Nobody needs a big $145,000 Mercedes-AMG E63 sedan that gets to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds, but the performance division sold 1,378 vehicles in September and 20,738 year-to-date, which isn’t a bad payday.
And that is why most top-tier carmakers give such attention to ridiculously powered, appointed and priced cars.
“Customers know AMG is something exclusive,” said Bart Herring, sales chief at Mercedes-Benz USA. “And we have more opportunity to bring them into our brand with something more exclusive,” he said.
There is no such thing as a car for basic transportation today. Even the cheapest econoboxes are dressed in premium materials and advanced technologies. And that rising tide has forced the luxury brands to rise higher, too, including such incentives as subscription leasing and ultra-performance models as a status upgrade.
Without getting political, the rich are only getting richer, not only here but abroad as well, especially in China, said industry analyst Ed Kim, of AutoPacific, Inc. “And, therefore, many of these customers need more exclusivity than what a standard E-Class or GLS-Class can provide,” he said in an email.
Today, the differentiators between mainstream and luxury have less to do with content and more to do with the experience, Kim said. It is about the less tangible things, such as materials choices, colors, interior smell, door close sound and feel and “the actual ownership and service experience.”
Status plays into this, he said, and Mercedes-Benz has found ways to give “higher net-worth customers something more unique and with more status than the basic $499-a-month E300 that upper middle-class lessees will stretch their budget to afford,” Kim said.
AMG performance is a holy grail worldwide and the division fuels that interest with elite choices in coupe, sedan, convertible and wagon body styles. And new for 2019 is a midrange E53 model, with a new inline six-cylinder engine and 48-volt technology; it replaces the E43.
“These entry performance cars are huge for conquests,” Herring said. And the midrange offering forms a three-stage pricing tier: the entry E300 starts at about $60,000, the E53 at $70,000-$80,000 and the E63 at $100,000-$120,000, he said.
The Mercedes E-Class is a benchmark of luxury, but the split personality of AMG madness co-exists comfortably. This week’s tester is a 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S sedan, starting at $105,395, including the freight charge from Sindelfingen, Germany. The tester was optioned as a sinister-looking, flat-black battleship with an as-tested price of $145,000.
Standard equipment includes Keyless Go smartkey locking and push-button ignition, Nappa leather, 12.3-inch multimedia screen, semi-autonomous driving technologies, self-parking, Car to X communication between other such-equipped cars on the road to send over-the-air traffic advisories to the driver.
The tester’s style treatment was more NASCAR than Germany with ghost racing stripes along the lower door panel and yellow accents to the flat paint, carbon-fiber exterior trim pieces. Fat quad exhaust tips enhance a wide and low stance. And 20-inch lightweight AMG wheels are track ready with ultra-high-performance 265/35 ZR Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires that are about 10 ½ inches wide.
Inside, the black leather and microsuede-wrapped cabin has yellow dashpad stitching and trim elements, a suede-wrapped AMG steering wheel and AMG many-ways adjustable sport seats, including side bolsters — but with the hardest seat bottoms I’ve tested that weren’t in a race car.
The hand-assembled 603-horsepower, twin turbocharged and direct-injection 4.0-liter V-8 has a righteous 627 foot-pounds of torque from 2,500-4,500 rpm, with automatic stop-start at idle. The SpeedShift nine-gear automatic routes power to all wheels or just the rear wheels through the “intelligent” AMG Performance 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive with a drift mode.
There are five performance modes, including Race with calibrations for drifting — which I cannot imagine in this 4,515-pound car. And for those weekend SCCA slaloms, there is a manual-shift mode. The electronics adjust the entire powertrain, including engine, transmission, suspension, steering, stability controls and the all-wheel drive system.
The transmission’s short shift times, fast multiple downshifts with a double-clutching function, makes for a highly emotional gear-shifting experience. It also has a wet start-off clutch instead of torque converter, which AMG says saves weight and optimizes accelerator input.
You also hear the AMG treatment in the baritone blare of the exhaust. And with 0-60 mph acceleration in 3.3 seconds, the braking is just as impressive from AMG ceramic carbon discs, 15.4 inches at the front and 14.2-inches rear.
The ride quality is streamliner smooth from the AMG air suspension, but it’s also sensitive to surface noise on grainy road surfaces or concrete.
Fuel economy ratings of 15 mpg city, 22 highway and 18 mpg combined are impressive for such a ballistic application, but likely achievable only in Comfort mode in which the transmission doles out conservative shifts. My driving earned an average of 14.4 mpg, but the 21.1-gallon tank allows a 300-mile cruising range.
The tester also had the $1,100 Acoustic package of more soundproofing and laminated windshield and side glass with a heat-absorbing membrane. The 23-speaker, 1,450-watt Burmester 3D surround system, $4,550. The Sun Protection package, $380, added extendable double sun visors and rear sunshades. And there is a cabin fragrance-spritzing system, panoramic sun roof and a rear power sunshade.
The basic E-Class sedan is sold in E300 and E400 trim levels, in rear- or 4Matic AWD. The E300, with a 241-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, starts at about $54,000. The E400 4Matic, with 329-hp, turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6, starts at about $60,000.
What’s another $40,000 for AMG exclusivity?
“The reach of AMG in racing gives legitimacy to what the brand is all about,” said Herring. “The badge has a lot of credibility behind it.”
2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S
- Body style: large, 5-seat, AWD sedan
- Engine: 603-hp, twin turbocharged and direct-injection 4.0-liter V8; 627 lb.-ft. torque from 2,500-4,500 rpm
- Transmission: SpeedShift 9-spd automatic
- Fuel economy: 15/22/18 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium fuel
- 0-60 mph: 3.3 secs
- Fuel tank: 21.1 gal.
- Trunk space: 13.1 cu. ft.
- Front head/leg room: 41.4/41.7 in.
- Rear head/leg room: 38.2/36.2 in.
- Length/wheelbase: 196.4/115.7 in.
- Curb weight: 4,515 lbs.
- Turning circle: 39 ft., estimated
- AMG equipment includes: Speedshift MCT 9-speed transmission with shift paddles, AMG-tuned 4Matic AWD, sport air suspension, electronic limited-slip differential, high-performance braking, dynamic engine mounts, rear spoiler, hand-assembled 4.0-liter V-8
- Safety features include: 7 air bags, active brake assist, attention assist, brake assist, Parktronic with active parking assist, blind-spot assist
- Base price: $103,395, including $995 freight charge; price as tested $145,160
- Where assembled: Sindelfingen, Germany
- Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper with 24-hour roadside assistance