New Cars for 2010: Europe

Mark Bramley Greg Pajo

Whatever the transmission mode, the E63 is always ready to drop a couple of gears, let out a deep bellow, and tear off down the highway. A new option for hauling it back down is carbon-ceramic brakes, although they won't be offered in the U.S. market until next year. As is typical, they offer fade-free, racetrack-ready performance - at a price (expected to be between $8000 and $10,000) - but unlike most, they're squeal-free (well, almost) and fairly easy to modulate.

In the quest for even better driving dynamics, AMG engineers tossed out the front air springs (still used on the standard E-class) in favor of steel springs and struts. Air springs are retained at the rear, because of the widely varying loads on the rear axle. As before, the dampers are adjustable, this time in three steps: Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. An available performance package makes the three settings a bit firmer still. (A stand-alone option alters the engine electronics to raise the top speed from 155 mph to 186.) The standard car in its mellowest setting delivered a pretty comfortable ride, but when we cranked it up to Sport or Sport+, the E63 telegraphed every slight bump or bit of creased pavement we could find on Germany's near-perfect road surfaces. With the performance package, Comfort is the equivalent of the standard car's Sport setting, so your choices are essentially Stiff, Stiffer, and Stiffest. Combine that with the 35/30-series tires (front/rear), and the E63 with performance package is likely to feel pretty harsh over America's crumbling roads.

With either setup, the E63 turns in aggressively, remains deliciously balanced through fast corners, and emits barely a peep from its Pirelli PZero tires. A new, fixed-ratio steering rack is quicker than before at 14:1 but is perfectly weighted and never nervous. For those eager to explore the E63's handling limits, the stability control system includes a more liberal Sport mode and also can be switched off completely.

The buttons to select the stability, damping, and transmission modes are alongside the gear selector - a console-mounted lever rather than the wimpy column shifter in the standard E-class. A fourth button, labeled AMG, can store a driver's preferred settings. Other AMG-specific cabin items include a unique gauge cluster, sport seats, and available carbon-fiber trim. Outside, there's a unique front-end design with a wider, deeper front fascia with functional side slits (they extract air from the oil coolers). Wider front fenders allow for the increased front track and ultrawide rubber - 255 millimeters up front and 285 at the rear, whether on standard eighteen-inch or optional nineteen-inch wheels. There's also AMG-specific lower bodywork. Once again, the overall mood is muscular but refined.

The new E63 doesn't offer a great leap in horsepower over the outgoing car, but it makes some progress in chassis dynamics, and it offers a more entertaining transmission, even if it's not a stick-and-clutch manual. This ultra-high-performance sedan (and wagon, but only by special order) was already perched near the peak of Power Mountain. At this lofty altitude, there's not much higher you can go.

On sale: November
Price: $87,000 (est.)
SPECS: 6.2L V-8, 518 hp, 465 lb-ft; rear-wheel drive

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