First drive: Mercedes-AMG E 63 S

We take a drive of the refreshed Mercedes-AMG E 63 S, which now has standard all-wheel drive.

What is it?
The Mercedes-AMG E 63 is the latest super-saloon to come fresh from Stuttgart.

More of a refresh model than anything strikingly new, the car retains a lot from the outgoing E 63, but it will be the first-time adaptive air suspension and four-wheel drive will be standard in the UK, as well as receiving a little boost in performance.

What's under the bonnet?

Beneath the subtly bulging bonnet sits a 4.0-litre V8 that's based on the same unit found in the smaller C 63. However, it's been totally overhauled with new pistons, a revised air intake and improved charge air cooler – then the ECU was reprogrammed to make the most of the changes.

So, in S guise that's an astonishing 604bhp and 850Nm of torque, with a 0-60mph time of 3.1 seconds and a top speed limited to 155mph. Those are crazy numbers for a big executive saloon.

As with many turbocharged engines, response isn't as violent as you might expect given the numbers you've just been reading; it's best described as a surge. But there's a definite kick in the back as it relentlessly pushes you up to and beyond licence-threatening speeds in mere seconds.

What's the spec like?
Two trim options are available. The 'standard' E 63 has 563bhp while the S model, which is what we drove, gets the previously-mentioned performance bump and some extra kit.

There's a driver assistance package available optionally for £1,695 which includes a number of safety features such as blind spot assistance, lane-keeping assistance, and a semi-autonomous driving mode. Although really, for a car that costs nearly £90,000, this equipment should be included as standard. On the plus side, though, it's not too expensive when compared to the cost of the car.

In terms of space, the E-Class is a big car. Four adults can travel long distances in comfort thanks to a spacious cabin, while the boot is large enough for most occasions – an E 63 Estate is also available if you need something even more practical, as well.

Any rivals?
The E 63 goes up against the usual suspects in its segment, although they're all coming in totally fresh. The second-generation Panamera arrived last year, receiving great praise all around on its arrival. Audi's latest RS5 has just launched and BMW will be bringing an all-new M5 to the party later this year, which is also rumoured to featured all-wheel drive. Things may be about to heat up in the super-saloon market...

What's it like to drive?
If you can get over the firm seats and keep the E 63 S in comfort mode, you can almost pretend you're in just any other luxury premium saloon. Although, flicking the engine to Sport mode is like going from lemon and herb sauce to extra hot peri-peri at Nando's.

Once a tame beast, the E 63 all of a sudden demands your attention. Throttle response improves and that surge of horsepower won't be afraid to catch you out if you're not ready for it. The air suspension is perhaps too firm here, making you feel like you're rather hanging on along a bumpy back road. When everything is working in harmony though, it's astonishing a big, premium barge can handle like this.

The split personality truly impresses. Back in comfort mode and those in the rear seats would probably never know the monster that lurks underneath. This car really can do it all.

The Mercedes-AMG E 63 S is an astonishing machine. It's impressive how a car with GT cruiser traits so engrained in its DNA can be so readily transformed into a Tarmac-torturing monster. That it retains a lot of its GT nature is perhaps more so. The BMW M5 has always had one over the E 63 in terms of dynamics, but that's no longer the case – the upcoming M5 has its work cut out, then...

The Knowledge
Model: Mercedes-AMG E 63 S
Price as tested: £88,295
Engine tested: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 604bhp
Torque: 840Nm
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 3.1 seconds
MPG: 31mpg
Emissions: 207g/km

Mercedes-AMG E 63 S
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Mercedes-AMG E 63 S

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