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Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG BiTurbo Performance pack review (2011 onwards)
What: Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG BiTurbo Performance package
Where: Le Castellet, France
Date: July 2011
Price: £75,000 approx (tbc)
Available: September (tbc)
Key rivals: BMW M5, Audi RS6, Maserati Quattroporte, Jaguar XFR
Summary: New BiTurbo V8 gives the Mercedes E63 added efficiency, while the optional Performance package takes the fight to the forthcoming BMW M5
We like: massive performance, no turbo lag, balance of ride comfort and agility, improved efficiency
We don't like: gearbox a little unresponsive, more comfortably fuzzy than razor edged (it is a Mercedes, after all, new M5 nearly here
Mercedes AMG is committed - and we're not just talking performance here. Or straightjackets. Though either of those equally apply. Rather, it's committed to lowering CO2 emissions, with targets for 2012, and then 2015.
The Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG is the latest model to fall victim to such scheming - but as with the recent S63 and CLS63 this sudden attack of political correctness is anything but bad news for those in charge of the keys.
Instead, it makes most of the numbers smaller. Less CO2 means better fuel economy, which means reduced bills (well, relatively speaking), while the wonders of modern science mean the 0-62mph falls below the previous 4.5 seconds as well.
All of this is down to the really big reduction - the one under the bonnet. Instead of the mellifluous monster that is the naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 fitted to the previous version of this car, the new one makes do with a mere 5.5-litre eight-banger.
No, don't frown. Not quite all of the numbers have fallen, as the new 5.5-litre AMG V8 produces the same 525hp as the old 6.2-litre AMG V8, a trick it achieves thanks to the addition of twin turbochargers.
And basic power? With a brand new 560hp BMW M5 on the way - also driven by a twin-turbo V8 - Mercedes knows that 525hp just won't do for most people, so it is also offering an 'AMG Performance package' that bumps the boost up.
Literally, in fact, as the major difference between the two engine variants is an increase from 1.0-bar of turbo pressure to 1.3-bar. The result is 557 stampeding ponies, accompanied by a suggestive swelling in the torque department.
The stuff that really shoves you down the road goes from a not inconsequential 516lb ft to 590lb ft - available from 2,000rpm to 4,500rpm. All of which naturally makes 62mph appear with even greater alacrity.
4.2 seconds is actually only 0.1-second faster, but that's still a victory in Top Trumps, right? No prizes for guessing which engine we went for on launch - even though it meant forgoing the optional ceramic brakes, which were oddly only fitted to part-baked models.
Either way, the AMG 5.5 'V8 BITURBO' - as the wing badges read, differentiating this E63 from the previous - is absolutely, utterly, one hell of a way to get 1.8-tonnes of Mercedes moving. It is an awesome engine.
AMG has achieved two particularly fine coups. Firstly, despite the muffling effect of the turbos it still sounds like a proper V8 AMG Mercedes - from the woofly growl as you pull away on part throttle to the thunderclap of full-bore upshifts, and the sonorous blipping of the downchanges.
Secondly, it doesn't really feel turbocharged. At all. There's no big bang as the turbos kick in, just one long, lunging thrust towards the horizon right through each of the AMG SPEEDSHIFT auto's seven ratios. 155mph limiter be damned (throw more cash and you can relax the nanny to 186mph).
The joy of electronics means you can pick three different shift modes for the 'box, too - not including the full manual setting, controlled by the wheel-mounted paddles; Comfort, Sport and Sport+ get increasingly vigorous, as you'd expect.
But even at its most aggressive we still found the gearbox to be the least cooperative part of the drivetrain. Occasionally, frustratingly, sluggish when under manual control, perhaps the best way to drive the E63 is as an auto - just budget for regularly replacing the brakes.
Ride and handling
The AMG E-Class is substantially different to the rest of the range in the chassis department - gone are the days, as one company representative put it, when AMG simply dropped a bigger motor into a Merc and said 'done'.
Revisions are particularly notable at the front, where the E63 gets a 56mm increase in track and other mods for extra adhesion. All-round adaptive damping, plus front steel and rear air springs, should also make this a comprehensively effective machine over a variety of surfaces.
The staggeringly smooth roads of the test route hardly represented a major test, but Comfort mode certainly seems to offer the kind of compliance that should see off a British B-road, while Sport and Sport+ do all the right kinds of body-roll resisting stuff.
The finely judged stability control system makes it very easy to exploit the performance - a soft flickering of the ESP light and the occasional shimmy from the hips usually all you need to concern yourself with, as the engine catapults the car up the road.
If you're feeling a little more adventurous, the stability control also has a 'Sport handling mode'; sitting between fully engaged and altogether off, this allows greater rear slip angles but will ultimately intervene before the scenery takes too much of an interest.
As a result the E63 is a very easy car to drive very quickly - the way it seems to hunker down over the tarmac as you squeeze on the power through the corners gives you all the confidence you need, despite the explosive power.
Denoting the performance orientation of this model on the inside you get a generous helping of carbon-fibre trim, a new 'E-Select' gearknob - a stubbly, hollowed-out lever with embossed AMG logo - and a steering wheel that's unusually flattened at the top as well as the bottom.
The paddleshifters are finished in aluminium, and there's a new full-colour display within the speedometer - as first introduced on the CLS63. This displays the AMG logo as soon as you open the door. As well as other stuff. Obviously.
Should the 520 litres of boot space available in the saloon not be enough, the E63 is of course available as an Estate, with stowage for between 695 and 1,950 litres of gubbins, depending on what you do with the seats.
The Estate is a little heavier, and so a little slower and a little less efficient - but we are only talking another tenth of a second on the 0-62mph time. The clichéd dog-in-the-back surely won't notice.
Economy and safety
Where the old naturally aspirated E63 AMG staggered to a claimed 22.4mpg combined, the new BiTurbo breezes along with 28.8mpg combined, even with the Performance pack. A significant improvement, but you're still more likely to see mid-teens consumption if you give it any kind of stick.
CO2 emissions of 230g/km keeps it firmly in the top UK tax band, too. Safety kit comprises almost every piece of electronic know-how Mercedes has at its disposal - and so it should on such a range-topping model.
The MSN Cars Verdict
The Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG BiTurbo is everything an AMG Mercedes should be: very fast, very capable and only subtly aggressive by appearance, while remaining so comfortable and easy to drive that you could happily live with it every single day.
Petrol costs presumably aren't an issue if you can afford one of these. And while UK pricing is yet to be confirmed, in Germany it remains unchanged, starting at €105,791 (that's around £93,700), with the Performance package €8,306 on top.
With the old engine the E63 was a comparative bargain here, then, at around £75,000. So we're expecting a slight increase when it goes on sale, which is likely to be this September.
A better bet than a new BMW M5? We'll just have to wait and see...
|Need to know|
|Engines petrol||5.5 BiTurbo V8 Performance package|
|Torque lb ft||590|
|Top speed mph||155 - 186 (electronically limited)|
|CO2g/km / Tax %||230 / 35|
|Ratings out of five|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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