Athleticism and compliance don’t usually make good bedfellows, and very few cars get it close when it comes to getting them to walk hand in hand. Inevitably, there’s some sacrifice, and just where depends on the chosen tilt taken by an automaker. Attempting the widest possible spectrum with a premium executive sedan is probably the hardest game to play – it’s elusive, getting that balance, soft when it matters, but able to do hardball succintly when you want it to.

Some have done better than others in the high-performance arena, but Mercedes-Benz hasn’t been one of those. Stuttgart has arguably always been a step behind in the segment – as blistering as its big rear-wheel drive AMG machines have been, they were always a bit one-dimensional, flat-track rapid (and loud) but more compliant rather than agile, essentially lacking the handling sophistication and outright ability of the direct competition.

The tack changed somewhat with the W212 E 63 S, although it still felt one-trick in many ways – while its turn of speed and precocious nature in response to pedal input were incredibly vivid, much of its appeal still lay in its straight-line enthusiasm, despite tricks put in during its mid-life update to improve grip and handling.

Persistence in the quest to find that grail looks to have finally paid off, the elusive being found one generation on in the latest Mercedes-AMG E-Class iteration – as an extended drive in it in Portugal showed, the W213 E 63 S 4Matic isn’t just leaps ahead of its predecessor, it’s a car that can be (well, almost) all things to someone looking at a single solution, tristar or otherwise.

The car, which made its official debut last November in Los Angeles and was launched in Malaysia recently, is available in two variant forms – the E 63 4Matic+ and E 63 S 4Matic+. Unlike with the W212, the new 63 features significantly more alterations – both exterior and mechanical – to differentiate it from the civilian W213.

Exterior dimensions are slightly different than the regular E-Class – the E 63 measures in at 4,988 mm long (4,923 mm, +65 mm over standard car), 1,907 mm wide (1,852 mm, +55 mm) and 1,463 mm tall (1,468 mm, -5 mm), making it longer, wider and lower than its standard sibling. Wheelbase length remains the same at 2,939 mm.

Looks-wise, the revisions are subtle but nicely executed, presenting a profile that is agressive yet never over-the-top, essentially making for a good sleeper. Most of the action is at the front – it’s all new forward of the A-pillar, the fresh bits led by a new radiator grille with silver-chrome twin louvres, vertical black struts and AMG lettering.

Elsewhere, the new front bumper gets a skirt apron designed along the lines of a jet wing as well as an additional front splitter, and the E 63 gets a new bonnet as well, one embedded between the fenders and the bumper in coupé-like fashion. The front fenders have also been revised, widened by 17 mm to accommodate the greater track width and the larger wheels the car wears.

At the back, there’s a boot spoiler lip painted in the body colour, a rear apron with a silver-chrome trim strip and a three-fin diffuser insert, along with chrome-plated twin tailpipe trim elements.

The side has been largely untouched, save for the inclusion of independent side skirts, and so new wheels help dress it up from a broadside view – as standard, the E 63 S 4Matic+ is equipped with 20-inch five twin-spoke light-alloy wheels in titanium grey with a high-sheen finish, along with red brake calipers with AMG lettering. The E 63 4Matic+, meanwhile gets 19-inch 10-spoke units done up in the same finish, with brake calipers in anodised silver.

As is the norm on most drives, all the mules present were of the higher-end E 63 S variety – which is the only variant being sold here in Malaysia anyway – and decked out to the hilt. Many of the examples were equipped with the optional AMG carbon ceramic composite braking system, denoted by its bronze finish, with the optional AMG performance exhaust system also strapped on.

Inside, the layout is familiar W213 territory, but comprehensively equipped, with kit including two 12.3-inch, 1,920 x 720 pixel display screens (with three AMG display styles), upper dashboard finished in Nappa, an IWC-designed analogue clock and COMAND Online system.

