2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Test Drive
Let's say you're a child of the 1970s. You've got fond memories of your Camaro. But now there's gray in whatever's left of your hair and, four decades later, you're on the verge of your white-collar retirement. You want an aggressive car that recaptures that youth, but one that loses the ostentatious bravado. This is your car.
What Mercedes-Benz has done with the E63 AMG is lift the soul from a muscle car, place it into the body of a sedan, and ensconce it in German luxury and engineering.
But one warning: It's eye-catching enough to attract attention from the police and nearly spark an international incident. More on that later.
This car, which will run you somewhere in the range of $90,000 to $105,000, is about 100 hp more powerful than the new Chevy Corvette in its base form. Upgrade to the new Sport model, and you add even more power. It's perhaps the most stable car I've ever driven, hugging the road on curvy hillside roads, and fast. It comes with a race-start technology that makes hitting the gas feel like you're rocketing off on a Space Shuttle launch.
Driving around, you'll look like someone with deep pockets. Which may make you a target of austerity-struck police departments.
We were driving around the Catalonian countryside, outside the small village of Tona, when the local police rattled our group.
There we were, minding our own business, blazing past puttering Peugots on quaint roads and tromping down the switchbacks behind Montserrat, when the local police force pulled over a contingent of about 16 writers test-driving the new Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG en masse. La Policia were awaiting our arrival at a roundabout obscured by a small hill, and then demanded that we follow them to a makeshift impound in the parking lot of a local grocery store.
Astonishingly enough, our alleged violations had nothing to do with improper passing or speeding, which were both entirely plausible considering the 585 horses underneath the hood. No, the Spanish police force of a half-dozen officers wanted to see our international driver's licenses. Nobody in our group possessed one, which made for a lively discussion conducted in English, Spanish and German.
In the end, no one was charged with speeding, no tickets were issued and, according to a Mercedes-Benz spokesperson, no ransoms were paid to secure our releases. An international incident, this was not. We were waylaid for about an hour and a half before the authorities allowed us to proceed to lunch.
The cars, however, however, remained in Spanish custody a few hours longer. Though they would soon be returned to their rightful owners with their intoxicating twin-turbo V8 engines thankfully unharmed, the quarantine brought a premature end to our test drive.
Injustice aside, our abbreviated stint of 107 kilometers – that's 66 miles on this side of the Atlantic – behind the wheel was more than enough time to form an opinion. Read on for my thoughts on the E63 AMG.
Refined accouterments aside, make no mistake: This car is first and foremost about power.
On paper, this is obvious. The base E63 AMG harnesses 550 horsepower, for perspective's sake, about 100 more than the much-heralded 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray. The AMG Sport model, new to the 2014 lineup, harnesses 585 horsepower, and its 0-to-60 miles per hour time has been clocked at 3.6 seconds.
But paper can't capture the AMG Sport model, with its Sport+ transmission mode selected and RaceStart option enabled, hurtling from a dead stop out of the gate like Space Shuttle launch, the silky smooth engine never sounding taxed.
(I experienced this RaceStart test as a rear-seat passenger, tagging along with a driver who went undetected through the aforementioned police fiasco and happened to have his international license).
With the stipulation that I've not driven all 22 of the AMG models Mercedes manufacturers – nor the confusing array of 74 various E-Class models – it's easy to take Oliver Weich, the director of AMG, at his word that the E63 AMG Sport is the "most powerful E-Class" ever built.
On the highway, the car is whatever the driver would like it to be, a luxurious sedan capable of comfortably fitting four or five people, an amply-sized roadster capable of bursting past slower traffic – or a 4,067-pound paperweight for the Spanish police. Once back in the world-class city of Barcelona, the world-class car appeared right at home in its business-class surroundings.
Here's more specifics on the E63 AMG.
MSRP: Not yet available, though probably in the $90,000 to $105,000 range
Arrives: In dealer showrooms in August 2013
Engine: 5.5-liter V8 twin-turbo engine
Transmission: AMG SpeedShift MCT 7-speed sports transmission
Performance: 550 hp in saloon and 4-MATIC models; 585 hp in Sport
Fuel economy: 22 mpg combined in Sport model; 24 mpg combined in base model.
Seating: 5 people
The exterior gets a significant overhaul and more sculpted look. Like many other automakers, Mercedes-Benz is among those following the LED taillight and headlamp craze, adding both on the E63 AMG.
Two distinct grilles have been designed to give the car an image that tilts decidedly more toward sports car and less toward stately sedan. Twin-blade radiator grilles have a silver Mercedes-Benz emblem centrally positioned, and the Sport model gets its own distinctive front.
