Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG: Self-driving, supercar-eating, cyborg on wheels
1st Mar 2013 | 13:01
As fast as a Lamborghini. Brainier than a Brian Cox pie
The new Mercedes-Benz AMG E63 ain't just another turbo-charged, paddle-shifted uber barge. It has the most advanced self-driving technology we've experienced. It's as fast as a super car. And it's at least as much fun to drive.
The last bit is actually surprising. On paper the E63 AMG looks awfully similar to, say, BMW's latest M5. V8 lump up front. Two turbos. Paddle shifter. 500-odd horsepower. It's all much of a muchness.
With the addition of an all-wheel-drive 4Matic option (not for the UK, but we'll come back to that) and in estate car format, you can spec it to within millimeters of Audi's RS6, too.
Brainy but bonkers
And yet the E63 is in a different ballpark for sheer, giddy fun. That's some achievement. While its Bavarian brethren are undoubtedly crazily capable, the E63 is takes things to another level. It's very possibly the most technologically advanced car we've driven.
This is a car that ought to be anodyne. A car that impresses with its intelligent features, like Park Assist, collision avoidance or anti-glare headlights that detect other cars and adjust their beams to suit.
But a car that connects on an emotional level? It doesn't seem likely from the cyborg-killer spec.
First, let's deal with the headline numbers. The standard Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG cranks out 557hp from a 5.5-litre twin turbo V8.
That's enough to hit 62mph in just 4.2 seconds and rip on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. That's for the two-wheel drive model available in the UK.
Superior traction allows the four-wheel drive 4Matic model to nail the sprint to 62mph in just 3.7 seconds. Either way, we're talking full-on supercar performance. Delimited, 200mph would be on the cards.
If that's not enough – and bear in mind you shave a few tenths off those acceleration numbers to arrive at old school 0-60mph times – AMG will give you even more. The E63 AMG S model ups the ante to 585hp and takes around a tenth off the acceleration time. Pure silliness.
As for efficiency, the official combined MPG figure is 30.7mpg, which is frankly stunning for such a powerful machine. CO2 emissions are quoted at 230g/km.
Brains as well as brawn
If the grunt is impressive, however, there's almost too much to take in when it comes to tech. The E63 AMG is part of the new Mercedes-Benz E Class range and that means it's plastered in sensors and features that combine to deliver what M-B calls "Intelligent Drive".
One of the big enablers here is a stereo camera mounted in the windscreen behind the rear view mirror. It essentially gives the car a 3D, 500 metre view of the road ahead.
Everything from other cars to road signs and even pedestrians are detected and fed into the system. Add in all-round radar sensor data and you have a car that's almost omiscient in terms of what's happening around it.
But what does that actually mean? A lot of things, actually. The E Class can now almost drive itself on motorways, thanks to Distronic Plus with Steering Assist and Brake Assist Plus, for instance.
Together, those systems can both help keep you in lane and keep a safe distance to the car in front, including vehicles that suddenly cut in.
Active Parking Assist, meanwhile, is Merc's take on automated parking. And it's one of if not the best such systems we've tried. Simply drive past a parking space, the system detects it. Hit the brakes, select OK and the steering wheel and follow the instructions.
It's utterly painless to use, unlike some rival systems which can be a bit of a phaff, and in our testing works flawlessly.
For the uninitiated, however, it may take some getting used to. Accelerating towards a parked car and trusting the system to detect it and apply the brakes is very unnerving at first. But it really works and it takes a lot of the stress out of parking what is a pretty large car.
Then there's Traffic Sign Assist, which reads road signs and provides you with relevant warnings. We're talking here about picking up on signs indicating no entry or overtaking restrictions and delivering an audible warning if the driver attempts anything prohibited.
On top of that, there are at least five or six further features, including the ability to detect pedestrians stepping into the path of the car and apply the brakes.
If there's a car with more active safety and self-driving technology, frankly, we're not aware of it. This, simply, is as close you'll get to a self-driving car today.
The E63 AMG also gets the latest version of Mercedes' COMAND infotainment system. It's pretty much in the same ballpark as BMW's iDrive and Audi's MMI for overall features and functionality.
Like those two, it's controlled via wheel input rather than touchscreen and offers the usual suite of navigation and entertainment with a spot of arguably rather pointless web browsing.
By your COMAND
That said, the E Class's COMAND screen is rather mean in proportion. You get much larger screens in this class of car from BMW and Audi.
Where things get a little more interesting is Drive Kit Plus. You can read all about that in our Mercedes A-Class review. But it's basically a secondary infotainment system that runs off Apple's iPhone.
Everything is rendered on the iPhone – menus, maps, apps, the lot – and piped onto the Mercedes COMAND screen. On the one hand it's a little odd, as it means you have two entirely separate navigation options.
On the other, it's bloody slick and adds support for various apps into the mix. We like it.
Behind the wheel
However, if we like Drive Kit Plus, what we love is the way the E63 AMG drives. Words don't do justice to the way this two tonne saloon (or optionally estate car) hooks up and fires down the road.
It's hilariously, impossibly fast. In all-wheel drive 4Matic format, it feels every bit as quick as those ridiculous three-point-something second acceleration times.
It's also just plain good fun. The steering is very direct and fairly feelsome for this sort of car and the overall effect is a pointyness and ability to be driven on its nose that you really wouldn't think possible in such a large car. Chuckable? Absolutely.
But more than anything, what's remarkable about the E63 AMG is the way it fuses advanced, digital technology with a sense of analogue, accessible fun. The technology never gets in the way, never makes you feel disconnected. That's what separates the latest AMGs from more anodyne efforts from BMW M Power or Audi RS.
4Matic not for us
There is a snag, however. The UK version is only available in rear-wheel drive form. It's a function of the location of the steering rack on RHD cars and in turn the front driveshafts on the 4Matic kit.
Now, the regular rear-wheel drive version is hugely fun. Switch off the traction control and it will oversteer everywhere, all the time, if that's what you want.
Indeed, via a bank of switches on the centre console, you can trim everything from suspension firmness to throttle response to suit your every whim.
What it lacks, however, is the mind bending grip and capability of the 4Matic. Think of the 4Matic as a kind of four-door Nissan GT-R and you'll get an idea of what it's like to drive. It just hooks up and goes, piling on massive speed in instants.
Which you prefer – smokey, leery oversteer or PlayStation-style bending of the laws of physics - is a very subjective choice. But in the UK, we only get the over steery option.
With that one caveat in mind, the E63 AMG is still the best car in its class and by some margin. It's the most fun to drive. It has the most advanced technology. And with its new LED-infused face, it might just be the best looking.
There's certainly little on the road today that shouts "outta my way" louder than an E63 AMG with its LEDs on full reheat filling up your rear mirrors.
Oh, and for the record, you can order an E63 AMG from your Mercedes dealer today. Prices start at a piffling £74,920.