Road Test: Thrashing this beastly V8 machine is so addictive, it has converted Kevin Hackett to the AMG models.
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG is almost too cool to be a family saloon
Anyone who thinks of Mercedes-Benz as dour, a bit dull and a bit mundane needs to get behind the wheel of one of its AMG models. Seriously, I'm a convert. I used to look at these Teutonic, characterless metal boxes and pity their drivers for having no imagination, no individuality and no soul. And now I want one. Really want one.
The conversion began last year when I spent a few days driving a CLS 63 AMG. At first I just didn't get it; it seemed like a totally pointless vehicle until I lightened up, learnt to have fun with it and explore its hooligan alter ego. It's a hefty car, the CLS, and although I came to admire it, I didn't have that deep-rooted pang to actually own one. The E63 AMG, however, is another story altogether.
It isn't the car's looks that have me sold (I still think it's a rather ungainly design), it isn't the stunning build quality, nor is it the plethora of electronic gadgetry available to the car's occupants. It's the engine and the way it sounds, the way it feels every time I flex my right foot and how it fires the car toward whatever horizon I point it at. It's addictive stuff and I can practically see the fuel gauge moving in a downward trajectory due to my complete inability to behave myself whenever I'm in its driver's seat.
I never felt like this in the new BMW M5, the E63's closest competitor. That car, to me at least, lacks character and a sense of excitement, despite its indisputable abilities. But this new Merc is sensational and I'm constantly looking for excuses to give it a thrash. Practical, like any other four-door saloon, it has served as a shopping cart extraordinaire. It has been used to pick up visiting family from the airport and has swallowed ridiculous amounts of luggage. And yet, whenever I drop a cog or two using its steering wheel paddle shift, it shrinks around me and, in an instant, turns into a stealth weapon capable of rinsing an Audi R8.
As I've previously moaned about in these pages, BMW's model nomenclature ceased to make any sense a few years ago. Time was, when seeing a 320i badge meant you were looking at a 3 Series with a 2.0L fuel-injected engine. Not any more - now it could relate to practically anything, and Mercedes-Benz seems to be following suit. Because that 63 in the AMG's model designation used to mean it was a 6.3L and now, in the 2012 car, it has a 5.5L twin-turbo V8. This is what's known as a "very good thing", so I'm not complaining. Maybe it's my age but I'm easily confused these days.
This engine is the car's centrepiece. In normal guise it generates 518hp but, if that's still not enough, you can opt for the Performance Package, which liberates another 32 horses while, unbelievably, keeping the less powerful motor's fuel consumption figures. The previous hot E-Class, while itself known as the E63, was fitted with a normally aspirated 6.2L V8 and it was terrific but the blown motor retains all its trademark boom-boom sound effects, has more punch and is a staggering 22 per cent more efficient than the old one. It pollutes less, too, to the tune of 65g/km fewer carbon dioxide nasties.
The transmission has been recalibrated to suit the new engine and the steering, too, has been altered. Previously it was a hydraulic system but, as is the way these days, it's given way to an electromechanical set-up. In itself this improved fuel economy by almost two per cent but that's hardly relevant for this market. More importantly, it's an impressive development in that it doesn't rob the driver of feel when powering on, yet provides delicacy when driving at low speed.
When you drop the hammer and let the V8 do some proper exercise, the chassis feels taut and responsive. With seemingly boundless reserves of torque available, the performance is effortless, but the E63 never feels twitchy or unwieldy. Unless you switch off the electronic driving aids, obviously, which is when you feel the full fury of all that power and liquidise the rear tyres. With the computers helping out, the car feels poised, grippy and devastatingly fast, but you always feel like you're in charge. Despite the odds being stacked against it thanks to all the nanny state safety systems, this is a proper old-school driving machine.
AMGs are everywhere here. We're fortunate that we don't have to worry about the cost of petrol here, so if you have the means to buy a car of this calibre then you owe it to yourself to try this one for size. It'll eat the kilometres as fast as it drinks fuel and do so safely. But, unlike some of its contemporaries, it'll still do it with a snarl, a rumble and put a huge smile on your face.
Base price / as tested Dh382,747 / Dh556,357
Engine 5.5L twin-turbo V8
Gearbox Seven-speed automatic
Power 550hp @ 5,250rpm
Torque 800Nm @ 2,000rpm
Fuel economy 9.8L/100km