You activate Drift mode in the new 603-horsepower Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ by tapping the dynamic toggle switch to Race mode, turning all the electronic no-fun nets off, placing the transmission in manual mode, and finally pulling both paddle shifters toward you. Supposedly, a prompt then appears and asks if you really and truly, no jokingly want to electromechanically decouple the driveshaft that powers the front differential. I say “supposedly” because Drift mode was disabled in all three of the latest descendants of the original Hammer I drove on the launch of the new AMG E63 around Faro, Portugal.
I’ll start with the engine because like with all AMGs, that’s the heart of the matter. American buyers won’t be offered the 563-horsepower, 553-lb-ft of torque non-S kiddie version; instead, every U.S.-spec E63 model will be the fully mental 603-horsepower, 627-lb-ft of torque S variant with AMG’s now-ubiquitous 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, known internally as the M177. For E63 duty, both power and torque are up in part because the comically named “hot inner V” turbos are now twin-scroll turbochargers. In addition to the twin-scrollers, the engine packs new pistons, a new intake manifold, new intercoolers, and updated software. AMG also throws a bone to fuel efficiency; it’s the first time a variant of this engine is available with cylinder deactivation. In Comfort mode only, of course.
A new nine-speed transmission known as the AMG Speedshift MCT is bolted to the potent V-8. Fans of the previous E63 will note that the old transmission was a seven-speed MCT. That MCT stands for multiclutch technology even though there’s actually only one traditional clutch. There is, however, a wet clutch that replaces the torque converter. AMG claims that the new nine-speed gearbox is a touch lighter than the seven-speed one it replaces.
Then they let us loose on the track. Well, not exactly loose. We followed instructors around the undulating, 2.9-mile-long circuit. Each pro driver was in an AMG GT S, which although down on power—just 503 hp—were 800 pounds lighter than our E63. I can tell you that up to 155 mph the E63 runs dead even with the GT S down the big front straight. No easy feat, as the zaftig coupe runs 11.4-second quarter miles. I can also tell you that I was getting traction control warning lights all the way past 140 mph. In other words, as the E63 became more and more rear-wheel-drive biased, it was trying to spin its back tires.
The one problem area for the E63 is high-speed braking, specifically composure while slowing down. It’s true that getting into the ABS from 155 mph in a downhill braking zone is no easy task for any vehicle, but I felt the E63 squirmed around too much for me to be comfortable. Part of the problem was that the air suspension was most likely at the end of its travel,
That last sentence might be the best way to sum up the Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+. The E63 is going to do well come comparison test season. No one knows anything about BMW’s upcoming G30-based M5, so taking it off the table, you’re left with the 597-hp Audi RS 7 and 640-hp Cadillac CTS-V. Comparing the Audi to the Caddy, the AWD RS7 is the straight-line king, whereas the CTS-V is a track savant. The E63 seems to me, with its variable AWD, to be able to take the fight to both and probably even win. Time will tell, but until then, rest comfortably in the knowledge that the new E63 does nothing to tarnish the legend of both the mighty sedans that came before or AMG itself. Long live the Hammer.