2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

If you read our Mercedes SLS AMG review you probably caught on we weren't as impressed with the new Gullwing as we thought we'd be. Why? We wanted it to be more like the Mercedes E63 AMG.

Despite the price difference, the $85,750 E63 and the $200,000 (est) SLS actually have a fair bit in common. Most obvious is the 6.2-liter AMG V8, here developing only 518 HP to the SLS's 571, but they both also use AMG's new Speedshift seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Whereas that gearbox is tuned to be quicker shifting and is mounted in rear transaxle style on the SLS, we actually prefer the smoother tuning on the E63; it allows the sedan to pass as a refined luxury car when you're not in attack mode, a trick the SLS doesn't manage.

In fact, keep the rotary shift map selector in C (for "Controlled Efficiency"), the adjustable dampers on the softest of the three modes and the stability control all the way on and the E63 does as good a job at luxury as any other sedan in the the Mercedes range. We actually prefer the less ostentatious E to the look-how-much-money-I-have S-class not just because we don't look like Albanian sex traffickers when we drive it, but also because the uncluttered E-class interior brings with it a certain austerity that evokes a more classic sense of luxury.

Cruising along the highway, there's nothing to indicate that you're driving a 4,300 Lbs sedan that can hit 60 MPH in just 4.4 seconds. You can't feel the 2.2-inch wider front axle, the beefed up subframe bushings or the thicker sway bars. You can feel the wider, more low profile tires and their tendency to track over road imperfections but that's not as pronounced as the sense of power the car creates in its driver.

C mode allows the engine to make use of its low-RPM torque for seamless acceleration without frequent downshifts to access the high-RPM power, something that makes barging through traffic feel like second nature. Drive the E63 on the highway and you're the master of your domain, it's faster than any car around you even though you can't hear the engine or feel the road's bumps.

Pull off the highway onto a back road, push the damper button once and switch the transmission to Sport+ (we tend to skip sport as it's an unhappy medium between relaxed and responsive) and you're suddenly driving a car that feels smaller, lighter, tauter and higher revving. Acceleration goes from seamless to kicking you in the ass and you can suddenly feel everything the road is trying to tell you. With stability fully on, you're making fast, smooth, event-free progress.

Want more fun? Try manual shifting, two lights showing on the adjustable damper button and ESP in "Sport." Like all auto transmissions the E63's is too prone to unexpected kickdown while you're pushing the limits, so shifting yourself through the steering-wheel mounted paddles eliminates that tendency and also lets you exploit the full power band without some computer deciding what's optimal. On their firmest setting, the dampers make the car respond even better and feel even smaller, while the more liberal stability control allows a couple degrees of slip, allowing you to have some fun and actually drive the car yourself, but still keeps you from plummeting over that thousand-foot cliff.

So far, so impressive. Then you get to the race track. While the E63 is still a very fast car and more than capable of easily lapping a track, the ability of the adjustable suspension, fancy gearbox and big V8 to overcome the physics of a big, heavy sedan are somewhat diminished in this environment. Unlike some competitors like the CTS-V, the E63 lacks a track-focussed stability control mode, so you're stuck with something that's either too conservative to really get the power down out of slow corners or nothing at all standing between your $1,000 a month payments and a tire wall. There's an optional performance package that bumps the speed limiter from 155 to 186 MPH, adds ceramic brakes, stiffer suspension and, much more importantly, a limited-slip differential, but while it noticeably improves the E63's ability to put its power down, you're still left with a car that's happier on road than track.

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

Exterior Design: ☆☆☆☆

The 2010 Mercedes E-Class is already subtly handsome thanks to its new-found boxiness and the AMG addenda — flared wheel arches, deeper front splitter, new LED running lights, badges, four square tailpipes — adds a nice sense of aggression. Anyone smart enough to tick the "Badge Delete" box gets an extra star.

