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The first supercar I drove in India, drove as in really drove to my heart’s content without any chaperones, minders or supervision was the Audi R8. Back when it was launched, we took the mid-engined machine, then with the V8 engine so more sportscar than supercar but it was still the fastest car we could (legally!) lay our hands on, and drowned ourselves in speed by chasing the fastest bike in the country – the Suzuki Hayabusa – on the country’s fastest road, the (then) deserted stretch from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. It was a celebration of power, noise and the wild laughter of a man unleashing a very fast car with only an equally deranged man crouching behind the fairing of a very fast bike for company. Like a first kiss, that day is hardwired into my head; it’s what every fast car, every memorable drive is benchmarked against. That R8 made 414bhp. Launched to 100kmph in 4.6 seconds. And it’ll get smoked by the Mercedes E-Class I’m driving today! Madness!
It’s not even ten years since I did that story and the horsepower race has moved to another planet altogether. Natural aspiration is all but dead. Turbos have been bolted on to everything. V6s are now kicking out 450 horsepower. And V8s… oh boy… they’ve been dialled up to six hundred plus horsepower.
“I push the throttle into the firewall I have the air punched out of my lungs”
This is not a joke. Driving a car with 603bhp is not a joke. We’re at the foothills of our favourite driving road outside of Pune – Jodhpur to Jaisalmer isn’t what it used to be – and the first time I push the throttle into the firewall I have the air punched out of my lungs. It’s violent. Physically and mentally overwhelming. Strapped into the back seat Alameen, our filmmaker, says you don’t ever need to go to an amusement park. A few corners later, after I’ve punched everything into full Dynamic and discovered the sport exhaust button he adds, “you won’t have any kharcha for Diwali fatakras”.
3.4 seconds – that’s the launch time to 100kmph. Top speed? 250kmph. Give AMG some extra cash and they will delete the speed limiter and the E 63 S AMG will run all the way up to 300kmph. 300kmph in a four-door saloon! Whaaat!?!
“Even when you rev it at idle, like an absolute idiot, it indulges with awesomely loud braaps and farts”
Wait, there’s one more figure to shatter you. The torque. 850Nm. I have a benchmark for what an AMG can do, a benchmark for over-the-top super-saloons, and the Mercedes E 63 S AMG shatters it. It’ll come as no surprise that 4Matic+ badges adorn the flanks of the E 63 S AMG. Without permanent all-wheel drive how are you going to rein in 603bhp and 850Nm? The fully variable AWD has a multi-plate clutch aft of the gearbox that can transfer up to 100 per cent of the torque to the front axle depending on conditions. With AMGs of the past the ESP triangle would either be flashing furiously or you’d be worringly sideways, either way you wouldn’t be making very fast exits from tight corners. No longer. The E 63 claws into the tarmac and charges out of hairpins with nary a wiggle from the back end. Having the ability to deploy 603bhp, that is what shocks and awes.
This is the same twin-turbo V8 motor as found nestling under the hood of the AMG GT and that wildly green AMG GT R, except in an even madder specification. This is the first time I’m driving a sports saloon that makes more power and more torque than the (almost) supercar that it shares its engine with! The upgrades to the motor include the first application of twin-scroll turbochargers (still nestled in the Vee, hence hot-V), upgraded pistons, optimised airflow and still no artificial-noises nonsense. Ride the torque at low revs and there’s a wonderful woofling from intake and exhaust, click it into Race mode and it bellows and hollers while crackling lavishly on the overrun. Even when you rev it at idle, like an absolute idiot, it indulges with awesomely loud braaps and farts. And when you launch it in Race mode, oh wow, it accelerates with supercar-matching ferocity. This is down to the AWD but also the new race-tuned multi-clutch nine-speed gearbox that is as quick as the best twin-clutches but with all the smoothness of a torque convertor. 3.4 seconds is all it takes to 100kmph. The AMG GT R does it in 3.6 seconds! A 4-door saloon that out accelerates the BIC lap record holder!
That is 150 more torques than the GT R! This is so much torque that you actually feel a torque surge every time you shift gears, unlike modern turbo’d motors where everything is seamlessly violent. Here there is violence and a further surge in violence on every upshift. It’s like a hot rod and if the ridiculousness hasn’t already peaked, you scroll through the menus and stumble upon a drag mode. A drag mode! That will clock your quarter mile times! I’m already working on Mercedes to loan me an Mercedes E 63 S AMG for next year’s Valley Run drag event.
