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Mercedes-Benz E-classAMG for the racing family man (or woman)

Thu, 02 Jul 2009

Say you need a practical, roomy luxury sedan to use as a family car or for hauling business associates to big lunch meetings. But when no one's in the car with you, or when those present appreciate a nicely sliced apex as much as you do, you would really like something that can rise to the occasion. You have what we call a conundrum.

May we suggest the new E 63 AMG luxury performance sedan, coming to the United States in October.

“It behaves like the calm Dr. Jekyll or the hot-blooded Mr. Hyde,” said Volker Morhinweg, AMG's CEO.

This split personality is made possible by three new features: a mighty 6.2-liter engine, the multiclutch, seven-speed transmission and a three-mode electronically controlled suspension.

The suspension, stiffened up to begin with over the stock E-class, can be cranked up to three different settings: comfort, sport or sport plus. Twisting the console-mounted knob varies the flow of fluid through the shocks that control the three-link front coil springs and multilink, air-spring rear. The ECU uses 11 sensors to determine speed, roll, lateral acceleration and driving style, then adjusts the stiffness of the shocks accordingly with what AMG calls, appropriately, “lightning speed.” Combined with speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering and a 26 percent faster 14:1 steering ratio, and the car could easily come alive in your hands.

We found the comfort setting just right for soaking up road whallops while approaching the car's 155-mph electronically limited terminal velocity on the autobahn, as well as for just driving around town. Topping 100 mph in sport or sport plus was too harsh. For winding Schwabian forest roads, we twisted it all the way around to sport plus and immediately felt the decrease in roll as well as greatly increased feedback through the wheel and the seat.

In power and power delivery, the car is certainly in league with the competition. The E 63 gets AMG's naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 (the “63” in the name is only a model number, says AMG, it does not refer to displacement, which is 6.2; maybe they thought no one would notice). The engine peaks at 518 hp at 6,800 rpm and doesn't redline until 7,200 rpm, a 900-rev increase over the E 55. But being naturally aspirated, it is far from peaky. To quote AMG, it has “powerful power delivery.” It pulls as strongly as any naturally aspirated V8 we've ever pulled on, and its exhaust note can only be described as “sonorous.”

While AMG lists 0-62 mph at 4.4 seconds, two-tenths quicker than the supercharged E 55 it replaces, it is during autobahn passing that the E 63 feels strongest, launching with a roar as it pulls into the passing lane and slowing down only when we ran out of room or will.

It even gets 12 percent better fuel economy than the engine it replaces, thanks to a number of small improvements throughout.

One of those improvements is the fact that it's attached to a new seven-speed automatic. The transmission has been dubbed a “Speedshift MCT 7,” with the MCT standing for multiclutch technology. It has a wet startup clutch in place of a torque converter, making shifts nearly instantaneous, as quick as any smooth operator could do it. You have a choice of four shift maps, selectable by twisting another console-mounted knob.

The first knob position is “C,” but in this case, it doesn't stand for comfort. The “Controlled Efficiency” mode upshifts quickly and at lower revs for better fuel economy. “S” increases gear-shift speeds by 25 percent while “S+” increases those by another 25 percent. At wide-open throttle in S+, shifts take just a tenth of a second. The final mode is “M,” for manual. You can engage manual either with the knob or by pulling on the wheel-mounted paddles.

Downshifts are really fun in the top three modes as the ECU blips the throttle through the gears. In M mode, the transmission stays in the gear you select.

These all promised an aggressive, sporty drive. Unfortunately, we never had a road worthy of the E 63's promise and we never got the car onto a racetrack.

“Few if any owners will ever take this onto a racetrack,” said a Mercedes representative.

A view from the back of the new E 63 AMG.

That's a pity, since this is just crying out for one of those Mustang-versus-Camaro, jet-versus-Vette comparos with the M5, the RS6, the G8 or something. As it was, we never even played with the three-stage ESP that, in theory, allows you to slide it all over the place in full off mode as long as you don't touch the brakes.

Ah, the brakes. The standard brakes are pretty impressive by themselves, with six-piston front, four-piston rear vented 360-millimeter discs hauling the 4,058-pound autobahn bruiser down to the ground. But there is a ceramic-brake option that adds 42 millimeters to the front rotor should anyone actually take this beast to the track and wail on it. However, as with other ceramic setups we've tried, the low-speed, squeaking, cold-faded shortcomings tend to outweigh the 40 percent weight savings and Le Mans-capable cooling and durability benefits of these things, and we wish they'd just fade off all manufacturers' options lists. At what we estimate will be a $10,000 option price, you'd really need to race every weekend to make them worth it.

But even if you didn't race every weekend, you could drive around as if you were racing, which often is just as fun.

No price was released, but expect the car to sell for a little more than the 80-something price of the current model.

2010 Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG

ON SALE: October

BASE PRICE: High $80,000s, low $90,000s (AW est)

DRIVETRAIN: 518-hp, 465-lb-ft, 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8; RWD, seven-speed automatic

CURB WEIGHT: 4,058 lb

0-60 MPH: 4.4 seconds (mfr)

FUEL ECONOMY: 16 mpg (mfr est)

By Mark Vaughn