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

Interior Design: ☆☆☆☆☆

Our favorite Mercedes interior hits all the classic Mercedes austere, squared-off, notes while adding super supportive bucket seats, a transmission-tunnel mounted gear selector and a manlier steering wheel. Make sure you spec the glass roof, the standard interior can feel a bit dark, but the extra light eliminates that. Don't choose the carbon interior accents, this isn't a tuner Integra.

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

Performance: ☆☆☆☆☆

Not only is the E63 fast (0-60 in 4.4 seconds, an optional top speed of 186 MPH), but it feels fast thanks to loads of torque throughout the rev range, yet a still definite peak coming in the form of top end power. The four-mode gearbox does a good job of offering drivers a range of responses and even a manual mode that gives you full control. Brakes are pop-your-eyes-out strong and we couldn't make them fade. Six figure speeds are disturbingly easy to reach and will likely become a threat to your license.

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

Ride: ☆☆☆☆☆

The E63 is never going to be the outright handler that smaller cars like the C63 and M3 can be thanks to their smaller size and weight. But, rather than trying to play that game it creates its own, combining ability and luxury in a hitherto unprecedented combo that sacrifices neither. It's kind of silly to expect that such a big car could be great on the track, but its so capable and fun on tight mountain roads that after driving it there you simply come to take track ability as a given. All that and it's also supple, quiet and smooth. Other cars have adjustable dampers and whatnot, but no other system offers this breadth of adjustment. The suspension didn't bottom out while landing an 80 MPH jump, which gives us loads of confidence in its ability to soak up anything else.

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

Toys and Tech: ☆☆☆☆

All the toys of the standard E-Class, plus all the new AMG buttons that help you alter the driving experience. We've never liked COMMAND, Mercedes' flawed attempt to copy iDrive, which is the only thing keeping the E63 from a five star rating. Somehow we always manage to turn navigation off mid-journey, then struggle to figure out how to turn it back on. Literally everything is adjustable on this car, even the speed at which the seat's bolsters inflate to support you in corners.

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

Value: ☆☆☆☆

Sure, with a starting price of $85,750 and the ability to tick boxes to reach a price north of $100,000, the E63 isn't cheap, but it does both speed and luxury better than much more expensive cars in the Mercedes lineup. Rather than thinking of it as an expensive E-class we like to think of it as a cheap S-class that also drives like an SL63. That's a bargain in our book.

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

Overall: 90%

Our favorite vehicle in the entire Mercedes lineup, the E63 makes us feel like we could be either an elderly European plutocrat or Lewis Hamilton, all depending on our mood and which buttons we push. If we had lots of money, but only the ability to by one car to satisfy all our vehicular needs, and those needs didn't include driving on a race track, this would be the car we would buy. We just wish we could afford one.

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

Suitability Parameters: Who Should Buy This?
● Speed Merchants
● Technogeeks
● Very Serious Businessmen
● Albanian Sex Traffickers with a need to travel incognito

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

Suitability Parameters: Who Shouldn't Buy This?
● Penny Pinchers
● Treehuggers
● Anyone who can squeeze into the CTS-V's tiny interior

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

Also Consider:

● BMW M5
● Cadillac CTS-V
● Porsche Panamera
● Audi S6

2010 Mercedes E63 AMG: First Drive

Vitals:

Model Year: 2010
Make: Mercedes
Model: E63 AMG
Trim: N/A
Price, Base/As-Tested: $85,750/$85,750
Engine: 6.2-liter 32-valve V8
Horsepower & Torque: 518 HP @ 6,800 RPM, 465 Lb-Ft @ 5,200 RPM
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch manumatic
Curb Weight: 4,300 Lbs (est)
0-to-60: 4.4 secs (manufacturer quoted)
Top Speed: 155 MPH (limited) or optionally 186 MPH (limited)
Crash Testing, Front/Rear/Side: not tested/not tested/*****
Fuel Economy, EPA: 13/20 MPG