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2018 Mercedes-AMG E63S debuts in LA with 603 horsepower

Drift Mode, guys. The E63 has a Drift Mode.

Typically, the arrival of a new Mercedes-Benz E-Class is like an appetizer at a fine meal. It's gazpacho. A salad. A teaser to whet appetites. The new Mercedes-AMG E63 and its higher-spec sibling, the E63S, is the main course.

The most powerful version yet of Mercedes-AMG's 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 sits under the E63S' hood, with 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. Paired with a 4Matic all-wheel-drive system that promises totally variable front-to-rear torque – there's no mention of lateral torque vectoring – Mercedes' new super sedan is faster off the line than the 640-hp Cadillac CTS-V. The E63S is 0.4 seconds faster to 60, doing the deed in just 3.3 seconds to the Caddy's 3.7 seconds (though the CTS-V's 200-mile-per-hour top speed dwarfs the E63S' 186-mph electronic limit). And if you buy the standard car? Don't worry, the base E63 can still beat the Cadillac with its 563 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. The run to 60 takes just 3.4 seconds, although it hits its electronic limit at only 155. Regardless of model, Mercedes stuck with its nine-speed AMG Speedshift multi-clutch transmission.

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Beyond leaving claw marks in the pavement, the new 4Matic system has another trump card that we heard rumors about recently – Drift Mode. Standard on the E63S, drivers select the "Race" drive program, switch off stability control, activate the transmission's manual mode, and voila, big, smokey slides. Besides knowing how to activate it, details on going sideways are scarce. Mercedes claims Drift Mode turns the E63 into a "purely rear-wheel drive" vehicle, which sounds great, but we're wondering if this is entirely a function of the 4Matic system, or if there is some other trickery at play. No matter how AMG pulls it off, this sounds like a good deal – you have the all-wheel drive to maximize grip in a straight line, while a push of the button will allow the same kind of tail-out antics rear-drive owners experience whether they want it or not.

Mercedes will kick off E63 sales with the E63S Edition 1, painted Designo Night Black Magno with matte-black AMG 20-inch wheels and the gloss-black Night Package. Inside, Mercedes-AMG opted for black nappa leather and yellow stitching on AMG Performance seats. Carbon fiber trim and "Edition 1" lettering on the top of the performance steering wheel round out the limited-edition E63S.

Mercedes will debut both the E63 and E63S at next month's Los Angeles Auto Show, with US sales to begin next summer. Expect pricing closer to the on-sale date.

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