Mercedes-AMG GT63 S E Performance 2023 review
Adding an e-motor to the already ballistic GT63 S has created a luxury behemoth with rocketship acceleration
More. Lots more. Of everything. Power, torque, gearboxes, driving modes. This is the Mercedes-AMG GT63 S E Performance 4-Door Coupé. More badges, too. It’s at once a technological marvel, a thumping supersaloon, a mind-bendingly fast rocketship and a wildly expensive extravagance. It is – and I think we can say this officially – too big, too heavy, too fast, too expensive and too complex. The headlines are 831bhp, 1084lb ft, 2305kg and £178,704. Aside from the AMG One – remember that? – it’s the most powerful AMG product ever made. Do we care? Well, why not? We are well beyond the realms of sanity with these sorts of cars, so why not embrace the madness and submit to the ridiculousness of it all?
Besides, it’s hard not to marvel at the sheer force of will AMG has employed to create this monstrous saloon car. (They call it a coupe but that’s one madness I can’t support.) I have no idea about the ‘why’ but the ‘how’ is something to behold. In simple terms, this is a GT63 S updated and augmented for even greater performance. It retains the fabulous 4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine, producing 630bhp and 664lb ft, but supplements it with an electric motor that forms part of a kind of super-transaxle, comprising motor, two-speed gearbox and e-differential. This layout allows a 50:50 weight distribution, which is better than the slightly front-heavy pure-ICE GT63 S.
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The e-motor can add 201bhp and helps deliver that tarmac-wrinkling torque figure. It acts directly on the rear axle but the 4Matic+ four-wheel-drive system allows the power to be distributed to the front wheels, too. A 6.1kWh battery pack sits above the rear axle and features direct cooling for its 560 cells. The battery, which weighs 89kg, is said to be derived from F1 learnings and AMG claims a high power density plus exceptionally fast charge and discharge rates. The E Performance has an electric-only range of around eight miles at speeds of up to 81mph. However, as you may have guessed, that’s hardly the point.
It’s tempting to jump in, dial everything up to 11 and feel the force. Who doesn’t want to experience AMG’s gloriously characterful V8 fed with a shot of electric nitrous? Yet, I attempt restraint. There’s so much to try to appreciate here and to decode in order to get the best from this complicated machine. Does the EV mode seem useable? Can the engine and nine-speed gearbox combine seamlessly with the new rear drive unit? It pays to ease yourself into this car and try to get familiar with the various screens, rotary dials with multiple driver-defined functions and, of course, work out HOW TO TURN OFF THE F**KING LANE ASSIST. Sorry, did I say that out loud?
First impressions are familiar if you’ve driven an E63 or GT63 in the past. Those same rock-hard yet supportive seats, the same sense of a big, wide car that’s at once intimidating due to its scale but reassuring due to the obvious stability and control. The rich, deep V8 noise is comforting, although there’s definitely a little sci-fi whoosh swimming around the tight, evocative, heavy-metal soundtrack. The most pleasing thing of all is that the GT63 feels special and exciting even at low speeds. This is a nut that EVs – never mind whether they possess 1000bhp – have yet to crack. Something about the beat and connection with a barrel-chested petrol-powered engine is going to take some weaning from. This mighty car has character in abundance.
Utilising twin-chamber air springs and electronically adjustable dampers, AMG Ride Control+ provides good ride quality but the old problems of air springs – a kind of brittle, shuddering feel over high-frequency bumps – remain. I actually prefer the feel of the car in its stiffer Sport and Sport+ settings. Things are a little busier but there’s greater consistency. As you’d expect, there are various drive modes and they’re accessed via a rotary dial a little like Ferrari’s manettino, mounted below the right spoke of the steering wheel. Turn it to rotate between Electric, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Race, Slippery and Individual. Push on the dial and you can select your preferred regenerative braking setting from four preset modes.
There’s another rotary dial below the left spoke but this one is split in half to control two functions simultaneously and it’s supplemented by two small toggle switches. Press the top or bottom of the mini-screen within the dial to bring up the ingredient you want to manipulate – from suspension to ESC, sound to gearbox mode – and then click the small toggle switches to cycle through the options for each category. It sounds hellishly confusing but works pretty well. There are more layers to come thanks to AMG Dynamics, effectively an over-arching strategy for ESP, e-diff, rear steer and 4WD that runs through Basic, Advanced, Pro and Master programmes. It’s tied to the driver modes, thankfully, so you don’t really have to mess around with it too much.
The combined effect of all this hardware and software is simply huge performance, incredible grip levels even in slippery conditions, a great deal of driver confidence and, for the most part, an intuitive, cohesive dynamic character. The GT63 S E Performance really is quite shockingly fast and yet the chassis rarely scrabbles for traction or shows any signs of the weight pushing the car into understeer or tipping it into oversteer. Just point, shoot and hold on. And enjoy the crackling soundtrack that has a really nice bonus of turbo chirrups and flutters.
For the most part the integration of the e-motor is very well executed. It really does feel like an 8-litre V8 that happens to rev past 7000rpm rather than an engine being supported with lumps of electric power. The brakes don’t quite match that polish, though. There’s plenty of power, of course, but the pedal feel is quite inconsistent. One moment there’s really strong top-of-the-pedal bite, the next it goes long and soft. The threshold between regen and friction braking is all too apparent. It’s the first chink in the GT63’s armour, the first time you’re aware of the mass beneath you.
Once the big saloon is loaded into a corner it really is superbly balanced, the slightly too hefty steering has great response and rear-steering clearly helps create a sense of agility that doesn’t compute considering the physical size of the car. The dynamic limitation instead comes on bumpy, undulating roads, where the suspension starts to unravel and vertical movements run away from the control of the dampers. At times even in Sport+ mode the body floats as the wheels crash and clatter beneath and the reality of accelerating, turning and stopping 2305kg comes into sharp focus.
So, the GT63 S E Performance is remarkable… right until the point it isn’t. Suddenly the polish evaporates and the car feels clumsy. It’s certainly a sharper and more noticeable deterioration than you’d find in the much lighter (but still 2-ton) GT63 S, which makes do without the hybrid system but gets on pretty well with just 630bhp. Should you really push the E Performance hard and exceed the limits of rear grip, the transition into oversteer is fast and pretty scary at times, too. Best to dial everything back and enjoy the security and drama of the car at a slightly lower, but still supersonic, pace.
Overall, though, the sense of mass is inescapable. There’s just a shade more inertia to everything the car does, and even the way it will continue to accelerate for a split-second as you come off the throttle can be eerie and create a bit of a runaway-train sensation. Compared with a standard GT63 S what you gain in pure brute force you lose in subtlety and precision. Set against our favourite supersaloon, the sublime BMW M5 CS, the Mercedes feels hundreds of kilos heavier – which it is – and nothing like as organic and free-breathing dynamically. More like a ballistic luxury car than a true supersaloon.
I can see the case for that formula and the Mercedes does feel a quality item. Yet the persistent road noise from huge 315-section rear tyres and wind noise that sometimes buffets as though a window is cracked open undermines the luxury brief. Ultimately, the GT63 S E Performance is an impressive but slightly confused car and loses more than it gains with the hybrid application. The technology is deeply impressive but despite tricks like using the e-motor to help with ESC tuning to prevent the sharp cutting of power to the wheels, the real benefit is pure straight-line capability. We’d argue it had enough of that already.
Mercedes-AMG GT63 S E Performance specs
|Engine||V8, 3982cc, twin-turbo, plus 150kW electric motor|
This story was first featured in evo issue 308.