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AMG plays harder - First drive: Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

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The top flight E-class saloon receives the twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 to replace the outgoing 6.3 for more torque and better fuel consumption. It's still mighty.

Any super-saloon with ambitions of beating the Jaguar XFR and the upcoming BMW M5 is going to have its work cut-out. But we rekon the reworked Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG might just be in with a shout. The outgoing car was far from being under-endowed in the power and torque stakes, but the latest biturbo car has certainly upped its game.

It’s now powered by a twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 , producing 517bhp and 516lb ft – up from 464. However, to add a little spice, you can order the £8000 performance package to up the stakes to 549bhp and 590lb ftat 2000rpm. It's part of a package of options designed to tailor the E63 AMG for individual tastes, top of the list for those who like a track day blast (and this car is certainly a laugh on the race track) would be the carbon ceramic brake package.

Both on road and track, the new E63 is deeply impressive, though. Such is the effectiveness of the turbo installation, we pretty much forgot that it had forced induction at all, and got on enjoying ourselves. It just goes. And goes. The acceleration and throttle response are instant and electric, and even in standard ECO mode, the driver in a hurry will make mincemeat of A-road dawdlers. But get into town, and the stop/start system kicks in seamlessly, while you trickle along as tractably as an E200 taxi.

In Sport Plus gearbox mode, the E63 AMG is a real weapon – rabidly quick, but oh so effortless. Performance figures back this up – 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds, and potentially 186mph with the driver package – back this up. Gearchanges, too, are lightning quick, smooth and decisive. In short, this is a towering powertrain, and proof-positive that forced induction can be a substitute for cubin inches.

But what was shocking after a run round Paul Ricard, was how easy it was to handle at speed. The steering loads up beautifully through quick corners, and gives the committed driver plenty of warning as to what's going on around him. The brakes are ceaselessly powerful (we tried the sports package-equipped car with standard discs and pads), and when you start to push in Sports Plus mode, slides come progressively and oh-so easily controlled.

But what we particularly like about the E63 AMG is that the company has pushed for improved fuel consumtion and efficiency (it’s 20% better, by the way) but not at the expense of performance and drivability. And as a car to live with, it could well have the XFR licked. Especially as it’s available in estate form as well. But again, Jaguar has this covered – probably in 2012. How it compares with the new BMW M5 looks to be one of the most intriguing stories of 2011, though.

Overall, a crushingly effective super-saloon, and a Mercedes-Benz at heart. No word on price yet from Mercedes-Benz UK, but expect it to cost the same as the outgoing car – or around £10,000 more than an XFR.              

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