Track Drive: 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Sedan and Wagon
Our resident pro racer takes these two 603-hp German people haulers to the limit
I arrived at the NCM Motorsports Park (MSP) race track about an hour earlier than expected by the Mercedes ground crew. Not because I drove my allocated AMG GLC 63 S Coupe faster than anyone else, but because I took a shorter detour around some of my newly discovered favorite roads in the area. Those roads just happen to be close to the race track and Bowling Green happens to be my new home after 30 years in South Florida.
Getting there early gave me a chance to look over the 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Sedan and AMG E63 S Wagon before things got started on track. These two sporty people movers were our allocated track weapons for the day.
You may ask why anyone put a luxury sedan and wagon on a race track? First, because it's fun. Then again, I'd take a shopping trolley round a race track if someone put an engine in it, so I may not be the right person to comment. Most importantly, Mercedes must think it's a reasonable idea or at least, the company's marketing folks have a good sense of humor—either way, no complaints from my end.
The E63 sedan and wagon feel similar to drive on road or track, which makes sense as they are almost identical. Both stealthy PG-rated missiles pack handcrafted 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8s kicking out 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. They also carry trick AMG handling technology to cope with all that power. So to feel the power and technology at its limit and save the driving licenses of people like me, to the race track it is.
Mercedes had racing legend and well-known sports commentator Tommy Kendall on hand to give the track talk and pace the lead-follow laps. (Tommy also heads up the AMG Driving Academy for Mercedes.) Each car was equipped with a track radio. Tommy gave running commentary as he drove the lead AMG GT R pace car to help the first timers learn the fast and technical MSP track. Even though I am based at MSP and know the track well, I was happy to follow Tommy and listen in. "An open mind learns something new every day," my mum always told me.
I was in the E63 S Sedan first, but before I talk about the track handling, let me spend a minute on standing start capabilities. The Sedan weighs in at 4,515 pounds (versus 4,669 pounds for the wagon), some 900 pounds more than Tommy's AMG GT R. And though the E63 has the benefit of 26 more horses and all-wheel drive, it's still impressive how this heavy four-door can equal or even beat the GT R to 60 mph. According to Mercedes, the sedan needs just 3.3 second to hit 60 mph, while the wagon needs a 3.4 seconds to get there. My rear end and my chiropractor both think those figures might be conservative.
To get the best launch I used the "RACE START" launch feature. It is easy to use and brutally effective. If you're in any drive mode other than Comfort, press the brake pedal hard, fully depress the gas pedal, and let off the brake when ready to hole shot.
Most of the technical help to effectively transfer the big power to the ground is provided by the AMG Performance 4MATIC+ system. This All-wheel drive technology has the ability to move 100 percent of power to whichever end of the vehicle can use it most effectively.
I used the Sport+ drive setting to put the E63 into the least intrusive level of nanny control. Sport+ causes the AMG Sport Suspension Air Body Control and Dynamic Engine Mounts to stiffen the car, slow down body roll, and enhance steering feel. The Electronic Limited Slip Differential also works with the 4MATIC system to quicken the allocation of drive to each wheel.
In a nutshell, Sport+ changes the car from a luxury sedan to an extremely sporty sedan, allowing more vehicle yaw rotation and wheel slip before the nannies wake up.
At a brisk pace on track following Tommy, the steering gave me enough feel to easily control the rate of vehicle rotation going into any corner I chose. This would set me up nicely for smooth and fast corner exits. Chassis behavior was both impressive, predictable and a total blast to play with.
The AMG Performance Exhaust System is well worth the $1,250 buy-in. It sounds great inside the car with a little enhancement coming through the speakers, popping and growling like a serious performance car. The line of E63s going into turn one with Tommy leading in the GT R sounded great on the outside too. This car can definitely provide an early morning treat to upset that neighbor who leaves their poor dog outside barking all day.
I want to give a shout out to the E63's Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires for good grip and consistency in the very hot conditions. The Pilot Sport 4S don't offer Pilot Cup 2 levels of grip and are instead designed to grip and last, which they do. Considering the weight of the E63 and the sliding abuse I was giving them, the tires gave me all I asked for. Tire sizes for the sedan and wagon both are 265/35R20 up front and 295/30R20 at rear.
