Mercedes-AMG E63 – a wolf in wolf’s clothing

The BMW M5 has been the class-leading performance saloon since time began. Mercedes’ answer is the E63 – another brutally efficient machine with a 4.0-litre V8 lump under the bonnet. Churning out 612hp, the Merc offers supercar stats, racing to 60mph in 3.4 seconds and on to a limited 186mph.

Passengers are unaware of the drama in a suitable luxurious cabin. Our S model with ‘drift’ mode can even revert the E63 to rear-wheel drive, instead of permanent four-wheel drive. The price is £88,035 but with options such as ceramic brakes, our test car topped £102,000. As good as an M5? Read on…

The E63 is the most powerful Mercedes saloon of all time. It’s the sort of car you can imagine Lewis Hamilton driving when he has kids – ridiculously fast and very ‘Mercedes’.

What makes the Merc so special is the twin-turbo V8 engine. It gives Stuttgart’s finest tons of character and a mid-range punch that is irresistible. Overtaking is a total thrill.

This is achieved with little drama, apart from a thumping bass track to the enhanced exhaust pipes. The accelerator responds from any speed and just keeps on going.

Most of time I pottered around in Comfort setting by the E63 has a variety of drive modes to explore. Sport is the obvious choice for a country road, Sport+ turns the Mercedes into a snarling monster.

4MATIC four-wheel drive is standard – and very useful considering this is such a big car. However, our S model allows deactivation, so the E becomes effectively rear-wheel drive in Drift mode. I wonder how many executives will be using that…

Handling is kept together with ride control air suspension, enhanced to offer neutral cornering and greater traction, even at higher speeds.

Inside, it’s pure Mercedes. Ironically, that means the navigation system isn’t the easiest to navigate, the scroller and mouse control is simply too fiddly. Not sure we need the silly mood lighting either.

There’s intrusive noise in the cabin from the 20-inch alloys and even in Comfort mode, the ride is on the firm side.

But that aside, the Mercedes is a remarkable car. It’s not as quick as the BMW, or as comfortable but brims with character and appeal.

For most people, it will come down to the badge on the bonnet because there’s not much else to choose between them.

 

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If George Osbourne Brings In A Tax On Heated Steering Wheels Then I’m In Trouble

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If George Osbourne ever decides to bring in a draconian tax on heated steering wheels then I’m in big trouble. I’ve been driving around all week with the thing on – it could spell the end of string-backed driving gloves for good.

And I know Volvo wasn’t the first because Lexus and Range Rover have had them for years – although Lexus messed it up in some of their models by making part of their steering wheel from wood, which actually doesn’t heat up . What were they thinking?

Perhaps like most of you, I thought a heated steering wheel was just a gimmick at first but after a couple of days, you just can’t live without one – especially in the UK cold snap we’re experiencing at present.

So here are my other favourite cold weather features on cars. The Air Scarf in Mercedes SLK that blows warm air onto the back of your neck (brilliant!) and the heater that turns itself on in a Volvo so that the vehicle is warm before you get to it (fantastic).

Any other ideas?

Thursday – Another Flawed Masterpiece

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The truly great cars are the ones you long to drive every day. Like a faithful hound, they are always there, ready to please and entertain. So does the Lexus IS300h tick that box?

To be honest, I can’t fault the engineering. The petrol-electric hybrid engine is an astonishing performer, returning 49.3mpg during the week and responding in every sense like a conventional car.

The IS is very easy on the eye too, with that BMW-esque rear-end and some neatly cut sculpting on the side panels. Not sure about the bug-eye headlights but still a great looking saloon.

But let’s face it, it’s going to meet very stiff competition in the premium brand sector and there are a few areas where the Lexus simply doesn’t measure up.

First is the painfully designed centre column of the dashboard that houses the sat nav. It doesn’t look anything like premium brand material to me. Then there is the sat nav itself, which doesn’t input full postcodes. Come on Lexus, that’s just not acceptable any more.

And finally, the driver’s seat, which didn’t marry up with my back in all the right places. It probably works for a lot of people but that also isn’t good enough these days.

Overall, a worthy rival to the best of BMW and Mercedes but a class-leader? I think not…

Thursday – Happy Returns

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Jeremy I never thought hitting 50 could be so much fun. A day out in London, with visits to the V&A, Tate Modern and assorted restaurants inbetween was topped off with a drive back to Wiltshire in the sublime XKR-S.

The strange thing is the Jaguar doesn’t look at all out of place in London, where the streets are littered with exotica to rival the Big Cat. That said, I don’t think I heard anything from Porsche, Aston Martin or Mercedes to rival the scream from the XKR-S tailpipes.

For the last 30 miles home, I switched the car to dynamic mode, stiffening the suspension, then turned the gear select dial to ‘sport’. Suddenly the ‘sedate’ Jaguar takes on a whole new personae. The revs pick up, the exhausts cackle and it takes a lot of restraint to hang on to your licence.

What I like most about the XKR-S is that it is just that little bit different. I haven’t seen any on the road yet and, apart from the mad colour, it really does tick all the boxes.

What red-blooded petrolhead wouldn’t want one of these parked on the driveway. More subtle than a Ferrari, more refined than 911 and less corporate than a Mercedes, it’s definitely shot to the top of my most desirable lust of supercars.

 

Tuesday – The Beating Heart

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Jeremy One of my favourite touches in the XKR-S is the ‘start’ button on the centre console. It’s surrounded by warm charcoal leather and dark aluminium veneer that rather steals the limelight.

But climb into the Jaguar at dusk and that start button glows in rhythm with a beating heart. It’s just there to tempt you to press the brake pedal, then gently caress the button and bring the Big Cat to life. Subtle or what?

There is actually the minimum of fuss about the main dashboard. Apart from the touchscreen sat nav and music display, there are just controls for ventilation and very little else. It’s a masterclass in unclutteredness, so pay attention Mercedes…

The door trim is more complicated, with no less than nine buttons for seat adjustment, all trimmed in chrome. It’s a little overwhelmed but you get used to it.

Issues? Well, the sat nav is a nightmare to understand, my backside gets sore sometimes because the seats are so firm and don’t close the tailgate without warning tall passengers! Mind you, they will be doing extremely well to squeeze in the rear anyway.

Tuesday – Knuckles

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Jessica Well done Peugeot for creating a hybrid diesel, it must be the way forward. The problems of battery weight and power storage are still areas where everyone is looking for answers but without getting these cars into the mainstream it will be slow progress.

The RXH is a lot of car. It even feels weighty and the steering adds to the mood as it requires more than the usual amount of effort to turn the wheel.  Furthermore, the gears seem to be very ponderous, which again is something drivers don’t expect with modern cars.

The beautiful dashboard is laid out with many buttons and safety gadgets, all offering a range of noises and alarms. There’s certainly enough here to give Volvo a run for its money!

The 508 has a sporty and well designed speedo, while a range of clearly laid out options for the transmission allowing a sense of choice  and ultimately, control.

For a family estate though which is clearly aiming to compete with the Audi estates and possibly Mercedes it is a handsome car with well designed seats, a considered external and internal aesthetic, plus a sense of presence.

And I’m not sure if it’s mothers who will potentially be driving this car but they will need to have sensible short nails! I had some awkward moments trying to open the central arm rest via a side-mounted button. In the end it became a fumbld knuckle job!