First Drive: 2010 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

Is the Horsepower War Almost Over?
War is hell, unless it's a horsepower war, in which case it's kind of fun. For more than a decade, the cars from AMG have been on the front lines of the horsepower wars, which have seen the top autobahn rockets - most, naturally, from Germany - zoom past 300, then 400, and now 500 horsepower. But all good wars must one day come to an end, and for the horsepower wars, that day is starting to feel very close indeed. The new E63 AMG, for example, uses the same engine as the previous model (AMG's near-ubiquitous 6.2-liter V-8) and pushes its headline figure ahead by only 11 hp.

Still, we're talking about 518 horsepower here, easily enough to send this luxurious four-door sedan down the autobahn at (a governed) 186 mph. The thing is, the previous E63 AMG, with only 507 hp, was also capable of 186 mph. Evidently, at the peak of the super-sedan pyramid, there simply isn't much more performance to be had.

The goal: Better driving dynamics
Where, then, did the AMG folks hope to move the needle with this new car? "We wanted a sharper car - better driving dynamics," says Tobias Moers, head of overall vehicle development at AMG. Here again, though, we'd argue that AMG's high-volume mid-liner already made its big move in the chassis department with the switch from the old E55 AMG to the new-for-2007 E63.

Nonetheless, 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 their ability to manage 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 - a seemingly redundant option on a fire-breather like the E63 - makes the three settings a bit firmer still. When we sampled both versions on the beautifully maintained roads around Stuttgart, the standard car in its mellowest setting delivered a pretty comfortable ride, but when we cranked it up a notch to Sport or two notches to Sport-plus, the E63 telegraphed every slight bump or bit of creased pavement we could find. In the performance-package car, Comfort is the equivalent of the standard car's Sport setting, so your choices are Stiff, Stiffer, and Stiffest. Combine that with the 30/35-series tires (front/rear) and that is likely to feel pretty harsh over the crumbling highways that plague so much of America.

Unfortunately, those seeking ultimate bragging rights will want to opt for the performance package anyway, as it includes the reprogrammed electronics that allow for that 186-mph top speed, rather than the standard 155 mph. Otherwise, though, the stiffer spec is hardly necessary. Despite tipping the scales at a shade over two tons (about the same as before), 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 handling limits, the stability control includes a more liberal Sport mode and also can be switched off completely.

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