4 WD ON TRACK

Can the E63 S hang on to its own coat-tails in two-wheel-drive mode? Time to find out…

Evo - - FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE V REAR-WHEEL DRIVE - by JAMES D IS DALE

THE TRACK SUR­FACE AT Bed­ford Au­to­drome is glis­ten­ing with freshly fallen rain, while the tem­per­a­ture read­out on the Merc’s dash­board is hov­er­ing around 7deg C. We aren’t go­ing to be set­ting any lap records to­day. Yet while con­di­tions are far from ideal for es­tab­lish­ing ul­ti­mate per­for­mance, they are spot-on for what we do have in mind.

The idea is fairly sim­ple. Hav­ing ap­pre­ci­ated the ben­e­fits of four-wheel drive over the past two days on our rain­lashed road trip, it’s now time to strap on the tim­ing gear and hit the cir­cuit to find out what the raw num­bers have to say. How will we do that? As you know, the E63 S has the abil­ity to run as ei­ther four- or rear-wheel drive, which means we can com­pare lap times for a car that is, to all in­tents and pur­poses, iden­ti­cal, apart from how many axles are be­ing pow­ered at any one time.

We go out for a few sight­ing laps first, just to see what we’re up against. It only takes a hand­ful of cor­ners to re­alise that this is go­ing to be, erm, en­ter­tain­ing. The ex­its to most of the cor­ners are slip­pery, while the en­tries to the quick­ish kinks of Club and Pif-paf re­veal black-ice lev­els of grip.

It’s four-wheel drive first. To keep things as fair as pos­si­ble for both runs, I tog­gle the car into Race mode and dis­en­gage the sta­bil­ity con­trol. Turn­ing into the first cor­ner, it’s clear the E63’s mass is go­ing to re­quire some care­ful man­age­ment, as the nose strug­gles to keep the car hooked up to the apex. Get­ting hard on the power de­liv­ers the first sur­prise, as the AMG snaps into sud­den power over­steer – this is not meant to be in the four-wheel-drive play­book. Ap­ply cor­rec­tive steer­ing lock and keep your foot in, how­ever, and torque is quickly, and slightly scrap­pily, sent to the front axle, al­low­ing the E63 to thun­der along the next straight.

Through the flick-flack of Club, the tail sways this way and that as it tries to deal with the com­bined de­mands of trail­brak­ing and a quick di­rec­tion change. Once again, you have to man­age power over­steer on the exit, but only while the trans­mis­sion com­poses it­self.

‘The ex­its of the slower cor­ners re­quire a tip­toe ap­proach’

Through the fast right-han­der of Palmer Curves, with drive now be­ing shared be­tween all four wheels, the E63 feels sta­ble and se­cure, al­low­ing you to mash the throt­tle. The exit to the tight Bank left-han­der once again brings the dance of a quick pow­er­slide with rapid torque reshuf­fle, but is fol­lowed by a full-com­mit­ment blast down the next straight. Af­ter a cou­ple of laps, we record a best of 1min 32.2sec.

A cool­ing-down lap, then it’s twowheel-drive time. En­gag­ing Drift mode re­quires you to si­mul­ta­ne­ously pull both alu­minium gearshift pad­dles to­wards you, be­fore tug­ging at the right-hand pad­dle to con­firm your choice.

On the short run to the first cor­ner it’s clear this is go­ing to be trick­ier, as even in a straight line there’s heart-pound­ing wheel­spin in fourth and fifth gears. The ex­its of the slower cor­ners re­quire a tip­toe ap­proach, as even with a light throt­tle the AMG’S tail swings quickly side­ways. It’s hi­lar­i­ous fun and fairly straight­for­ward to con­trol once you’ve caught the ini­tial and sud­den spike of over­steer, but it’s not fast.

Af­ter a cou­ple of laps you dis­cover that it’s best to take ad­van­tage of the E63’s prodi­gious torque and sim­ply go a gear higher into and out of every cor­ner than you would with all four wheels shar­ing the load. You still need to be on your guard, and through the ul­tra-slippy PifPaf and Bank it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to avoid over­steer from en­try all the way to exit. It’s only through the fast sweeps of Palmer and O’rouge that two-wheel drive isn’t at a dis­ad­van­tage, with the car car­ry­ing sim­i­lar speed re­gard­less of trans­mis­sion mode.

As you’d ex­pect in these con­di­tions, the two-wheel-drive lap is slower, the Merc cross­ing the fin­ish line at 1min 35.3sec – more than three sec­onds slower.

In fair­ness, the E63 felt smoother and more nat­u­ral in rear-wheel-drive mode, but against the clock, there’s no doubt­ing the ef­fi­ciency of four-wheel drive when the sur­face turns slip­pery.

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