Quick Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

Drivers are increasingly feeling helpless within the shifting trends of the automotive world. We like our manual gearboxes. Yet, today almost all (if not all) new Ferraris on sale cannot be ordered with a stick shift. We like our comfortable cars. Yet, we have to contend with modern cars with large rims that worsen an already stiff ride. We also unreservedly love our big, naturally aspirated engines that make the best sounds on earth – and they are also going.

The 2012 E63 has done away with its M156 6.2-litre engine in favour of a bi-turbo 5.5-litre V8. While this could potentially be yet one of the many pleasures of motoring taken away from us, what I have discovered in my drive of this magnificent car is anything but. I am happy to report that in the E63, I have sampled one of the best applications of turbocharging in any engine I have tried before.

Codenamed the M157, the new 5.5-litre is good for 518bhp and 800Nm of torque. That is actually the same horsepower rating as the 6.2-litre, but torque has increased by 69Nm. On the road, the greater spread of torque is appreciable. I first sampled the M156 in the C63 – and in such a small car as the C-Class, the engine felt effortless. The M157 in the E63 gave the same sensation, although now things are a lot more urgent. The car has more grunt to shift its heft until it becomes apparent that it feels a lot lighter on its feet than the C63 that I drove. Allow the tachometer to spread wider and what is immediately apparent is that the engine does not feel turbocharged at all. I know this has been said many times about turbocharged engines but in this context, it is the most linear forced induced engine I have ever come across. In fact, its power delivery feels very, very similar to the M156 – except that it has a layer of additional torque that spreads nicely throughout the rev band. This is simply impressive.

Things get even better. The automatic gearbox with a wet clutch replacing a torque converter (called Multi Clutch Technology – MCT – by AMG) is a revelation. On the seat impressions are extremely positive – the gearbox is smoother than a dual-clutch transmission for the low-speed maneuvres, but as quick as those for exhilarating near-redline changes. It responds very well left on its own too – in fact I did not feel a need at all to take things into my own hands, as the gearbox intuitively selected the right gear going into corners with satisfying blips. Although the technology behind this gearbox is still relatively new to the automotive world, it could very well be offering the best of both worlds – smoothness of a torque converter and the finesse of a dual-clutch box.

It is also wonderful that Mercedes has somehow managed to keep the sound of the car as great as its naturally aspirated predecessor. There is not a hint of the turbochargers muting the exhaust note at all; this is as pure as turbocharged engines can get. All the big-bore V8 noises are still there alright, wonderful and cackling.

I had the privilege to bring the car onto a skidpad. Here is where throttle actuation is of utmost importance, as is steering feel. With virtually almost zero grip, the car had to ‘talk’ to the driver to maintain pace and avoid spinning out. With the E63, what I noticed is that while the steering is decently weighted and offered good feedback, the throttle was responding a little slower than I would like. With each jab of the throttle the engine responded a couple of milliseconds later – not a lot, but still noticeable for situations like this. Then again – I was in Manual mode – not Sport or Sport+, which in today’s world can alter the feeling of a car completely. That said, whatever mode the car was on, I just wished the throttle would be more sensitive. Perhaps it is tuned to be gentler so as to make low-speed driving more manageable.

On track, I got to push the car to its limits. I truly enjoyed the engine: what a marvel of engineering. With every straight, it was full throttle and getting the rear tyres to find purchase on the dry tarmac before blistering forward. Towards corners, the braking was impressive as well; more than enough to compensate for the weight of the car and easily bringing the car to a stop if needed. Neither did I experience any major brake fade in the 15-20 laps I did on the small circuit.

However, like most modern cars these days, weight is still an issue. While I appreciate that cars inevitably have to become heavier to meet safety regulations and to appeal to a wider market, I would really wish for manufacturers to aim not for power increases but for weight reduction. In the E63, which is to be fair a large luxury saloon, weight was crucial in driving the car quickly. Bringing the weight of the car forward while braking allowed grip to be heightened in the front tyres for a keener turn in. A tap of braking into a tight right-hander gave some weight transfer to the front, yet again for grip. However, mess the weight transfer and the car becomes a clumsy beast. It wallows when you upset its balance, it understeers when you braked too early and let the weight shift to the rear too quickly, and it eats the rotors like a cannibal when you apply braking power. In a sense, it was like a classic layout of a rear-wheel drive vehicle with a large engine up front. It can’t work wonders like the F10 M5 can, but still entertaining all the same.

All in, then, the E63 is in every way a better car than its predecessor. I thought that the turbocharged engine would corrupt its power delivery, its noise and theatre – the core things, in my mind, that makes an AMG special. However, it kept the values of the M156 close and added even more talents to its trophy cabinet. Nicely, steering feel and ride are also commendable, making the E63 a very complete car. With its new engine it might even be able to whisper about being efficient on the motorway. It is a mighty achievement, a car that can stand very tall amongst very stiff competition.

Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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