north of $100,000 for the E63 S, maybe a few thousand bucks under that line for the “base car”—the no-drift, mechanical-diff, 563-hp E63.

That little S at the end of the E63 badge means a lot, it turns out.


 
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