Butcher in Armani
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG (2013)
I found myself underground, in a cool, dark multi-storey, among twenty or more hefty gentlemen in perfectly ironed suits. They had about 600 horses each, looking at me with a calm face. In the background, on the concrete wall, there was an AMG sign, the shiny epoxy floor was perfectly clean. Is this heaven or hell? The first one started up with an angry bark, the thunder of the V8 biturbo completely filled the space. I'd say hell, rather than heaven.
585 PS, 3.6 sec from naught to 100 kph. Think about those figures for a while. We're talking about an ordinary-looking four-door sedan, or an estate. The AMG guys may say it brings a tear to your eye, but I think it's a true sleeper if you consider what it can do. If you didn't realise how astonishing these 3.6 seconds are, be aware that this is in between the Porsche 911 turbo and the turbo S, only that the AMG is a chunky 1.8 ton limousine.
All right, let's be fair, the figures above only apply to the S model with four-wheel drive, the normal AMG only does 4.2 with its lousy 557 PS. Nevertheless, those specs put the Merc again on top of the two arch-enemies - apparently this is very important for the Germans - but it's not those numbers which characterise the car, so let's move on.
Barbarism is the first word that comes to my mind as I exit the multi-storey. The AMG engineers kept the gears of the seven-speed automatic, but scrapped the torque converter that would smooth out the brutality of the V8. Instead, they put in an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch which weighs nine kilos less and has 2.5 times less inertia, which helps a lot to have a more direct throttle reaction. Driving carefully, you only notice that the electronics sometimes can't release the clutch really smoothly and you'll get an unexpected push once in a while. But who cares if the sound of the V8 makes you shiver even when idling - that's what I think in the first few minutes of making friends.
The sound comes from another universe. I have no idea how they managed to get the burbling sound of a Big Block from Detroit past two turbochargers, but this isn't the industrial German V8-sound by any means, this is shameless snarling. You'll get the best show at about 2000 rpm, there it is really throaty, at higher revs it changes to offbeat rattling. But at higher revs you won't have the time to listen, things will happen too fast.
Our first car is a 4Matic which means four-wheel drive but only 557 PS. My preconception that I'd feel nothing in it fades away quickly. While fighting our way through the traffic jams in Barcelona, the acoustic pleasures make our crawl delightful, but as we reach the motorway I floor it, whatever might happen. Without any hesitation the car rushes forward, two gunshots in the distance mark the gearshifts and I've reached the speed limit. After that I have to reorganise my inner organs, but that doesn't matter.
Acceleration in a straight line makes you feel omnipotent. You bump into someone in the fast lane, you have to slow down to, let's say, 80 kph and in the process the driver of a Seat Cupra R is getting impatient behind you. As the obstacle gets out of your way you put down the pedal and ha-ha, the pushing Seat quickly disappears in the mirror: he's learned his lesson. But there are not many places in the world where you can teach impertinence without punishment. And where you can, on the German Autobahn for example, the ridiculously limited top speed of 250 kph will be annoying like the revlimiter in a Twinair-engined Fiat 500.
The rocket-driven sofa will be much more frightening on a twisty B-road. I swear I've tried everything to get the huge body of the AMG out of balance, but only once did I have to go to opposite lock, at a speed where crashing into a concrete block wouldn't have hurt at all. This car is capable of incredible, breakneck lateral acceleration and never loses its humble politeness. True, the suspension, which has three stiffness levels and an air spring at the rear, only had to fight with sudden changes of direction and no bumps or potholes on the extremely smooth asphalt in the mountains of Catalonia.
If I had to spot a weakness in the E63, I'd shyly point to the brakes. Shyly, because there's nothing else I could point to, and when 557 horses are going wild in a big lump of steel of 1.8 tons, you have to turn into heat as much energy as is necessary to supply the suburbs of London for a week. But if you'd like to use the brutality of the V8 biturbo not only for short runs, you should order the optional ceramic brakes.
I have no doubt that the E63 AMG used all the grip the four 19 inch Pirelli PZeros can deliver. It was as if my hands were not on the perforated leather of the steering wheel, but directly on the asphalt. The AMG-specific, constant-ratio steering rack combined with the front suspension which is 5 centimetres wider than stock, gives fantastic feedback. I can almost feel how a PZero-molecule meets its sibling on the Spanish basalt and none of them know that their liaison will only last a fraction of a second. The Pirellis are incredibly sticky, they build up your self-confidence, and when they start to let go, they raise their hands just in time. Minimum fear, maximum superhuman feeling – that's the 4Matic.
I've talked about the tyres so extensively, because I took the rear-wheel drive AMG for a spin, too, and that one had Michelin Pilot Sports on the rims. Which is not a coincidence, I suspect, but lfor this reason I can't blame solely the tyres or solely the drivetrain for the astonishing difference between the two cars. I felt that even without acceleration the Michelin starts to slide much earlier, being a bit harder. But it's entirely possible that I only respected the curves much more because of the rear-wheel drive.
It was like running on a path in the forest, with a pile of three antique vases in one hand and a plate spinning on a stick in the other. If the all-wheel drive AMG is an assassin hiding in the bush and pulling the deadly trigger if you make a mistake, the rear-wheel drive E63 is a sadistic butcher, slashing the air above your head with an axe.
He didn't strike, but I have to admit I was breathing hard. Given a car like this, professionalism requires getting close to the limits. But the truth is, that I got beyond the limits in the first minute when I grabbed the wheel of the rear-wheel drive E63 AMG. No god can create a tyre which doesn't turn into two thick black lines on the asphalt when 720 newtonmetres are spinning them. You should be well armed to fight this raging bull. If you wish, you can produce some smoke anytime, even in third gear, which reaches until about 150 kph.
That's frightening, especially for the fact that it's almost impossible to get closer and closer to the limits carefully. The accelerator behaves gentleman-like in the first half of its journey, but beyond a point it punishes you suddenly, and even worse, there's quite some time-lag. The engineers might have tried to make the reactions as direct as they could, but the turbo-boost needs one or two tenths of a second to kick in. Then it kicks you in the ass with incredible ferocity and while you're fighting with the wheel, the engine will bump into the rev limiter. I remember the times with sweet nostalgia when car-manufacturers were allowed to build huge naturally aspirated engines.
The greatest invention in the AMG is the three-stage ESP. Switch it on and you don't notice anything at all of the magic of how the electronics find out how many newtonmetres to take away in order to keep the car civilised. Switch it off and you'll have the Grim Reaper in the backseat, but there's a sports mode where the CPUs are getting red hot to make you feel like Vatanen. Entering the corner the tyres are squealing, accelerating out of the corner the back end is furiously moving, but there's no drama, the car goes in the direction the steering wheel is pointing at.
It was a message on the central display that reminded me of my insanity, because after only 200 kilometres of fun it said I should fill up. The fuel tank, measuring as much as 66 litres, can be a problem: if you use the power of the V8 biturbo, it can dry up quickly. This amount of petrol which was good for a few hours here is normally enough for me for a couple of weeks – I started to be a bit ashamed of myself.
Maybe I should choose an E200 CDI with 136 HP for myself – I could run my errands with 6-7 litres per 100 kilometres, like with a good old 200D of the 70's. Or something in between. It would be really tough to decide if I prefer the everyday deathmatch with the rear-wheel drive or the magic of the all-wheel drive S model, anyway.