Also on, AMG Performance seats and steering wheel, and the E 63 S demonstrators even came dressed with optional AMG carbon fibre console trim, standard only on the Edition 1, of which a number of examples were present.

As standard, the variant gets a designo selenite grey magno exterior finish, 20-inch cross-spoke forged alloy wheels in matt black and an AMG Night Package, along with Multibeam LED Intelligent Light System headlights, a panoramic sunroof, a Keyless-Go Comfort package and a 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system with nine-channels and 590 watts of amplification.

Mechanical alterations include a completely re-engineered AMG sports suspension, which is based on the automaker’s Air Body Control multi-chamber air suspension, offering different ride modes in Comfort, Sport and Sport+ settings.

There’s also a new four-link front axle – with forged aluminium components – as well as new wishbones, strut rod and spring link, while the rear axle has been modified to handle the variant’s increased vehicle dynamics. Elsewhere, there are AMG-specific wheel carriers as well as elastokinematic tuning, with the E 63 S adding dynamic engine mounts on top of that.

Power is of course derived from the familiar M178 4.0 litre twin-turbo V8, which takes over from the M157 5.5 litre V8 seen on the W212 equivalent, in different states of output tune. On the E 63, it puts out 563 hp (571 PS) at 5,750-6,500 rpm and 750 Nm at 2,250-5,000 rpm, while on the E 63 S it’s rated at 604 hp (612 PS) at 5,750-6,500 rpm and 850 Nm from 2,500-4,500 rpm.

Paired with an AMG Speedshift MCT nine-speed sports transmission, with power transferred to the tarmac by a new AMG Performance 4Matic+ fully variable all-wheel drive system. Performance figures for the E 63 include a 0-100 km/h time of 3.5 seconds and an electronically-governed top speed of 250 km/h. The E 63 S, meanwhile, is a shade faster to 100 km/h, at 3.4 seconds.

Not that it will really matter to buyers, but the mill has an AMG Cylinder Management system that helps lower fuel consumption by deactivating cylinders two, three, five and eight when the car is running at a partial-load range.

The above happens when the car is in its Comfort mode in the AMG Dynamic Select drive programme, which also offers Sport, Sport+ and Individual as well as a Race programme mode for track use. Additionally, the E 63 S comes with a drift mode function, activated in the Race drive programme using the shift paddles, with ESP deactivated and the transmission in manual mode. In this form, the E 63 S operates purely in rear-wheel drive until the mode is switched off.

An AMG Sport electromechanical speed-sensitive steering and a rear differential lock (mechanical on the E 63, and electronically-controlled on the S) round off the major specific items unique to the car.

Being comprehensively equipped for the task is one thing, getting it all to gel is another, but for the first time an AMG-based E truly aces its report card. The drive in southern Portugal covered a fair bit of terrain, slightly more than 250 km in total over two days, with a track cycle to be had in between. Ranging from puttering in traffic to motorway blasts and B-road jaunts around the Algarve region, the course gave the E 63 S a broad canvas to show what it was made of, and it never came up short.

The current iteration remains brutal, but in far more organic fashion. It’s gregarious, but it’s not just all about ballistic behaviour and being a sledgehammer on wheels, because the new car possesses a broader set of talents, inherently wider in range than its predecessor.

The projection remains bold, but more sublime in scope. What’s on is superbly presented, and cleverly masked – crawling about at urban speeds shows very little propensity of what to expect when you stand on it, the car behaving much like a regulation E-Class, giving it away only through a higher level of road noise and by being more rough riding over uneven tarmac.

To be fair, the suspension does very well, and in Comfort mode provides a fairly cossetting ride, so there shouldn’t be many complaints from the buying base given the versatility of the car elsewhere. The cabin does its bit for the cause. The level of luxe is high, and ambling along, the interior feel doesn’t veer far from say, a well-appointed E 300 equivalent in terms of plushness.

