THE EIGHTIES WERE FILLED with great pairing–pudding and Popsicle sticks, Crossbows and Catapults, Darryl Hall and John Oats–but all pale in comparison with the combination of the Mercedes E-class and AMG. The former served as a donor platform for the latter's most iconic creation: The Hammer. That brutish, rear-drive hot rod, with its 355-hp V8, dusted most leading sports cars of the era. Thirty years on, it still defines everything an AMG sedan can and should be.
So, when I arrived at Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimão, Portugal, for the media launch of the all-new Mercedes-AMG E63 S, there was an original Hammer sitting in the paddock. It made a fine reference point, but the modern car is much better equipped for battle here. The E63 S packs a wet-sump version of the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 shared with the AMG GT sports car, except the sedan's engine is more powerful, thanks to twin-scroll turbos. In the E63 S, the V8 produces 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque. The gearbox, a nine-speed automatic, uses a wet clutchpack instead of a torque converter for faster shift responses, to enable launch control, and to save weight.
The adaptive air suspension features three air chambers per spring, which adjust individually depending on drive mode and road surface. There's also a new, rear-biased, four-wheel-drive system augmented by an electronically controlled rear diff.
Around the circuit, dancing with this bear of a sedan requires you lead carefully but forcefully. The mad rush of power, abetted by the new turbos, is difficult to comprehend; learn to modulate the throttle, lest you enter corners with more speed than talent or tire. Brake-pedal application needs to be far more deliberate. Good thing the optional carbon-ceramic rotors like to be stomped, and stomped hard.
The steering is precise and communicative but lacks the feel of the BMW M5 and, especially, the Cadillac CTS-V. Still, it's one of the better recent racks from AMG, with a grit and command that allow you to master apexes in no time. Don't be tentative with the steering wheel: Grasp firmly and get ready to throw elbows when tossing this 4500-pound car into a bend.
Because the E63 S will slide. The all-wheel-drive system, which provides infinitely variable torque distribution front to rear, generally sends power rearward entering corners. Then just enough torque shifts to the front to pull through the exit. Under full throttle on straightaways, only three or four percent of torque goes to the front.
This system is put to the test at Portimão's last corner, Galp, which might better be called "Gulp." You sail over a blind rise at speed, then drop headlong into a sweeping, downhill right-hander. The apex has the E63's air springs working hard before the car segues into a dramatic drift across the track. It's violent, with bits of tire tread pebbling the car as it heads toward the front straight. Thundering past the grandstands, a brief glance at the digital speedo shows 157 mph. Then it's deep, really deep, into the brakes to scrub 100 mph before the first turn, a sharp right-hander. Hammer time, indeed.
On nearby coastal roads, the E63 S is much easier to handle, even at a brisk pace. All traces of racetrack savagery melt away, leaving only a luxuriously indulgent E-class. This latest W213 generation, which debuted last year, has seriously upped its game in style, tech, and driving splendor. It's serene . . . until you find a straight, empty ribbon of pavement. Mercedes quotes 3.3 seconds to 60 mph, launch control engaged, and while we'll always miss AMG's old naturally aspirated V8s, this 4.0-liter twin-turbo sounds just as rude. Yes, some of the engine noises are piped through the stereo. It's a pipe organ you can live with.
"Our American customers really care about the sound," says project development manager Jan Byrla. "That, and they want it to look different from the stock Mercedes model."
That explains the 12 AMG exterior badges, I guess.
As good as the E63S was on back roads and at Portimão, it was a fast nighttime blast on the A22 freeway to Faro that made me love this sedan. Light traffic, crisp winter air streaming over the windshield, a mountain range on the left and the Atlantic coast off to the right. The way the E63 gets from 60 to 100 mph when all settings are in Comfort? A quiet, wonderful storm.
Truth is, most E63 owners aren't going to the track. They're going to commute. That's okay, because you really can drive this car like a normal E-class, then go all sports car by hitting a few buttons, clenching the wheel tighter, and telling passengers to hold on. Select Sport Plus or Race mode, put the gearbox in its manual setting, and you're off.
The E63 S goes on sale this summer, priced at about $100,000. Mercedes has also confirmed a wagon variant with the same output, all-wheel-drive system, and Drift mode. Expect a fall arrival for that one. If the sedan is any indication, an E63 S estate with a Christmas tree strapped to the roof might just be the best pairing this year.