DRIVEN: Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+

Faro, Portugal – It’s all about confidence. Whether at the helm of your favourite entry-level hot hatch or, if you’re lucky enough, one of the high-performance cars featured in CAR‘s annual performance shootout, the level of enjoyment and satisfaction you’ll likely take away from any driving experience is directly related to how confident you feel behind the wheel.

A mere two laps into my first drive of the new 450 kW/850 N.m Mercedes-AMG E63 S around the challenging Portimao Racetrack, and the most powerful E-Class ever created is offering enough poise and balance that all three of us members of the international press contingent – following line astern behind an AMG GT S pace car – are effortlessly leaving trails of thick Pirelli-flavoured rubber on the outside of most corners; the curvature of each closely mimicking the smile on my face at the time.

Boasting twin-scroll turbochargers for the first time, and with updates that includes new pistons, an optimised air intake and charge air cooling, as well as extensive software development, this version of Mercedes’ mighty 4,0-litre V8 biturbo delivers 75 kW more power and a notable 200 N.m more torque than the one fitted to the pace car ahead.

Undoubtedly the catalyst for my bravery so early on in proceedings is Merc’s decision to offer its new uber-saloon exclusively with a fully variable 4Matic+ all-wheel-drive system. Still able to lock into a rear-wheel-drive-only configuration to appease “the purists”, this otherwise impressively intuitive system continuously monitors driving conditions in order to best apportion torque between the car’s front and rear axles. Notable is the fact that it limits delivery of torque to the front wheels should lateral forces be detected (i.e. whilst cornering), instead delaying torque transfer until the steering angle begins to unwind.

Pre-empt this transition with a spirited throttle input to load the E63 S’s electronically controlled aft diff (there’s a mechanical unit in the standard E63) and the result is a brilliant hunkering down of the rear end as the car is shoved towards the horizon. Learn this system’s intricacies while managing the selectable sensitivities of throttle, steering, transmission, suspension and stability control functions and there’s a level of playfulness offered by the E63 S that no four-door sedan weighing this close to two tonnes has the right to possess. In race mode, in particular, with the ESP system correspondingly set to its sport handling setting, neatly controlled and deeply satisfying power slides are permissible.

Bespoke from the A-pillar forward, the E63 S is notably more muscular than the W213 E-Class on which it’s based. An air-guzzling, gaping apron and bonnet bulges aside, the fore wheelarches are 17 mm wider than on the standard car, accommodating both a stretched track width, as well as 265/35 ZR 20 tyres up front (295/30 ZR 20s are fitted to the rear of the S).

Though not offered in right-hand-drive markets, the all-wheel-drive version of the previous-generation E63 proved so popular compared with its somewhat wilder rear-wheel-drive sibling that the decision to offer the new, even more powerful version exclusively with 4matic+ was an obvious one. Race track dynamics aside, it’s the sure-footedness of this system, particularly in European winter conditions, that appeals.

Adding further appeal to this high-end autobahn cruiser is the fact that by making use of cylinder deactivation technologies (shutting down cylinders two, three, five and eight under partial load), Mercedes-Benz claims a combined cycle fuel consumption of just 8,8 L/100 km … this for a vehicle capable of sprinting from standstill to 100 km/h in 3,4 seconds (another advantage of all-wheel drive).

Specifically tuned to the requirements of both the E63 and E63 S, the 9-speed MCT transmission’s torque converter has been replaced with a wet clutch for optimised response times.

On track and off of it, the E63 S’s standard (configurable) air suspension copes admirably with both the extreme loads experienced in race mode, but also superbly with most road imperfections experienced between the comfort, sport and sport+ spectrums. Also impressive is the level of feel and precision engineered into the speed-sensitive steering system, able to offer weight when called upon and yet a welcome level of delicacy, belying the car’s stature, when required.

Even without the AMG treatment, my first experience of Mercedes-Benz’s W213 E-Class was heightened by the car’s beautifully crafted interior, including twin digital instrumentation and infotainment system and impressively cosseting NVH levels. Seated snug within the E63 S’s moulded driver’s seat, gripping a flat-bottomed, nappa leather steering wheel and exploring the spluttered harmonies amplified by those four distinct chrome tailpipes, I’m convinced this is the only uber-saloon to have…

Fast facts

Model: Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+
Price: R1 859 905
Engine: 4,0-litre, V8 biturbo
Power: 450 kW @ 5 750 - 6 500 r/min
Torque: 850 N.m @ 2 500 - 4 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 3,4 secs
Top Speed: 250 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 8,8 L/100 km
CO2: 199 g/km
Transmission: 9-spd MCT automatic
Maintenance Plan: 6 year/100 000 km