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Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG 2011 review: road test

EXPERT RATING
9
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It's time to bring back The Hammer. The tag that was slapped on the back of a brutal Benz created by AMG in 1986 needs to be revived and re-applied to the 2012 successor to the original V8-powered pocket battleship. 

The hit from the New Hammer is a real belt, good for as much as 800 Newton-metres of torque and a 300km/h top speed, as Mercedes-AMG accelerates into a new era of turbocharged V8 muscle. 

BMW has already converted its new M5 from a charismatic V10 to efficient twin-turbo V8 motivation and now the E63 with a similar power pack has hit the road in Australia, complete with a changeover deal that includes the return of an E63 Estate wagon and a Performance Pack that adds an extra 24 kiloWatts of power and 100 Newton-metres to the 386kW/700Nm basics.

There are visual and mechanical tweaks through the new E63, but there are two key numbers. The first is 21, which is the percentage improvement in the car's fuel economy, and the second is $240,985, which is the bottom line. 

Neither one is going to make much difference to the sort of people with the wealth to park a new E63 in the driveway, but they show what is happening as AMG-Mercedes reinvents itself for the challenges of the 21st century.

Value

If you say it fast, $240,985 doesn't seem too bad for a four-door sedan that can smash most of the world's serious supercars. No, you're  right, it does. But, at $244,500, the E63 Estate emerges as a relative bargain if you  want to haul in a car that can really haul. 

For that sort of money, you expect - and get - everything in the catalogue, from the AMG performance parts through to lovely soft leather, great aircon and alloy wheels, and all the rest. Still you can get something pretty close in a top-line HSV Holden or FPV Ford for around half the money, or get two with change.

What makes the E63 a reasonable buy is the bottom line on its closest direct rival, the M5. The price of the new model is not official yet, but BMW Australia is talking right on $240,000. The Jaguar XFR also comes at $210,000 and a Maserati Quattroporte costs at least $250,000. Which brings us back to the Benz, and the extra $17,900 it costs for the optional Performance Pack. 

Is that bit worth it? Well, there is the extra go and a carbon fibre rear spoiler on the sedan, as well as a steering wheel with suede highlights.

Technology 

The big changes for the 2012 model year are all under the bonnet and they are all focussed on the latest twin-turbo V8 engine. The transmission is updated with the seven-speed Speedshift, an auto with a difference thanks to a wet start-up clutch and some very clever electronics. 

Despite the continuation of the E63 badge - which was wrong in the first place, since the previous V8 was actually a 6.2-litre - the engine in the new car is a 5.5-litre twin-turbo. In reality, it's a 1000 Newton-metre anvil that has been wound back for safety and to keep tyres and transmissions in the car.

AMG first made its name with large-capacity engines and this one is one of its best, something reflected in the economy improvement that matches the output. Benz has also been busy and there is stop-start to cut CO2 and fuel use at the lights, for a 10.0 litres/100km fuel economy figure and the potential - with a very light foot - for a 1000-kilometre cruising range in Australia.

Look around and the E includes AMGs latest smart transmission with driving modes and F1 start - first seen in the SLS gullwing - as well as a heap of safety and comfort gear. 

And you can always wind the extravagance around to 11, and really empty your pockets, with stuff like the ceramic brakes, locking rear differential and the Driver's package that lifts the top speed to 300km/h - 'only' 280 in the Estate - for ultimate bragging rights.

Design

The brutalist design work coming these days from Benz central in  Germany works well as an AMG creation. It's not as elegant with lesser  engines and wheels, but once the New Hammer is hunkered down with its extra body bits and rolling on its giant 19-inch rims it looks the part. 

Inside, the AMG gear makes the car more complete but - up against rivals and even the lesser C Class - it needs a bigger display screen for more cabin impact.

Safety

Five stars, of course. All the usual Benz airbags and electronic safety nets are in place,  but the AMG deal means it's possible to wind back the assistance - or remove it completely on a racetrack - for driving enjoyment.

Driving

How do I begin to describe The Hammer? It's been a big year for performance cars but the new E63 is a total standout. I get my first drive in the Estate, complete with rear-entertainment package, and it's the sort of family car that will work well for someone who craves a Porsche 911 but has kids and commitments. 

Then I take on the E63 sedan with Performance Pack, and it's just  plain mad. I have never driven a Benz with so much front-end bite and cornering grip, and the thump from the New Hammer is madness. Let's just calibrate the commentary by saying that, in the past few  weeks, I have driven the new BMW M5 and also the Lamborghini Gallardo. As well as the new Porsche 911. 

The 63PP trumps them all, not just for theatre but also accessible enjoyment on Australian roads. The car almost sounds like a Top Fuel dragster as it sits idling, and so much torque means instant go in any gear at any speed. Unlike the turbo M5 there is zero lag in the Benz, and turning the transmission mode to Sport+ brings the most intuitive automatic settings in any car.

It's as good, and sometimes better, than driving a manual. Of course, you pay a giant penalty in fuel economy if you go hard, and  the styling is still too brutal for me, and I don't like the teeny-tiny display screen, but that's about it.

It's a struggle to find the right words for this car, and I admit my bias as I've been an E-Class fan since the early days and always  admired the AMG engineering upgrades. Bottom line? The new E63 is wicked and the New Hammer is just  outrageous.

Verdict

The new M5 is good, but the E63 is better. And the Performance Pack car is a flat-out better that IS the New Hammer.

Others to consider:

BMW M5

"The new car is very quick and enjoyable, but not as wicked as the E63  or as charismatic as the outgoing V10."

Jaguar XFR

"A great package, quick and enjoyable, but missing the final edge of  greatness in this lineup."

Maserati Quattroporte:

"A great engine note and sumptuous leather, but still flawed in too  many ways."

Nissan GT-R

"Not in the size or quality class of the E63, but a relative bargain if you want a Nissan badge on all that go."

Pricing guides

$18,888
Based on 108 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$11,500
Highest Price
$69,900

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
C63 AMG 6.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $46,500 – 58,740 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 2011 C63 AMG Pricing and Specs
C350 BE 3.5L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $23,500 – 31,900 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 2011 C350 BE Pricing and Specs
C250 CDI BE 2.1L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $18,500 – 25,740 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 2011 C250 CDI BE Pricing and Specs
C63 AMG 6.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $40,900 – 52,360 2011 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 2011 C63 AMG Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
9