The 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Is the Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robot of Sport Sedans
603 horsepower, 0-60 mph in 3.3 seconds and unrivaled luxury make this the E-Class of your raciest dreams.
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Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 S.
As four-wheeled dueling weapons go, you’ve got your lightweight rapiers—a Lotus, Mazda MX-5 Miata, or Porsche Cayman. Pistol aficionados might prefer drawing blood with a Chevy Corvette or large-bore Dodge Demon, the latter advised for duelists who can only aim straight.
Then there’s the Mercedes-AMG E63 S super sedan.
Mercedes's midsized sport sedan is a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robot from the Neiman Marcus catalog. Stolid and brutish, the E63 likes to deliver neck-snapping blows to other cars, and maybe eat their scraps for dessert. But this fighting 'bot can also show off some fancy footwork. AMG’s training regimen for a standard E-Class begins with its familiar 4.0-liter biturbo V8. It’s cranked to 603 horsepower in the E63 S, or 563 horses in the standard E63, which isn't sold in the U.S. of A. If you’re counting—and buyers in this class definitely are—that 603 horsepower matches the larger Mercedes-AMG S63 that I recently tested, and tops the 577 horses of the AMG GT R sports car.
With 600 horsepower seemingly the new magic number in high-end sport sedans—the Cadillac CTS-V has 640, BMW’s forthcoming M5 makes exactly 600—some historical perspective is in order. Back in 1986, the E63’s progenitor, the AMG Hammer, blew enthusiasts’ minds by making 355 horsepower from a 5.5-liter V8 and clocking the 0-60 mile-per-hour run in five seconds flat. That moon-shot Mercedes also started at $125,000—$276,000 in today’s inflation-adjusted dollars—compared to just over $105,000 for the new 2018 E63. Today, a Ford Focus RS or VW Golf R could whip the Hammer to 60 mph, so luxury models need more power to justify their status and prices. With the barest of chirps from its four driven tires, this E63 obliterates 60 mph in a supercar-like 3.3 seconds, and reaches an electronically limited 186-mph peak.
Between its air suspension and adjustable dampers, rear-biased 4Matic+ AWD, and Michelin Pilot Sport tires, the Mercedes can also pull a piece-of-cake 1.0 g in lateral acceleration. It’s a sedan that car that can put up ridiculous numbers on track—even if this marbled slab of beef isn’t a track car per se—but then return home for everyday-sedan duty with a family or neighbors none the wiser...unless you decide to crank up the V8’s Wagnerian thunder. And where the Cadillac, especially, sizzles in performance but fizzles in luxury and rear-seat comfort, the Mercedes feels nearly as lavish as Benz’s flagship S-Class. This ultimate E-Class looks great, too—racy but not boy-racer—including flared front fenders, a front splitter and rear diffuser, much of it slathered in optional carbon fiber. It’s a sport sedan that’s hard to beat, in any sense of the term.
AMG-itis has spread throughout the Mercedes lineup, including models like the G-Class and GLE-Class that don’t really benefit from stiffer suspensions and massive power upgrades. But AMG and the E-Class go together like schnitzel and Riesling. The E63’s Cardinal Red metallic paint and black, 20-inch forged wheels drew nonstop oohs and aahs from Gothamites. On brutal Brooklyn streets, the air-suspension ride got crusty in the car’s Sport Plus or Race modes (accessed via a cool aluminum toggle switch), but it’s quite livable in Comfort or Sport. Unlike the gearbox in some AMGs of old, the new nine-speed, dual-clutch transmission didn’t lag or lurch from a stop or at low speeds. So the car was never a chore to drive in the city or freeway traffic, including those rare times when I didn’t feel like driving, and let the many Level 2 semi-autonomous systems—including robotic steering, automated lane changes, and smartly proactive adaptive cruise control—do the work.
And when semi-autonomy isn’t your thing, the E63 lives for semi-legal assaults on other cars, especially the ones that try and fail, always fail, to keep up. The unfairness of the fight was illustrated one night on the Taconic Parkway, a tricky, shoulder-free series of ascents and descents en route to the Berkshires. At times, I would paddle my way to third or fourth gear to accelerate, just to keep myself in the game. Then I realized it didn’t matter: Just squeeze the gas, summon the V8 monster below, and thrill to the Mercedes’s sickening, surefooted power and control. The car’s excess mass (more on that later) almost feels like a boon at times like these: Rocking those highway sweepers in the rain, the Benz felt almost immune from physical forces that might have swept a lesser car into the ditch.
The Mercedes-AMG engine is one of the world’s best-sounding V8’s, especially considering its dual turbochargers that neuter and strangle sound in some competing turbo models. To keep decibels in check inside, Mercedes does pump a few subtle, engine-enhancing frequencies through the E63’s audio system. But I honestly couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from; all I knew was that it’s amazing, and that I kept craving more. And whether you’re inside or outside the car, the V8’s expressive gurgles and barks during gear changes are best experienced through an optional $1,250 AMG Sport Exhaust.
