AMG’s new three-chamber air suspension system ought to have put more notional distance between the car’s Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Race driving programs. Even in Comfort, the E 63 S is very firm-riding - both in town and on an averagely uneven backroad. At motorway speeds and on smoother surfaces it feels more settled and calm – which will be good news to prospective owners planning to use the E63 as big, powerful saloons are most commonly used: to cover big distances.
But such is the suspension’s inability to isolate you from even the smallest ridge or lump in the road (a common thread of modern Mercedes-AMG saloons, to be fair, and not normally a bothersome one) and its restlessness over bigger bumps that you seldom have the patience to tolerate a firmer setting than is absolutely necessary for more than a mile or two.
But tolerate you must if you want to find out how much handling amusement the E 63 S can ultimately give you, because only with extra-firm Race mode engaged, the car’s ESP disengaged and its manual transmission mode selected, can you activate the car’s Drift mode – and to finally discover what 627lb ft driving through the rear wheels actually feels like.
On a decent and dry surface, like a modern racing circuit, where you know there’s nothing coming the other way, Drift mode is every bit as much fun as you’d hope. The E 63’s sharpened handling agility makes for less initial understeer on the limit and, in spite of the directness of the car’s steering, its cornering attitude very quickly becomes as benignly adjustable as ever a powerful rear-wheel-drive saloon’s was.
But that’s not good enough. The truth is, because Drift mode is such a faff to engage and operates in such particular circumstances, you’re hardly ever likely to use it on the road. More importantly, when it’s not engaged, the E 63’s handling is considerably less playful and absorbing than you’d like it to be.
The four-wheel-drive system lays on progressively less and less stability bias as you dial up through the drive modes, but it never puts the car into the setting you really want it in: the one that’ll brighten up any routine trip with a vivid dose of chassis communication and the odd lively wiggle of throttle-steer. You just want 604bhp to give you a car that’s more fun to drive every day as well as that much faster across the ground than the average four-door - but the E 63 only gives you qualified satisfaction.
As for standard equipment found on the Mercedes-AMG E-Class range, the entry-level E 43 gets 19in alloys, a diamond grille, red seat belts, Nappa leather upholstery, and numerous AMG tweaked parts, including the air suspension, bodykit, brake callipers and exhaust system.
Upgrade to the E 63, and you’ll find a mechanical rear axle limited slip differential, a race-tuned nine-speed automatic gearbox, a quad exhaust system, a cylinder deactivation system (which switches off four cylinders in the pursuit of fuel efficiency), AMG sports seats, electrically adjustable front seats and steering wheel, and Mercedes’ Comand infotainment system complete with a 12.3in display and 12.3in digital instrument cluster.
Going whole hog and getting the full fat E 63 S includes 20in alloy wheels, dynamic engine mounts, an electronic rear axle limited slip differential and AMG bucket seats.
Typically luxurious and well-equipped, the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4Matic+ is about eight-tenths of a quite brilliant performance saloon. It’s faster than we might have imagined a luxury four-door would ever be ten years ago, and it can be magnificently exciting. And, slightly hollow and restless ride aside, it’s also hugely secure and adhesive on the road and a whole heap of fun on the track.