2010 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG

AMG, Mercedes' in-house hot-rod shop, might have recently called an end to the horsepower war it helped instigate, but the 518-hp 2010 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG indicates the company is not exactly ready to lay down its arms completely.

True, this new model, which will be unveiled at the New York auto show, brings only an additional 11 hp to the E-Class hot rod, compared to the E63 it replaces. We grew accustomed to great leaps in power every time the E-Class AMG was renewed. The big 6.2-liter that arrived for 2007 brought a 38-hp bump from the previous car. And by slapping a supercharger on the 5.5-liter in 2003, AMG added a whopping 120 hp to the existing E55 AMG.

So, by adding the powertrain of the SL63, AMG might not be catapulting over the new horsepower heavy in the class, the 556-hp Cadillac CTS-V, but 518 is still a staggering amount of juice. And its bark is as gnarly as its bite. An AMG official started up a 2010 E63 at a sneak peek of the car in Affalterbach, Germany, and gave the throttle a few quick stabs. It sounded very perturbed.

In addition to the 518-hp rip-snorter of an engine, the E63 AMG also snatches from the SL63 its seven-speed AMG Speedshift MCT transmission. Unlike a conventional automatic transmission, this unit has no torque converter. Instead it uses a wet-clutch system in which a series of clutches (six in total) allows for quicker shifting and a more direct connection between the engine and the gears. The tranny incorporates four shift programs — Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Manual — and can, says Mercedes, swap gears as quickly as the automated manual used in many Ferraris. Steering column-mounted paddles are the preferred mode for shifting. But gearchanges can also be activated by the console-mounted shift lever. Like the SL63's unit, the E63's also automatically blips the throttle on downshifts and incorporates a "Race Start" launch control function that requires so many steps to activate that we lost track of the full procedure.

Mercedes (modestly) claims a 0-62-mph sprint of 4.5 seconds.

Naturally, AMG also worked over the suspension and steering systems of the new E-Class sedan (referred to internally as W212). Unlike the previous E63, the 2010 model uses steel springs up front in place of the Airmatic air spring units. The rear suspension maintains the air springs for their self-leveling ability. It's not just the springs either, as much of the front suspension is new for the AMG model. With new control arms, the front suspension results in a 2.2-inch-wider track than the standard 2010 E-Class and is set for more negative camber. New electronically controlled dampers can be set in Comfort, Sport or Sport Plus modes, depending on the driver's mood. If all of the different transmission and suspension modes confuse you, the E63 comes with an "AMG" button that saves your preferred settings for both.

The wider front track required unique bulging front fenders to go along with the expected AMG body upgrades such as side skirts, a deeper rear apron with a diffuser panel in the center, four squared-off exhaust tips and a deeper chin spoiler. The standard E63 will wear 18-inch wheels, although 19s, like those on the car we saw, will be optional. The 19-inch forged aluminum wheels carry 255/35 front and 285/30 rear Pirelli P Zero rubber. The 18-inch wheels will carry Michelin Pilot Sport PS3 tires, making it the first production car to wear the new top Michelins. The big compound brake discs are slotted and pierced. Carbon ceramic brake discs — measuring almost 16 inches across in front — will be optional. The E63 also carries a 14:1 steering ratio, some 22 percent quicker than the standard E-Class.

All of this adds up to a sport sedan that is "a galaxy apart from its predecessor," and that "corners better than a C63," according to AMG. You'll get your chance to test those assertions at the end of 2009 when the car goes on sale. Be aware, though, that if you order up an E63 with a bunch of options, you won't get much change back from your $100,000 bill.