As noted, the E63’s cabin is something to see, a rolling affirmation of money well spent. I thought I’d grown tired of carbon-fiber clichés until I slid into the E63s driver’s seat: This carbon-fiber weave, from its glossy depths and herringbone pattern to just the sheer amount of the stuff, wove a spell inside. Mercedes’s new conjoined dual displays seem as large and animated as a Times Square billboard. Front seats rank among the industry’s best-sculpted thrones, with myriad adjustments and just as many massage programs—care for a hot stone rubdown, dahlink?
Rear seats and trunk space are also especially generous for a car of this size and mission. On the more-frivolous front, the cabin can be scented, though Mercedes really needs more-sophisticated fragrances; perhaps something of burnt-rubber and bloody metallic to set the proper mood for this E63. But ambient lighting is a winner, including the ability to adjust color across a full spectrum: I ended up choosing a hot fuchsia shade, which actually made a great contrast with silver-stitched black Nappa leather and all that carbon fiber.
The E63 weighs close to 4,500 pounds, as much as a Toyota Highlander V6. (Guess it needs more carbon fiber). Over a handful of laps at Monticello Motor Club, the Mercedes mostly defied that chunky weight, bludgeoning the track into submission, even without optional carbon-ceramic brakes. Yet just because a car puts up incredible track times—as the E63 did in Car and Driver’s hands, beating even the Caddy CTS-V at VIR—doesn’t make it a “track car” in my persnickety view. (Wagon fanatics may disagree, after seeing the E63 wagon set a Nurburgring lap record).For one, the Mercedes’s steering is as heavy as its curb weight, especially in the sportier modes of its AMG Dynamic Select system, and doesn’t transmit a ton of road feel. I drove some BMW M2s at Monticello a few weeks later—race-prepped M2’s, but still—and the tiny BMW coupes were far more rewarding on track, despite just 365 horses versus the Mercedes’s 603. Honestly, almost no one who buys an E63 is going to beeline to a local track day. This Mercedes is made for rocking the autobahn, shaving time off interstate excursions, and hustling down your favorite back roads. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
I remember my eyebrows raising when the previous-gen E63 (along with the M5) started sneaking into six-figure territory. This E63 S didn’t sneak but rather stomped, hitting just over $131,000 with options. But when you start throwing money at a crystalline Burmeister sound system ($4,550), a zillion safety options, and a slathering of carbon fiber, you get an E-Class that costs as much as a nicely-equipped Porsche 911 Carrera GTS.
As in the S-Class, the E63’s show-offy nature leads to complexity. Sheer, stuck-in-Tron complexity. Mercedes's new black chiclets on the steering wheel to control the left- and right-hand displays take a little practice. (Forget operating them with gloved hands.) The latest COMAND system’s menus can still overwhelm, and I can’t stand that adjusting the seats requires dipping into those screen menus, rather than old-school analog controls. I didn’t even bother dialing up Drift mode, which uncouples the front wheels from the wet-clutch 4Matic+ AWD system, because the procedure is a bit like Alcoholics Anonymous: 12 steps long, with an appeal to a higher power.
The EPA credits the Mercedes with 18 mpg in combined city and highway driving, a fairy tale worthy of the Brothers Grimm. I saw about 12 mpg overall, and no better than 16 mpg on the highway, the latter a far cry from the EPA's estimate of 22 highway mpg. Finally, at crawling speeds, such as easing out of street-side parking spots in New York, the AWD system would occasionally bind the wheels, producing a clunky sensation akin to the tires rubbing against the fenders.
The 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S, Ranked
Hauling people: 5/5
Hauling stuff: 5/5
Curb appeal: 5/5
The Bottom Line
In the ongoing battle of midsize super sedans, the AWD E63 easily one-ups the previous champ, the rear-drive Cadillac CTS-V. The Mercedes is not only faster, but it’s less of a one-note, always-on machine. The Cadillac’s supercharged wail is charming, but the Mercedes’ brawling V8 sounds better, hands down. Its nine-speed automated gearbox beats the Caddy’s slow-footed eight-speed. The Mercedes looks hotter and more sophisticated, with superior seats up front and a roomier back seat and trunk. Interior luxury and refinement especially are no contest: The E63 is a billionaire’s palace versus the Caddy’s bowling hall. The Mercedes is pricier, starting about $18,000 above the Cadillac...but again, you get what you pay for.
An intriguing cage match awaits: I’ll actually be testing the 600-hp M5 in Portugal in a few weeks—the first BMW M5 to ever feature AWD. Until then, the E63 is clearly the new emperor of midsize luxury sport sedans.
The 2018 Mercedes AMG E63 S, By the Numbers
Price (as tested): $105,393 ($131,140)
Powertrain: 4.0-liter biturbo V8, 603 horsepower, 627 lb-ft of torque; nine-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission; AWD
EPA Fuel Economy: 15 city, 22 highway, 18 combined
Fuel economy for real-world leadfoots: 11 to 13 mpg
0-60 MPH: 3.3 seconds
Top speed: 186 mph
Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence@thedrive.com.