Fear ye not, Merc traditionalists, the MC Hammer of super saloons is back
Having reviewed recently the latest BMW M5, Iain Robertson could sense the air of inevitability that a hot Mercedes-Benz would be just around the corner and he was not wrong, as Merc’s direct rival to the all-conquering M5 plays the mirror game.
All we need would be a new RS6 from Audi and the Teutonic Threesome would have a complete play in three simultaneous acts…it is on the way! Despite my unremitting adulation for the Munich product, I remain fully aware that, had it not been for Mercedes-Benz, the entire concept of a ‘super-saloon’ might never have existed and ‘6.3’ is the important numerical reference for the model that may have altered the ‘space-time continuum’, had Marty McFly been created at the time.
Although ‘6.3’ was added to the boot-lids of cars that became the doyen of the Grand Prix set (to whom Merc used to hand them out like sweeties, regardless of engine/sponsor contracts), this was the model also beloved by self-driving millionaires and money-makers. At the time, the ‘6.3’ was based on the largest S-Class V8 SEL model, which, complete with its air suspension that was guaranteed to collapse with age, could spirit occupants, in 1978 from 0-60mph in around 6.3s, with a top speed nudging 145mph. It vied with the illustrious Maserati Quattroporte for the title of ‘fastest saloon car in the world’. My dad owned the ‘poor man’s’ version with the ‘3.5’ badge; it was still ‘special’ but lacked the cachet.
While big engined Mercs remained on the firm’s production list, it was the amazing 500E, which also became known as ‘The Hammer’, of 1986, that was Merc’s antidote to BMW’s M5, being based on the smaller E-Class. I recall booking a test version at the time. Not one but two ‘Men in Black’ arrived at my front door. Eminently polite, they could have been from the CIA, or even the ‘Stazi’. One of them spoke with me, as the other appeared to ‘keep watch’ behind him. I was informed that I could drive wherever the contents of the full petrol tank would take us (at 13.8mpg, not far, I assure you!). With the speaker in the front seat and the watcher in the rear, my test session commenced.
It was possibly one of the most unusual test drive sessions I have ever undertaken, bearing in mind that I was more familiar with receiving a car for my exclusive use, for a week-long test. Following an initial familiarisation period, during which my queries about certain switches were answered, I felt confident enough to take to the motorway. Within seconds, the exceedingly rare 500E was hammer down and exceeding 120mph. Neither of my passengers seemed remotely put out by the experience, even when I hit the speed limiter (155mph) on more than one occasion.
Despite its prodigious competence, 500E lacked a little something that ‘The Hammer’ could not replicate; the ‘6.3’ badge. Merc knew it. While it took a few years, something pricked a Stuttgart conscience and the badge returned, if not in capacity terms and minus the ‘point’. Yet, with a 4.0-litre bi-turbo petrol V8 engine driving all four wheels through a 9-speed automatic gearbox, the technological contents of the E63’s heady cocktail are all but identical to its Germanic cousin from just down the road in Munich. Okay, it is 10% smaller and produces a mere 612bhp, rather than the Bimmer’s 625bhp, but a fatter torque figure (627lbs ft) ensures that the performance envelope is broadly similar.
Given its head, the E63 can scorch from 0-60mph in 3.1s, maxing-out at a significantly faster but still electronically limited 186mph. As stated in the M5 review, this is Tesla territory. There is no announcement yet on pricing but, as the outgoing E63 started at around £98,500, this one, set to be introduced in July 2020, might just top £100,000, which is still cheaper than a Tesla Model S and its power delivery is also going to be more consistent than its electric rival. To those individuals (or, more likely, companies), to whom a CO2 emissions figure of 267g/km is not an issue, the unmistakable racket emerging from the E63’s twin pairs of dual exhausts, when under full chat, is also unforgettable, in a bellowing, thunderous way.
Remember, we are talking saloons-as-supercars here. The E63 is a genuine rarity. More Lamborghini Huracans will sell than Merc E63s. Yet, it is the fact that such a car remains available and is being produced by AMG, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler-Benz, that is remarkable. The German government is levying hefty taxes on cars like this, as it attempts to favour the sluggish EV market. Our government will also take a very fruity slice. However, when transporting a wife, or partner, plus at least two additional back seat occupants, on a fast-transcontinental trek, an E63 makes a rather special mode of transport.
Mind you, what they would make of the car in ‘Drift’, or ‘Race Mode’, is anybody’s guess. Much as with the M5, the innocuous placement of these settings within an electronic switch-bank does cause the upper lip to curl slightly, whether in admiration, or mild desperation, is immaterial but the fact that the E63 accommodates them within its force-fed armoury reinforces the impression that this is no run-of-the-mill Merc.
Its adaptive damping can be set in any of several modes, from Comfort to Sport+, each providing a readily discernible degree of ride comfort, or sporting intent. In ‘Drift Mode’, the 4×4 system and ESP stability disconnect and the car becomes rear drive only. Naughtiness ensues. Quite how this level of trust can be allowed by Merc is open to question but I am really glad that it is, even though it does take a decent hand on the tiller to ensure that the waywardness instilled by 627lbs ft of torque melting the rear tyres is under decent control.
Conclusion: While the E63 is hardly a carbon copy of the BMW M5, it does mirror several aspects. Thankfully, Merc has its own historical way of delivering sledgehammer potency, which does not need to be unruly…unless you wish it to be so.