Don’t mistake the Mercedes E 63 S AMG for a straight-line car though. Fully exploiting the Mercedes E 63 S AMG needs a racetrack, which is why when you scroll through the menus there are a dozen iconic race tracks mapped out, including the full Nurburgring North Loop. Basically you can cruise down to the ’Ring with four mates in proper luxury, wear a helmet and bang in a set of hot laps, drive back home before the tyres are destroyed and then plug the data into the PlayStation and analyse your laps. I’m not sure of the PlayStation compatibility so don’t hold a gun to my head. And by all means hold a gun to AMG’s head till they map out the MMRT and BIC for their Indian customers.
On the road – which is what an E-Class was designed for, no? – the AWD delivers incredible drive out of corners and allied to that is just a mad amount of front-end grip. It is next to impossible to find understeer, I can assure you of that. I threw it into corners as fast as I dared and the nose stayed put to the line. The brakes, carbon ceramic brakes, have inexhaustible stopping power. The steering is light, direct and surprisingly unobtrusive – it is that rare example of variable ratio steering (quickens responses at low speeds and slows it down to enhance stability at speed) that does not feel a bit weird and unnatural. But that said the earlier playfulness of the Mercedes E AMG, that throttle adjustability, that’s been dialled down. Clicking from Comfort to Sport, Sport + and Race progressively loosens up the ESP intervention but that torque oversteer, always such a bit part of a big AMG’s appeal, is missing. Until I discover Drift Mode.
Before that I spent 20 minutes reading the owner’s manual – for the first time in my life. I’ll spare you what I was doing wrong and my growing frustration at the ‘Drift Mode unavailable, refer owner’s manual’ warning. This is the complicated procedure to disconnect drive to the front axle. Select Race mode, select Manual on the 9-speed gearbox, long press ESP till it is turned off, pull back both the steering wheel paddles to call up Drift Mode, pull the right paddle to accept the prompt, read the ominous warning, accept your PHD in operating complicated car menus, and say hello to rear-wheel drive.
I should reiterate this is rear-wheel drive without any electronic net whatsoever so you are on your own should you run out of talent. If you are moderately handy behind the wheel though, oh boy oh boy, the Mercedes E 63 S AMG is immensely – I repeat immensely – amusing. There’s so much power that booting it is enough to get the rear wheels spinning and allied to that is the electronic limited slip differential on the rear axle allowing for long, tyre-smoking, full-opposite-lock drifts. There’s also an absolutely lovely chassis with delicacy, balance and stiffness to hold it all together. It has been a while since I had so much fun as I had with the Mercedes E 63 S locked into Drift mode. It’s been a while since the photographers had as much fun too. Drama, tyre smoke and power-oversteer on demand with controllability – we only stopped when the fuel reserve warning lit up.
“I should reiterate this is rear-wheel drive without any electronic net whatsoever so you are on your own”
So for the final stretch home, nursing the throttle till we get to a pump with 97 Octane fuel. That’s when we experience the other side of the E 63 S AMG, that it can also do a relaxed cruise. For the first time the Mercedes E AMG gets air suspension and that not only means a modicum of comfort in Comfort mode (and teeth-gritting ride in Dynamic thanks to 20-inch rims) but, crucially, you can raise the suspension for speed breakers so it doesn’t touch anywhere. I cannot tell you what a boon that is over our Indian roads.
That brilliant central display now with added graphics for the track modes, the configurable speedo and tacho with a mode where the entire display flashes red to remind you to upshift, the beautiful Alcantara-trimmed flat-bottom steering wheel and the extravagantly bolstered single-frame sports seats. The Mercedes E 63 S AMG, for obvious reasons, is only available in the regular wheelbase spec but there’s still ample space at the back for your bros. And it looks awesome what with that angry AMG nose, carbonfibre splitter, more carbon on the sills, 20-inch rims and a boot spoiler, only the latter being perhaps a bit too subtle. Nevertheless Mercedes E 63 S AMG owners having shelled out over 1.5 crore rupees will not have to worry about their car being mistaken for a 4-cylinder diesel E-Class.
Neither will they worry about keeping pace with supercars, on road or track. Game-changer is an oft-abused term in the automobile industry but the Mercedes E 63 S AMG does mark a new level of insanity, not to mention duality of purpose, for performance saloons. The game has moved on, and how.