Red calipers on the brakes stand out from the commanding exterior.
Sure, inside the E63 AMG there are all the luxury trappings you expect in a six-figure car. The black nappa leather upholstery gives the seats a sophisticated look and gentle feel. The Bang & Olufsen sound system contains 14 speakers. The AMG-specific analog clock is the centerpiece of the dashboard.
Those features are highly enjoyable, but don’t necessarily put Mercedes-Benz anywhere except in step with its competition.
What may set the AMG apart is its egregiously enjoyable adaptive seat assist. With a bladder inside, the seats bulge or contract around the sides of driver’s midsection to offer support while screeching around hairpin turns.
Descending the back side of Monserrat, there were untold number of hairpin turns on which to enjoy this feature. You don’t really know what you’re missing, until the Mercedes-Benz seat is hugging your body and keeping it aligned, almost mocking the horizontal pull of G-forces.
Active seat assist may be the most luxurious and unimportant seat innovation since the advent of seat warmers.
Whipping around those switchbacks underneath the jagged spires of Monserrat, the most noticeable attribute of the E63 AMG is its inherent stability.
On the all-wheel drive models, torque is distributed to the rear wheels at a rate of 67 percent, helping with traction around curves. On the sport model, a differential lock on the rear axle takes things one step further, helping to further increase traction. There's also an adaptive suspension system that proves its mettle on the same roads.
On highway straightaways, the 550 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque can be unleashed in refined and discreet manner. Versatile and fluid enough to tackle any environment, the AMG performs like the best of sports cars with the understated appearance of a business-class sedan.
One of the key differentiators between a vehicle like the E63 AMG and the sedans of the masses is in the safety technology.
Active Lane Keeping is available on the Mercedes-Benz, and when lanes are marked or solid lines are present, the car will automatically apply brakes on the appropriate side and bring the car back into its chosen lane.
In this iteration of the E63 AMG, things are taken one step further. Thanks to the addition of a stereo-multipurpose camera near the rear-view mirror, the car and its algorithms now have a three-dimensional view of the road ahead. Working with Active Lane Keeping, they can detect oncoming vehicles crossing the centerline and help brake for pedestrians who have inadvertently crossed into the vehicle's path.
In both cases, the car will swerve and/or brake to help avoid collisions, reacting faster than a human driver could.
Less impressive was the Active Parking Assist technology. With a Mercedes-Benz engineer on board relaying instructions, we attempted to use the parallel park assist and the perpendicular park assist, which use ultrasonic sensors to measure distance. The car then takes the wheel and brake and attempts to park the car.
When parallel parking, drivers must position the car a precise distance away from parked cars or else the system cannot measure distance and engage. We failed two times in four attempts.
Backing into a perpendicular space, we succeeded in 3 of 5 attempts. In the two unsuccessful ones, the car tried to back into a neighboring vehicle instead of the empty space.
The technology is fascinating. With a little bit of patience, it even works. But in the real world, it'd be easy to envision other motorists getting angry, honking their horns and giving one-fingered salutes while E63 drivers waited to see whether they had succeeded in engaging the system – or if they needed to back up and start all over again.
Mercedes-Benz says the standard E63 AMG models will achieve 24 miles per gallon while the Sport model achieves 22 mpg. Those are improvements over past models.
Still, there's no getting around the fact the pure power offered in this car stands in direct opposition to fuel thriftiness, and the numbers above will surely be diminished in Sport and Sport+ modes. Or by any driver who wants to have fun driving this car.
It should be noted the E63 AMG contains start-stop, which shuts down the engine while the vehicle is stopped at traffic lights or while stuck in traffic jams. Stuck in Barcelona traffic, it surely conserved enough fuel that we felt less bad about bombing around the countryside.
We may not exactly have been carbon-neutral on our trip, but the start-stop system here is at least a step in the right direction.
What role would you like the E63 AMG to play? It is at once a gentleman's sedan, a road-trip savant and, at its heart, a sports car. The highlight is clearly its twin-turbo V8 engine.
It can be complicated for prospective Mercedes-Benz buyers to sift through the 74 E-Class variants on sale (though not all in the U.S. market), and same goes for the 22 models of AMG in production. But of those myriad possibilities, the E63 AMG is one that stands at the forefront.
It should have mass appeal, at least among consumers who don't mind plunking down six figures on their next automotive purchase. And if they're willing to go that far, just to be on the safe side, they may also want to spend an extra $15 and buy their international driver's license.
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