2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S first drive: It’s … complicated

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Mercedes’ AMG E astounds with power, confounds with tech

It’s a simple process: enabling drift mode on the 2018 Mercedes-AMG 4Matic E63 S, that is. First, you grab the chrome drive mode rocker switch and click it down into race, which quickens shifts, steering and throttle application. Then you hold the traction-control button for a few seconds to turn the system completely off. After that, you hit the M button for manual mode, grab both wheel-mounted shift paddles and pull back. The twin 12.3-inch dash/gauge cluster/infotainment screens will ask you if you want to enable smoky burnout mode; you reply yes by pulling back the right paddle. Then it’s just a quick matter of making a call to Affalterbach to make sure it’s OK, and you’re ready to go.

OK, that last part is a lie, but the rest of the procedure is 100 percent accurate.

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 interior with carbon fiber

Mercedes offers both metal weave and carbon-fiber accents inside.

The level of tech in the new E63 is truly staggering, but that’s not new for Mercedes. It’s always been on the bleeding edge of this stuff. But again … it’s simple. The E63 has two directional pads on the D-shaped steering wheel. One controls the left screen, one controls the right. There are at least three home buttons and about eight layers of menus for everything from driver-assistance options; ambient lighting with a rainbow of colors; front-, rear- and bird’s-eye-view cameras; to controlling the three-box screen right in front of the driver, which also has three settings for gauge look and a multitude of options for the left and right display areas. There’s also the jog dial in front of the middle armrest, which works as a touchpad and a joystick. See? Simple. Just have the nearest millennial figure it out and get the main beats later. That’s what we did.

In addition to the dash, the rest of the E63’s cabin is busy. Our first tester has two different types of metal weave near the gear shifter and by the vents, black leather on the dashpad and brown leather everywhere else. Add that to the purple ambient light that runs from door handle to door handle, and it feels like an incoherent mishmash of styling choices. Of course, this is Mercedes, so the materials are top-notch. Later, we jump in a car with carbon-fiber accents, instead of aluminum weave, and black leather everywhere else, which looks much better. We switch the ambient light to a color we call whorehouse red, and that seems to be the perfect combination. The IWC analog clock in the center is probably the least gaudy piece of interior jewelry.

The E63 is a bit wider overall than the E300 and feels spacious in both the front and back seats. There’s no fastback here, so rear headroom is also ample.

Car Reviews

Gallery: 2018 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG interior

Both cars bring a new version of AMG’s hot 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8. This one has two twin-scroll turbos and cylinder deactivation for better gas mileage. We don’t know exactly what the EPA rating will be — that comes closer to launch — but we do know this car will be more efficient than the last one, which was rated at a paltry 15 city, 22 highway. Output is pegged at 603 hp and 627 lb-ft for the S and 563 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque for the base E63. Automakers seem to be getting in the habit of unlocking more horsepower via the computer, for a price. Not sure how we feel about it, but Mercedes isn’t alone in the practice.

Both get a nine-speed multiclutch transmission and Mercedes’s new 4Matic system, 4Matic-plus, which is now fully variable and can send up to 50 percent of the power to the front wheels. The new system also has a coupling that disconnects the front axle for drift mode, but it can also send 100 percent of the power rearward when going flat out in a straight line, say, down the front straight of Portugal’s 2.9-mile, F1-rated Algarve International Circuit in Portimao.

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S at Portugal launch event

The E63 S can sprint to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds.

What’s it like to drive?

The iris-style start button brings a grunty, deep bark from the exhaust before the engine settles into low, powerboat-like burble. Takeoffs in comfort mode are smooth but quick; moving to sport and sport-plus modes makes the throttle more touchy, and takeoffs more jumpy. There’s no delay, like with some of the older AMGs, and barely any wheelspin considering the all-wheel-drive wizardry going on underneath. As you move up drive modes, the sound gets louder in the cabin, but some of that is pumped in via the Burmester stereo system. Sorry, purists. Conversely, the exhaust button is solely mechanical, opening up a valve in the system to let more sound out.

