Worried that four-wheel drive would ruin the traditionally rear-wheel drive thrills of the E63? Worry no more.
There was a niggling doubt, at first. A worrying kernel of uncertainty about this new, four-wheel drive, 4.0-litre V8, bi-turbo E63. You see, the E63 has always balanced easy everyday manners with a face-bending turn of pace, wonderfully entertaining rear-wheel drive handling and the best, most evocative exhaust note of any fast executive.
A few years back we lost the naturally aspirated 6.2 V8, and now we’ve lost the rear-wheel drive layout.
But hey, this is progress, and all of these changes are made in response to what customers and government guidelines dictate. That, we all understand. Ultimately, with 603bhp and a gut-wrenching 627lb ft of torque, it’s faster yet more usable, which is great. But is it still as fun as its predecessors?
It looks great. There’s no doubting that. All blistered wheel arches and posh purposefulness, but still just the right side of subtle. It also looks fantastic inside, with deep, comfortable and hugely adjustable seats, impressive visibility all-round and a lovely, textural interior that is particularly impressive for its panoramic screen that incorporates the driver's binnacle as well as the central multimedia screen.
For all that, it’s actually not the easiest interface to use because you can get a bit bogged down in control methods – which include a touchpad, a rotary controller, voice control and steering wheel buttons. But with familiarity you can find a method of control that suits you (we favour the rotary control for the simplest and most reliable way of menu-hopping when you’re on the move) and get to grips with the various functions.
Beyond that, everything feels solidly screwed together and furnished in appropriately plush materials. There’s also space for two adults to sit in white-knuckled comfort while you chauffeur them to 62mph in 3.4sec, and there’s space in the deep boot for your track day helmet, your golf clubs, and your business-trip suitcase.
Fuel economy? Expect 20mpg-ish, or 25mpg if you’re being angelic/boring. Like you care. Tyres, however, you should think about given that this is still going to be on the eye-watering side of expensive when it comes to rubber, despite the four-wheel drive.
How does it drive?
Well, one thing’s for sure - that worrying was unnecessary.
What is immediately evident on first acquaintance with the new E63 S is that it’s a stiffer car than before. It shudders and bump a bit over town roads, even in the softest setting on its standard adjustable dampers, so while it’s got good wheel control and doesn’t descend into crashy or uncouth ride comfort, in urban use you are aware that this is a firm car with sporting things in mind. It eases right off at motorway speeds to become an absolutely epic cross-continent cruiser, mind.
And while we’re on the bad stuff, we’d say that throttle response from a standstill is overly sensitive, so it’s trickier than it should be to make a smooth but punchy getaway.
And that’s the criticism out of the way, really. Because this car is an absolute peach of a thing. That engine. Sure, it’s smaller and it’s twin-turbocharged, but blimey it is explosive. Twitch the drive mode selector into Sport or Sport Plus, nail the throttle and make sure you’ve got a lot of road ahead of you because you’ll be at the end of it sooner than you think. Not least thanks to the traction from that active four-wheel drive system that lets the rear wheels slip for a dramatic heartbeat before it claws into the tarmac and slingshots this hefty executive saloon up the road at frankly incongruous speeds. Sure, being named 4Matic it does sound like an industrial laundry machine, but it's a remarkably effective four-wheel drive system nonetheless.
Back off and aim for a hearty sixth or seven-tenths hoon down your favourite country road and the E63 S is nothing short of wondrous. Throttle response that can be irksome in traffic is spot-on in fast use, the smooth nine-speed auto shuffles ratios at just the right moment, and there’s no terrifying spike in acceleration as the turbos do their thing. This is a car that flatters while it thrills.
The steering hits the right balance between being quick and precise without being nervous, while the four-wheel drive system does a remarkable job of making the E63 feel fully rear-wheel drive until that moment when you’re heartily glad that it’s not. It turns into corners with something very close to proper sports car keenness and will even let you adjust your line by feathering the throttle or, if you dare, shoving it into a cheeky moment of manageable oversteer.
Then it grips and goes, hurtling you up the road amidst a glorious, ricocheting V8 wall of noise. After which, you can toggle back to comfort, turn up Radio 4 and re-route back to the office commute in relative comfort and excellent refinement, having satisfied the rebellious side of you that needs to know there's more to life than the an M4 commute and an ocean of boardrooms and spreadsheets.
And if you really need to go and do some proper adrenaline-seeking in your big Merc, you could always find a track, stick the car into the well-hidden rear-wheel-drive Drift mode and set fire to your tyres. This is still a sideways lunatic if you want it to be, underneath that sporting, all-weather civility.
Should I buy one?
Absolutely. This E63 S isn’t just a numbers car, it’s charismatic and - crucially – entertaining and fun at normal road speeds. It’s lightyears from the lovable but one-dimensional muscle cars of yore.
So if you’ve got a spare £90k to spend on your daily driver and want something that’s an easy every, and an absolute hooligan otherwise – be it a manageable one or a full-on, unhinged tyre-shredding one – this should be top of your very enviable shortlist.
And right beneath it should be the BMW M5, Alpina B5 and - if you like a softer, more old-school kind of super saloon - the comfy but lairy Lexus GS-F. Regardless, they’ve all got a lot to worry about given how brutally effective yet also lovable the Mercedes-AMG E63 is. It’s going to a hard one to beat.
Gallery: 2017 Mercedes-AMG E63 S first drive
2017 Mercedes-AMG E63 S saloon