The driver seat is comfortable and supportive. No surprise for a vehicle at this price point. The steering wheel is a smaller racy circumference with a flattened bottom, which I like. The twin 12.3-inch wide screens are impressive—though I am not a fan of infotainment systems as I find them very distracting to try and use while driving, hands-free or otherwise, I like to try them out while parked. Once I figure out what I might use and how to access it, I'm good to go. The Mercedes system was as intuitive and easy to use as most. I particularly liked the twin gauge cluster showing on the fly horsepower and torque.
Driver aids such as Active Steering Assist, Active Lane Change Assist, and Active Lane Keeping Assist function the same way as other manufacturer's. They are basically at level 2+ autonomy levels, meaning that the driver has to pay full attention to the road at all times while using them, which seems to miss the point a bit. The reason a driver is warned to pay full attention is in case the system goes blind (bad road markings) or another driver dangerously enters your driving space (because the technology can't evade). I always opt to skip the driver assist systems when I drive.
I had been doing the on-track lead follow at the kind of pace you could never do on public roads without the probability of ending up in jail or being loaded onto a wrecker. I felt I had a good handle on the E63s but wondered aloud if it might be possible to do a couple of hot laps and really take one cars to the limit. Luckily for me, the Mercedes execs in attendance also have irrational tendencies and we're all for it.
Of course, I chose the E63 S wagon for the hot lap. It just seemed right and pleased my cartoon sensibilities. My plan for the run would be to do a warm up lap, two flying/timed laps, and a cool-down lap. There was no time to do any practice runs at full speed, so off I went. I rocketed down the straight heading for turn one with the nine-speed AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT (multi-clutch transmission) automatic spitting shifts like a champ. I braked as late as I dared, seeing over 135 mph before deploying the chutes and the $8,950 ceramic brakes did not disappoint, with the wagon immediately impressing me with its full-on panic stopping power. The nearly 4,700-pound wagon shredded speed as efficiently as a serious sports car. I was thinking we might be shredding the track surface also and the Michelins seemed to be trying to leave the vehicle, yelping and screeching in anguish, but everything held on and I made it through turn one.
Only 22 turns left to go on this lap. Great.
The brakes and tires were holding up well as I blasted out of turn 15 at over 130 mph, on my way to the track's infamous turn 16—the trickiest and one of the fastest corners at MSP. Getting through it clean, fast, and in one piece takes total commitment or sanity; I have commitment. Turn 16 is an up and over 100 mph turn with a blind climbing entry, changing to downhill and off camber as it sweeps away to turn 17. It is my favorite turn at MSP, mainly because I'm not well.
Entering turn 16, I had a quick word with the E63 wagon. I need you to rotate, like right now.
Relying on only the front tires to make this turn at the speed I was carrying in a 4,700-pound car would have been futile. Using the cresting hill, I tried to kick out the rear end by aggressively tapping the brake pedal as I turned in. I was almost caught out as the wagon rotated really fast.
Too well in fact. Even though I was in Sport+, the violence of the rotation totally woke up the 4MATIC and stability nannies, which, convinced we were all going to die, impressively and annoyingly brought the rear end back in line. Oh poo (or words to that effect) I may have said, while continuing to convince the rear to stay where I wanted it. The fight between me, the nannies, and the 4MATIC was a good one—one that was finally broken up by the approaching brake zone of turn 17.
The wagon ran like a champ for the two hot laps.The brakes took the hammering impressively well, especially considering the weight of the wagon and the ambient and track temperatures, giving me a solid pedal during the whole run. For those of you who know MSP and maybe run there, my best lap was the first one, at 2 minutes and 23.14 seconds. Tires were Michelin PS4S, ambient temperature 93 degrees, and track temp was over 125 degrees.
You have to give credit to Mercedes for continuing to bring their rocket ship wagon to the US when they know the US is a lousy market for wagons. They told us they expect to sell just 3,000 wagons a year in the States and only 10% will be E63s, which is not a lot.
I have always liked ultra-capable big sedans and am a huge fan of wagons. The 603-hp E63 S Sedan will push the new BMW M5 and Tesla Model S to their limits; the E63 S Wagon will do the same, while moving house. We live in strange but very good times for motor heads my friends.