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