The engine of the new 2012 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG fires with a roar before settling into a smooth idle underpinned by a deep exhaust note. We're at Southern France's Paul Ricard racing circuit, where we hope to get some laps in before some standard driving loops on the highways and two-lanes surrounding the rural track.
For our first laps, we set the shocks to full firm and dial up Sport Plus on the trans, then let the car think and shift for itself from there. A good call because this thing is ungodly fast. There's no lag, lumps or bumps in its lionhearted power curve, and it pulls hard, fast and long, never out of breath. Mercedes claims a 0-60 time in the low 4-second range, which we don't question.
This 4,000-pound luxury sedan loves the track, accelerating without strain, cornering reliably and bleeding off speed with authority when we toe the brake pedal. The first supercharged E55 AMG of a decade ago didn't turn in all that well. Not so this one. It turns in with clarity, quick response, meaty weight in your hands and legit feedback through the steering. Yep, this 2012 Mercedes-Benz E63 is still very much a super sedan.
Fixing What Isn't Broken
There was never anything wrong with the previous E63 AMG. It was a world-class performer with a hand-built, normally aspirated 6.2-liter screamer of a V8. Why replace it? "It's all in the name of efficiency," replied several AMG engineers and product types when we posed this question.
The new engine, known internally as the M157, is a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V8. Have no fear; the new engine outguns and outruns the outgoing 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8, and shouldn't take any crap from the BMW M5 or Cadillac CTS-V.
AMG's new biturbo V8 packs every tech trick in the book: all-aluminum construction, direct injection, double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder with adjustable cam timing, air/water intercooling, generator management (to reduce parasitic losses when max battery charging is not required) and a stop/start system, much like that on most hybrids.
The result is a bit more of everything. Horsepower is a wash; the old car was rated at 518 horses, as is the new one. Torque leaps from 465 pound-feet to 516, but there's a Performance Pack option that bumps output to 550 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque.
The outgoing naturally aspirated 6.2-liter E63 drew a 13/20 mpg rating from the EPA. The 2012 car's ratings have yet to be finalized, but Mercedes engineers expect something in the 15/22 range for the sedan, and perhaps 14/21 for the wagon — yes: the wagon lives.
Enough Motor Talk
We wish we could tell you that the groovy new power plant was backed by the SLS's slick dual-auto-clutch seven-speed gearbox, but it's not. The cost/benefit ratio of fitting that expensive transaxle into the sedan ruled that move out.
So instead, the only choice offered, or needed, really, is the AMG Speedshift seven-speed automatic. It may not be as trick, but it gets the job done just fine. In Comfort mode shifts are optimized for smoothness and fuel economy. Beyond that, there are two Sport modes that deliver more performance-oriented upshifts at higher rpm points, and fairly aggressive downshift programming — including a satisfying throttle blip to match revs. There's also a full manual mode via the steering-wheel-mounted shifter paddles.
The steering setup is of the electrohydraulic speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion variety with a fat AMG-specific wheel at the driver end. The E63 also features driver-adjustable adaptive damping and an adjustable stability program that'll keep you safe and straight. Or it can be completely deactivated for monstrous burnouts or lurid tail-out slides.
It's hard to imagine why you would feel the need to pop the extra $12 grand for the carbon-ceramic brakes. The stock AMG binders will take anything you can give them with no measurable evidence of fade.
On the Road
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG exhibits something few brands deliver as well as AMGs do, and that's high-speed stability. Explore the far right side of the speedo and this elegant sledgehammer tracks straight as a string.
This is hardly a compact sedan, yet it's so linear and responsive that out in the real world, it shrinks around you a bit on the relatively small two-lanes. Considering the ultralow-profile tires and sport-minded suspension, the ride quality remains pleasantly comfortable.
If there's anything we miss, it's the outgoing car's exhaust note. It's relatively quiet and well-mannered under all conditions, yet really lights up when you awaken all that horsepower. The new engine has a strong, throaty rumble, not unlike that of a Riva speedboat on the open water. But the old V8 had an intoxicating silken blare that was just so pure. We always thought it would be hard to top and it still hasn't been.
The interior materials are outstanding, and always look and feel luxuriously sporty. Power everything is standard, plus a 14-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system, 14-way power-adjustable seats, a central controller function with a high-definition 7-inch screen, buttery leather upholstery and your choice of Black Ash or Burl Walnut wood trim.
The Numbers Game
You may wonder why a Mercedes with a 5.5-liter engine is still badged as an E63. We asked the same question, and got a somewhat psychobabbular answer. "Going forward, don't expect Mercedes model nomenclature to relate directly to the engine displacement like they used to."
Why not? Mercedes perfected that system decades ago, and it made sense for nearly 100 years. AMG executives replied that "since E63 is now established as a brand, we didn't want to be seen as going backward to the E55 label from the car a few generations back."
We doubt anyone will accuse the 2012 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG of taking a step backward. It's essentially the same super sedan it's always been, with a touch more efficiency and better handling thrown in for good measure. Might have been cool if Mercedes figured out a way to charge less for it, but it looks as if its roughly $90,000 price will remain. Can't have it all.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.