Mercedes-AMG has for the longest time tried its utmost best to challenge BMW’s M Division, with varying degrees of success, but back in 2002, all this changed for good, at least in my books. Enter the W211 E55 AMG V8 Kompressor, which took the fight directly to the then E39 BMW M5 that was at the time the fastest saloon car on the planet. Of course, the E55 had other plans of its own and, with a 5.4-litre Supercharged V8, it put out a staggering 350 kW and 700 Nm - outputs that not even the Ferrari F360 Modena could muster.
AMG had surely laid down the gauntlet and the fight of the executive express machines was truly waged. Since then, both AMG and M Divisions have dealt each count for count blows and this hasn’t abated as I present to you the latest AMG E63 S. Having recently returned from the tailor bearing a new and sharper suit - the design seems to have toned down on the pre-facelift's more aggressive visage. This is not a bad thing, in fact, considering that owners of these stealth bombers prefer to roll around in a far more incognito way, without shouting and flexing their bulging muscles.
The new Panemaricana grille, which is now standard fare across the top tier AMG models, gives the E63 S a distinct look that is not to be mistaken for a cooking E-Class variant. Those headlights together with the AMG apron add to the visual drama, so too do the 20-inch AMG wheels and those quad tailpipes sprouting through the rear valance. There’s also a discreet carbon fibre boot spoiler, that finishes off the sporty theme.
The cabin too, melds the executive premium feel with lashings of race inspired carbon fibre inlays on the centre console and door panels, while AMG motifs are peppered about the cabin including illuminated doors sill so you are under no illusions of the model’s pedigree. It is also prudent to mention that Mercedes has the cabin game properly waxed at the moment, even eclipsing long-standing Audi’s reputation for cabin layouts. Being an E-Class sedan derivative, there is ample room for both passengers and luggage, making it an ideal family sedan for those long-distance jaunts to the seaside all in relative comfort.
Of course, the E63 S is the top-shelf performer in the E range and it has the brawn to back it all up. At its heart beats the renowned 4-litre twin-turbo V8 that thumps out a bonkers 450kW and 850Nm to all four wheels for maximum traction off the line. Allied to this is a 9-speed MCT automatic transmission that does a stellar job of conspicuously switching cogs on the daily slog, all the while being a snappy shifter when hustling it along your favourite B-road.
That engine remains the centerpiece of the E63 S’s repertoire and manages to belch out a rambunctious battle war cry as soon as you mesh that loud pedal to the floorboards. Yes, there remains an initial pause in power delivery as those two turbos spool up, but once the air is rammed back into the combustion chamber, then all 850Nm come at you like a steam train at full tilt. For such a hefty vehicle, tipping the scales at over 2 tonnes, there’s such a mesmeric element in the way this thing distills speed. It's a sledgehammer that is not shy to reel in the horizon in search of pesky, sports car drivers that are none the wiser.
Our test unit came equipped with the R145 000 optional ceramic composite brakes that are averse to heat and fade and were put to good use during our test tenure. In my humble experience, Mercedes-AMG brakes have been stellar in their performance and the E63 S is no exception, delivering a consistent brake pedal feel that is easy to modulate and that one can lean on with the utmost confidence. Then there is the handling - exceptional to say the least, thanks to the front negative camber that ensures crisp turn in and prodigious grip through fast, sweeping roads.
The E63 S, as proven, is a fast express that will bludgeon any would be hot-hatch into submission, but it also has a streak of delinquency, courtesy of its drift mode. This requires a few button sequences - dial the drive mode all the way to Race, press and hold the ESP button for a few seconds, select manual mode for the transmission, then pull both shift paddles behind the steering wheel and confirm Drift Mode by pulling the right paddle. This allows the E63 S to shift from being a ludicrously quick, fuss-free all wheel drive sedan, to one that only sends power to the rear wheels. Yes, you can lay down long unofficial road markings courtesy of the rear tyres.
Having a slightly long wheel base, you can easily pitch it sideways and ride that huge wave of torque and go lurid to your heart’s content. Personally, it is the adaptability and variety that makes it and its main rival, the BMW M5 Competition, such enchanting steers for keen drivers. If there was one fly in the ointment, that would point to the exhaust system. While our tester was kitted out with the optional R23 100 AMG performance exhaust system, the sound never quite sounds as thunderous as before, no thanks to the petrol particulate filters fitted to most modern performance cars. I get the stringent emission measure that manufacturers have to conform to, but the by-product is a muffled exhaust note, which in a performance car is an important characteristic of that vehicle.
At R2 436 440, the AMG E63 S is a top-tier performance sedan with the muscle to back it up. Yes, you will have to stop at the fuel pumps quite often when use the performance on tap, but that's a crass subject in this instance. Performance sedans may be yielding slightly to the more popular performance SUVs, but we here at TopGear SA love performance sedans to no end. Soon, V8 sedans in this segment will be superseded by four cylinder hybrids, which is somewhat of travesty in our books. That said, the E63 S remains a stellar performer for those who prefer to follow the star on the bonnet.
That said, the Mercedes-AMG E63 S proves, once again, that in the automotive realm you can really have your cake and eat it. You need an executive sedan, check! It must carry the family and sundry, check! It must have a powerful V8 engine, check! Blast from 0 to 100km/h in 3.5 seconds on your way to 300km/h, check! Super performance sedans are a masterstroke and we here at TopGear SA relish them to no end, which is why we should celebrate them with unwavering ferver, because, one day, these too will be relegated to the motoring history annals. But right here, right now, we rejoice that such vehicles continue to exist unabated.