STUTTGART // It's just topping out in fourth gear when we see it; cruising in the slow lane, hiding behind a lumbering lorry. The sinking feeling is instinctive and too ingrained to suppress. But police car or not, it's too late for any constructive licence- protection moves. The tacho has just slammed into the 7,200rpm rev limiter in fourth gear and the 6.2-litre V8 has already hurled the new E63 AMG to 220kph.
There's nothing for it but to pull on the steering wheel's gearshift paddle for fifth. With a crisp, 100 millisecond-long crackle, the latest generation of one of the world's favourite fast four-doors rumbles into a song made deeper with its load. It squats the 18-inch Pirellis into the deck and disappears towards Munich; rock solid as it covers ground at the rate of 250km every hour. Not that the green-and-white BMW police car is a threat. This is an unlimited section of autobahn, so you can legally blast by them at more than double most speed limits, which we contemplated with a giggle as the new E63 proceeded to bounce off its 250kph speed limiter in fifth, sixth and seventh gears.
Reaching beyond 200 in more than half your gears indicates that you're toting enough muscle, especially when a delimiting kit lets you hit 300. At 250kph in seventh gear, it's loping along at a leisurely 4,100rpm, so there's plenty of engine left in reserve. Even in sixth, it's still only doing 4,700. Those numbers say plenty about the E63's character. It's the sort of car that always feels like it's got something in reserve and, even if it hasn't, it's not going to admit it to you.
Benz insists on calling its 6.2- litre engine a 6.3-litre engine (hence E63), but whatever they call it, it's got 525hp and 630Nm of torque and, in most languages, that's plenty. Benz attached the SL63's seven-speed automatic to the back of it to get the 18-inch rear boots rotating that fast. Coming at 5,200rpm, the torque peak might seem high, but at 2,000rpm the E63 has 500Nm already on the job.
Benz's in-house fast tuner tore into this new executive saloon, throwing out its front and rear suspensions, engines, gearboxes, steering and some bits of the body deemed not sufficiently masculine to accommodate all the brutality it intended to cram inside it. In the end, while the engine might be the flagship item, the automatic gearbox is the star and the first highlight is the welcome return of the gear lever to its traditional home between the front seats. It's governed by four electronic maps, which you choose by a knob next to the gear lever. It defaults into Controlled Efficiency mode, but then you can move to Sport, Sport Plus and Manual modes.
The base mode likes to shift up early, delivers the best fuel economy (at 12.6 litres/100km, it's 12 per cent better than the old E63), starts off in second gear all the time and flits up to sixth gear by the time you hit 60kph. In Sport mode, it starts in first and the shifts are 25 per cent faster and in Sport Plus mode they're quicker again. It's a star in Manual mode, whipping through upshifts in 100 milliseconds, holding whatever gear you want, even when it's bouncing off the rev limiter and skipping gears to whip down even five cogs if a corner takes your interest. Manual mode will hurl the 1850kg E63 to 100kph in 4.5 seconds, effortlessly and repeatedly. What's more, this is all even easier if you unlock the secrets of the E63's Race Start mode.
The only downside is that the noise is somewhat muted. AMG claims that the buyers of the businessman's express need something that won't be too loud or too overtly hooligan, but it's sad that you enjoy the V8's warbling savagery more from outside the E63 than you can from the paying seats. While the standard brakes sound impressive, with their 360mm discs all-around and six-piston front callipers, our test car had the optional carbon-ceramic discs and they are strong, accurate and utterly oblivious to fade.
More grip is what AMG demanded of the E63 and more grip it got. Most of the E-Class's suspension has been thrown away in search of more camber and more turn-in bite and, in keeping with its executive express status, a wider range of capability. A look through the common suspension parts is insightful, because there are so few of them and, besides, the steering ratio is 22 per cent crisper and front track is 56mm wider than the E500. It's much the same down the back, which also gets AMG's air springs.
It helps that all of this is connected to a ride-control system that lets you switch between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus ride settings because it's this, as much as the gearbox's collection of modes, that lets the E63 switch between its wide range of characters so fluently. Obviously, Comfort is soft and seems to match up nicely with the default gearbox setting, while Sport is 40 per cent firmer and Sport Plus is firmer again. Depending on which mode you're in, it can ride little firmer than an E500 when it's cruising but attack with gusto when you ask it to.
It can lean on its outside front corner, giving gentle little nibbles on the steering wheel as the Pirellis search the road's individual stones for grip. The front end will only start sliding if you're completely oblivious to the normal rules of physics and the back end will only start sliding if you provoke it with more blind stupidity than is strictly recommended for the survival of a species. Yet it still doesn't flick through direction changes with the all-hands-on-deck alacrity of the M5 or the Panamera. It always seems to prefer that you know it's getting the job done with something in reserve.
And that's the key to the E63. It's not a businessman's express anymore, really. It's an everyman's express, fully adjustable to the whims of any occasion. The seats, for example, can tighten up the bolstering on the sides and on the base so you can have a go at some corners, or you can push another button to have it massage you on the motorway. It's easy to find horses for courses in the E63. The only downside is that its perhaps not agile enough and doesn't sound good enough inside when it's right at the outer rim of its performance envelope.
It might not get you immediately, the E63. But after a while, 99 per cent of the time, very few E63 owners won't feel uncomfortable that they haven't taken the risk on a Panamera. firstname.lastname@example.org