New Cars for 2010: Europe

Mark Bramley Greg Pajo
#BMW, #V-8

First Drive: Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG
The monster E-class ascends higher up Mount Awesome.
By Joe Lorio

For years, AMG cars have been on the front lines of the horsepower wars, but all good wars must one day come to an end, and it appears that day is close at hand. The new E63 AMG, for example, uses the same 6.2-liter V-8 as the previous model, and its 518 hp is only 11 hp greater than before. Still, it's hard to complain about an engine that can send this luxurious Benz down the autobahn at (a governed) 186 mph - or one with this V-8's aggressive bark and deep rumble.

The arrival of the Speedshift MCT seven-speed automatic transmission from the SL63 AMG marks the bigger powertrain change. The Speedshift box uses a wet clutch in place of a torque converter and provides faster shift times and sweet, rev-matched downshifts. Surprisingly, despite the absence of the torque converter, the transmission still beats any automated manual and most dual-clutch setups with its smoothness both in takeoff from a stop and in its automatic shifts. And yet its shift speed effectively gives away nothing to those supposedly sportier gearboxes.

As you might expect, the transmission offers several modes. The mellowest, C (for Controlled Efficiency), is the economizer setting, starting off in second gear, upshifting as soon as possible, and even relaxing throttle response. It might be great for squeezing out the best possible mileage rating on the EPA test cycle, but, really, what AMG buyer wants to drive like this?

The next two modes, Sport and Sport+, are virtually indistinguishable. Happily, both seem to intuitively understand the enthusiast driver, unfailingly anticipating gear choices, downshifting under braking, snapping off upshifts with lightning speed, and matching revs on both automatic or manual downshifts. Speaking of manual, if the driver calls up his own shifts via the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, the box will resume giving its own orders after a while. Select Manual mode, however, and the transmission defers almost totally to the driver; neither upshifting even at the 7200-rpm redline nor kicking down in response to a booted throttle.

Finally, there's RS, for Race Start, which sounds like fun but is a bit fussy. With the stability control in Sport, you hold your left foot on the brake and choose Race Start. When prompted, quickly tap the upshift paddle once to confirm, then immediately floor the accelerator and release the brake. Hesitate for a moment, though, and the whole sequence is canceled and you have to start over. Do it right, and the E63 effects a wheel-spin-free blast that should have you to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.

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