Don’t think of this as a normal comparison test, then, but instead a series of head-to-head duels that the new Merc will have to negotiate in turn before it can prove itself to be the greatest super-saloon.
The Lexus GS F would seem to be easy meat for the AMG in so many ways, but it does have a normally aspirated 5.0-litre V8 well known for going all operatic as the rev needle passes 4000rpm. Out-bellowing the Lexus will be the Mercedes’ first challenge. After that, we’ll break out the Autocar timing gear and discover whether the E63 can out-accelerate a four-door that, frankly, feels entirely un-out-accelerate-able even by most super-sports cars: the absurdly rapid Audi RS7 Sportback. Finally – and only assuming it progresses that far – the AMG will face off against the BMW M6 Gran Coupé Competition Pack, a handling purist’s M car with steel springs, rear-wheel drive, hydraulically assisted steering and an overall driving experience so good that it damn near denied the brilliant new Porsche Panamera Turbo a group test win earlier this year.
The E63 S is no longer, strictly speaking, the car a handling purist might automatically pick: this new version has not only four-wheel drive but also all-corner adjustable air suspension. But it does have a rearwheel-drive drift mode; it does have 600-odd horsepower; it’s claimed to be capable of 0-62mph in an eyepopping 3.4sec; and it was created in Affalterbach, from where very few disappointing driver’s cars have ever rolled forth.
This should be interesting.
HOW DOES IT SOUND?
Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ vs Lexus GS F
Before we get moving, we’ll break out the Autocar noise meter, which looks a bit like a prop from Tomorrow’s World. Shame I don’t look more like Maggie Philbin.
The back end of the 470bhp GS F, meanwhile, looks more like the business end of a 300-year-old church pipe organ, its quad exhausts stacked diagonally.
In theory, the Lexus should have the advantage here in terms of sonorous quality, without any turbos to muffle or disguise its combustion repertoire. But then it wouldn’t be like AMG to decline to make up in quantity of noise what the car’s V8 soundtrack may lack in quality. Our test car also has AMG’s £1000 optional performance exhaust, which ought to ramp the decibels up a few notches.
When you’re driving the Lexus, the audible transformation that engine goes through as it extends beyond about 4000rpm – from civilised, silken V8 cruiser to screaming hellraiser – is striking. It’s Eric-Wimp-into-Bananaman-type striking. The car isn’t desperately quick by current performance saloon standards, but when it’s revving hard, the noise you hear from the driver’s seat can certainly trick you that it is.
But it’s from the outside we’ll measure the scope of their noise level today; not from the cabin (where we measure as part of the road test) or from close enough to the exhaust tips for our numbers to be a reliable guide as to whether either might pass a static noise test on a track day. We’re going to measure at just about the range that you might hear one of these cars going past on the street: 10 paces or so, at a steady 5500rpm.
The Lexus doesn’t sound quite as imposing from the outside as it does from inside the cabin. It’s throaty, but slightly high-pitched and thinsounding compared with the AMG’s woofling, bass growl. Plenty of ‘exhaust noise’ is being reproduced by the GS’s stereo speakers, plainly. Where the E63 S crackles and bangs on the overrun as unburnt fuel in its exhaust detonates on the hot metalwork, the GS F’s crankshaft zings up to speed and then gently whines its way back to idle again.
Does the Lexus sound better – more cultured – than the AMG? You wouldn’t say so. More reserved, perhaps; less cringey when you’re not keen to announce your presence somewhere, no doubt. But on the ear, you couldn’t be sure it was the quieter of the two, most of the time at least.
The decibel meter delivers the scores: 87.2dB for the GS F, 88.9dB for the E63 S. A narrow-looking victory, albeit one backed by an undoubtedly superior sonic sense of presence for the AMG, until… BANG, CRACKLE, POP. Those detonations send the noise meter’s reading’s ‘max’ beyond 100. Gunshot volume. And an easy first victory for the newcomer.
HOW FAST IS IT?
Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ vs Audi RS7 Sportback
This head-to-head won’t be as easy. The previous E63 would have been absolutely destroyed by the 597bhp, quattro-driven RS7 on standing-start acceleration and, right now, I can’t honestly believe the new one can make such a titanic step up.
