Road Tests

Drive Review: Mercedes E63 AMG (2018) is AWD finessed

We admire Germans for their control. They know footballing superiority is about possession, instead of heroic – but mostly futile – surges up the middle.

The unshakable image of German control has threatened to spiral into chaos, of late, because of some very applied mechanical engineers at AMG. As power outputs have surged beyond 400kW, the traditional rear-wheel drive configuration has been found wanting – with stability and traction control warning lights at risk of early replacement, due to a perpetual frequency of flickering.

To regain control of the seemingly uncontrollable, AMG’s done what one never expected it would, introduced all-wheel drive on its proper performance cars. ‘But they’ve had four-wheel drive AMG SUVs for years?’ True, but those have permanent drive to all four wheels. AMG’s new E63 does, but also doesn’t. Confused? We were too, initially.

Never underestimate German engineers when presented with an issue which has defeated others for decades: how to have the best of both all- and rear-wheel drive in one configuration. For AMG’s most gifted employees the solution was a completely new variable 4Matic+ system, alternating between the turn-in accuracy of rear-wheel drive, whist mitigating against inadvertent mid-corner 180s.

The E63 AMG system defaults to rear-wheel drive, only electromechanically coupling torque to the front axle when wheel slip is detected. Unlike permanent all-wheel drive systems, it doesn’t surrender into understeer the moment you enter a corner at speed, but will catapult you from apex to clipping point with an optimal distribution of torque between front and rear axle.

Despite being nearly 2000kg with front seats occupied and fuel, E63 AMG remains gloriously untroubled by physics, rewarding naughty throttle behaviour with a tidy little oversteering shimmy of the hips, and no insurance claim consequences, thereby making even the most average of drivers feel like knights of the Nürburgring. There’s a drift mode within the ‘Race+’ setting too, which removes ESP shielding and does what it promises, but only tyre dealer franchisees would consider using it regularly.

Variable all-wheel drive system makes all 450kW and 850Nm more useable than you’d ever imagine possible, E63 S’s 0-100kph time of 3.4 seconds silencing most braai-side car banter. Supercar rivalling performance numbers aside, this remains a luxury car too, with all the attributes of five-person seating and comfort that most two-door cars – capable of E63’s 0-100kph acceleration – can never equal.

Tracing a heritage back to the Porsche-tuned 500E, new E63 AMG is true to all German four-door supercar principles – even revolutionising a few. Beyond stupendous speed and a nuclear popcorn maker engine note, what E63 AMG does better than any other is balance ride comfort and body roll moderation, something impossible to achieve without air-suspension – a feature none of its rivals offer. Lance Branquinho

Read our first drive of new 2018 BMW M5

Specification 

  • 3982cc, 8-cyl biturbo petrol, AWD
  • 450kW, 850Nm, 9A
  • 9.1l/100km, 207g/km
  • 0-100km/h in 3.4secs, 300km/h
  • 1880kg
  • Verdict: Fastest four-door you can buy finally makes sense of four-wheel drive.
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