We can debate the logic of adding more sound-deadening material for quietness and then broadcasting sound back in the cabin, but philosophically, if the V8 roar sounds real, and if it feels real, can we just consider it real? Again, Mercedes isn’t alone in doing this, and pumping engine sound into a hybrid or electric is a different matter altogether, but I have no problem with it. Would I rather have a thinner firewall and more real-engine sound? Of course, but this system is far better than less sound, and, if one can cruise around in a fire-breather like this in comfort mode quietly while on the phone or enjoying a symphony, to Mercedes that equals more buyers. Oh and from the outside? It’s still plenty loud.

The nine-speed transmission uses a wet clutch and shifts seamlessly in comfort mode. Sport, sport-plus and race get more aggressive, with crackles and pops as the cogs are swapped. The exhaust button can be tapped in any mode to get that added sound.

There are two options for brakes, one carbon ceramic and one standard iron. We test the standard setup while bombing around Portugal’s mountain passes and the ceramic discs at the track. Pedal feel is great on the road with only a few inches of travel before full lock. The ceramics heat up quickly when lapping Algarve, and the pedal goes deeper than the standard setup but never fades out or scares us out of our wits.

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On the serpentine mountain roads, the sedan feels planted like an oak and just about as heavy. Steering effort is high in all modes, but the E63 unwinds quickly, with the wheel snapping back to center immediately. The electromechanical power steering system feels like it has road feel, if that makes sense. This car is estimated to weigh about 4,500 pounds. Mercedes wouldn’t give us exact figures yet.

There are two ways a car can feel safe and controllable at speed. When everything is light — steering, throttle, brakes and curb weight — there’s a feeling of cutting through the asphalt like a skier through powder. When those things are heavy, it feels like the car will never lose grip on the pavement, even when pushing hard in the rain; it’s like driving in tree sap. The chunky E63 is obviously the latter.

In comfort mode, the multichamber air suspension absorbs most of the broken pavement, but it’s not S-Class, magic-carpet-ride smooth. It was bumpier than expected. As the drive modes get more aggressive, the noise and jarring in the cabin get more noticeable, almost to the point of being harsh. We say you should probably limit race and sport-plus modes to ultra-smooth cement and stick with the other two (three, if you count the customizable “individual” mode) on average roads. Don’t worry, it’s plenty fast in any configuration.

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At Algarve, we make it to about 150 mph on the lengthy front stretch after coming off of the long right entry sweeper at 75 mph or so. There’s a little vibration in the wheel at that speed, but some of that is from the dead rubber marbles of shredded tires past. Top, top speed, which we did not hit, is 186 mph and feels reachable with just a bit more runway. The sprint to 60 takes 3.4 seconds in the base car, 3.3 seconds in the S.

The E63 is forgiving. There’s no oversteer, just gentle understeer that gets cut by the traction-control system when there’s no grip to be had. At that point, hammering the throttle is no good. It just gives us more flashing lights. Merc wouldn’t let us try drift mode — probably smart — but reps did say the fronts will stay uncoupled until things really get out of whack. Same goes for the traction control in its all-the-way-off mode.

Algarve has several blind corners, and here, we’re happy for the safety net. We don’t get a ton of laps, which makes for double duty: trying to learn the track and pushing the car to its limit. There aren’t many scarier things than cresting a hill at 80 mph, not sure whether to go right or left. That’s when it’s time to dig into those ceramic brakes and save face, along with about $100,000 of sheetmetal.

Do I want one?

The E63 isn’t nearly as sharp on the track as some of its race-focused, engine-sharing brethren. But it’s more complicated than that. The E63 is for blasting up and down mountain roads, shaving hours off travel time on the Autobahn and maybe, once in a great while, showing up at a track day to let the crowd know you still have it. So maybe skip the carbon ceramics.

With its four doors, the E63 has a grand touring feel to it. And now that the C-Class has taken a sportier bent, if you want highway-mile-chewing luxury and enough firepower to put a decent lap time down at the track, it’s a simple choice. If drifting is on the menu, go with the S; if not, we’re sure the E63 will suit you just fine.

Jake LingemanJake Lingeman – Jake Lingeman is Road Test Editor at Autoweek, reviewing cars, reporting on car news, car tech and the world at large.

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