It only was this generation of Audi’s RS6 Avant and RS7 Sportback that finally took the 0-62mph benchmark for big, luxury, four-seat super-saloon/estate cars under 4.0sec. Even before Neckarsulm revised the cars with its Performance editions last year, both were capable of hitting 60mph from rest in threepoint-something thanks to an engine good enough to have become the motor of choice (as far as we’re concerned) in a 2.5-tonne Bentley Continental GT. Now, in revised and more powerful form, an RS6 has been timed by us at under 3.5sec to 60mph – admittedly, only running in one direction and with one occupant on board. So how fast will an RS7 go?
The spec sheet gives the new AMG a marginal advantage on kerb weight (1875kg versus 1930kg) as well as a sizable lead on torque (627lb ft versus 553lb ft, both from 2500rpm). And yet, sitting in the rocketship Audi while it’s bothering the tarmac with those 21in alloy wheels and wasting not a bit of energy in wheelspin, you simply can’t believe the Mercedes-AMG is going to stand a chance. Cars this size very rarely feel so fast. The RS7’s thrust is ever-present and almost seamless. There’s no delay to speak of at all between the coordination of your feet on the pedals and the crushing release of forward momentum; very little turbo lag and no thinking time needed for the drivetrain or traction control. Just incredibly linear grunt apparently everywhere in the rev range, available in every gear.
The E63 feels quite different during the struggle with physics necessary to get this heft to the national speed limit in roughly the time it takes me to get out of a low leather sofa. For starters, it has launch control (Race Start in AMG speak). Engage that and the engine and transmission have an instant’s pause as you lift your foot off the brake pedal, followed immediately by a perfect juggling of throttle and revs, and an equally perfect inter-axle distribution of torque that allows a wee bit of wheelspin at the rear wheels but plainly also a whole lot of grappling at the front ones.
The AMG’s power delivery feels less linear than the Audi’s. It’s subject to a clearer surge of energy as the revs rise and a slightly more frenetic, staccato style under full power. Because the RS7’s supply of grunt seems broader and more everpresent, it’s the Audi that feels like the marginally quicker car.
But, astoundingly, it’s not. In one direction, and with one occupant on board, the Audi manages 60mph in 3.36sec and 100mph in 7.52sec. Staggering figures. Yet the E63 S 4Matic+ has it beaten – narrowly, but on every figure.
Whether it feels as much or not, the timing gear’s the ultimate judge; and quicker is quicker. So, after a mighty show of force but the slenderest of wins, the new E63 marches on.
HOW GREAT TO DRIVE IS IT?
Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ vs BMW M6 Gran Coupé Competition Package
And so to the last hurdle. We’ve established that the new E63 is our king of noise and that the car’s new 4.0-litre V8 (different from the one in the C63 in that it has twin-scroll turbochargers, new pistons and a revised induction system) can combine with its nine-speed auto ’box and new all-corner drivetrain to outsprint a mighty RS7. Now our attention turns to what the E63 stood to lose by moving away from the simplicity of steel suspension and two-wheel drive: the balance and communicativeness of its handling.
The one absolutely undeniable and unmissable truth about this new E63 is that its new air suspension set-up hasn’t made it a more comfortableriding car. I dare say that might have been the object of the inclusion of air springs, along with the advantages conferred as a result of adaptive springing. But the object has been missed. While a C63 S feels unapologetically coarse and noisy over sharp edges and raised ironwork, the E63 S is even harsher. In a bigger saloon – an E-Class, no less – that’s quite a hard dynamic compromise to accept. Mercedes-AMG will argue, of course, that if you don’t like the car’s thumpy, unforgiving ride, there’s now a regular E63 and an E43 you might prefer (you big jessie).
But here’s the thing: I loved the last E63 S. It slotted into a dynamic sweet spot between control and compliance that allowed you to enjoy its brilliant powertrain however you chose. I also love the current C63 S – ‘nuggety’ though its ride undoubtedly is. I can put up with the coarseness of the C-Class’s ride because, aside from being noisy, it’s basically compliant enough to be comfy at a cruise. But I’m not sure I could put up with the slightly hollow, occasionally fidgety stiffness of the new E63 S’s on-road ride. Even in Comfort mode, there’s a restlessness and a shortage of progressiveness to the car’s close body control, as well as a lack of secondary isolation that’s fast becoming an AMG dynamic trademark. The problem stops short of skittishness. Nevertheless, this is a car I would always drive in Comfort mode on the road and even then I’d be wincing occasionally.
Not that you’ll have too many reservations early on at the E63’s wheel – because the outright grip level and rapier handling response are both astonishingly good. The steering isn’t great at communicating changing load, where so many air-sprung cars fall down, but it’s still meaty and telegraphs plenty of contact patch feel. So one way or the other, you know how much work the front wheels are ultimately doing.
And what about that four-wheeldrive system? It adds too thick a blanket of stability for my taste when the car is in Comfort and Sport driving modes. It allows the handling to become more neutral and a little bit adjustable at road speeds in Sport+ and Race – but even here the drivetrain feels a bit grabby and intrusive now and again. The trouble is, the ride becomes so firm in the firmer drive modes that, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be loath to use them too often on the road. The rewards aren’t worth the compromise.
There’s always Drift mode, of course – and the E63 drifts sensationally well – but it’s a mode that AMG makes quite prescriptive to access. You can only deactivate the E63’s front driveshafts, as it turns out, after you’ve selected Race mode and Manual mode on the gearbox; fully deactivated the ESP with a long press of a different button; and then held both paddles down, using a subsequent flick of the right-hand paddle to confirm your intent. Are you likely to do all that very often? Should your £90,000 super-saloon present such a prosaic choice of either traction and stability-centred speed and thrills on the one hand, or track-only white-knuckle skids on the other hand – with not quite enough opportunity for moments of real-world rear-drive handling fun catered for in between? I don’t think so.
Compared with the E63, the M6 Competition Pack is supple, measured and tactile to control; not as sensationally rapid as the AMG on smooth tarmac but more confidence-inspiring on typical UK roads in order to actually carry the greater speed when the mood takes. It doesn’t grip as hard as the E63 or turn in as violently, having slowergeared steering that actually does a better job of making the car handle precisely on most roads.
The BMW isn’t quite as sweetly balanced as the AMG in its wildest moments, either – but its handling is, by a narrow margin, the more engaging of the two, more of the time.
And so a final victory is beyond our ‘Ironman’ E63. It has failed to assert ultimate superiority over its closest rivals – and the manner of its last-ditch failure may be enough to cause a bit of concern among the AMG faithful who’ve enjoyed more rounded, lively and engaging fast E-Classes than this over the years; and whose ‘Drift mode’ was only ever one button press away.
This hasn’t been a normal group test. The cars in it have lined up one by one to take a swing at the new boy rather than trying to land blows on each other, so we won’t have rankings and we won’t have a winner. But if we were to have one, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been the E63.
Audi RS7 Performance Sportback
Price £94,110 Engine 3993cc, V8, twin-turbo, petrol Power 597bhp at 6000rpm Torque 553lb ft at 2500rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 1930kg Top speed 155mph (limited) 0-62mph 3.7sec Fuel economy 29.7mpg CO2/tax band 221g/km, 37%
BMW M6 Gran Coupé Competition Pack
Price £101,665 Engine 4395cc, V8, twin-turbo, petrol Power 592bhp at 6800rpm Torque 516lb ft at 1500-6000rpm Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight 1950kg Top speed 155mph (limited) 0-62mph 4.0sec Fuel economy 28.5mpg CO2/tax band 231g/km, 37%
Lexus GS F
Price £73,375 Engine 4969cc, V8, petrol Power 470bhp at 7100rpm Torque 391lb ft at 4800rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 1865kg Top speed 168mph Top speed 4.6sec Fuel economy 25.2mpg CO2/tax band 260g/km, 37%
Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+
Price £88,295 Engine 3982cc, V8, twin-turbo, petrol Power 604bhp at 5750-6500rpm Torque 627lb ft at 2500-4500rpm Gearbox 9-spd dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight1875kg Top speed 186mph 0-62mph 3.4sec Fuel economy 31.0mpg CO2/tax band 207g/km, 37%