While the slow and steady measures up – largely – to defined limo standards, it’s what’s up the scale that seals it for this fast E. Silly is achieved very quickly when you’re game for a go – there’s virtually no lag coming off those twin-scrolls, and despite the mass progress is astoundingly rapid.

The turn of speed is mesmerising and addictive, but it’s the handling that rakes in the points. As mentioned earlier, while the W212’s ability to hustle at pace was indisputable, things elsewhere were never enough to suggest it would be the measure of the F10 BMW M5 in terms of pure dynamic ability. This one changes the landscape, and then some.

On the road, it’s absolutely immense – in terms of drivability and handling, it’s the best sedan-based outing yet by the tristar in terms of dynamic stability, truly sterling when you consider that it’s a nearly two-tonne machine. Better than the C-Class equivalent? Without a doubt, because no performance-oriented sedan from the brand has beguiled more.

The car is tenacious in corners – the steering isn’t the liveliest communicator, but is fast and sharp, placing the car accurately, and there’s no shortage of grip. The new 4Matic, meanwhile, is brilliant, and together with the suspension keeps lines tight and tracking clean. Of note is the taut integration of the front/back balance in exit follow-throughs, inspiring confidence to push further.

Some notes about the drive modes and associated behaviour. The E 63 S is at its liveliest in Sports+, but the car can get skittish over less than tidy surfaces (and highly entertaining in the wet, if you’re up for it). Comfort, meanwhile, mutes the dynamics but offers predictable, measured engagement, and so Sport provides the best road-going balance in terms of overall accessibility.

Dynamically, it’s more than capable of locking horns with the F10 M5 and coming out on top, at least in terms of pace and urgency, but of more interest is how it will measure up against the new F90 version, which is also a four-wheel drive offering. The observations from the drive suggest that the inevitable tussle promises to be intriguing. Certainly, it will be closer than ever.

Engine-wise, the 5.5 litre M157 on the W212 E 63 AMG S, tried two years ago on an open-course drive from Frankfurt to Cologne, has a snarlier character, and the note coming off that mill at full pelt is quite unbeatable, so there’s less aural drama now, but the M178 has plenty of appeal – it has better response and speed, and despite having less torque it punches harder, aided by the sentient workings of the nine-speed MCT ‘box.

Still, much of the sonic fireworks is the result of the exhaust, which in Sports+ mode offers plenty of aural soundtrack to help amplify the delivery, because the 4.0 litre is nowhere as visceral as the M157 or the naturally-aspirated 6.2 litre M156, the champ in pure noise.

By the time we reach Portimao, the group is suitably enamoured with the car and what it has cooked up on the road, but track time with dedicated E 63 units depict a rather different story. We’re at the tail-end of a programme that has seen these cars pounding their hooves on the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve for a good while, and so tired legs have begun to show.

The track mules aren’t as composed, most noticeably under braking. Phenomenal on the road cars, the brakes don’t have quite the same feel and stopping power, and the car shimmies nervously when it goes on hard and late. A trace of fade even creeps in at points, though it becomes easier to adjust and modulate accordingly as lap movement progresses.

Brakes aside, the car’s overall behaviour is also patchier, even if the effervescent nature remains undiminished. While it manages to cover Portimao at rapid pace, things never flow in the same manner as it does out on the road, and the previously masked weight becomes far more noticeable. Fast as it is, there’s an underlying sensation that it isn’t totally at home going full pelt around a circuit. Still, away from the GT family models, no other Mercedes sampled has felt that quick on a track, which is a positive.

Returning to the road-going car throws the switch back on, and the car continues to impress on the long highway jaunt back, this time with its high-speed compliance, which is impeccable running double century figures on the motorway. Like on the regulation W213 E-Class drive in Lisbon, night driving allows the Multibeam LED headlights a chance to shine.

It’s a truly impressive machine, the new E 63, no longer monotone but engaging on many levels. With compliance a given, fans of outright thrust will find that the flame continues to burn bright, but now there’s the added dimensionality of handling prowess to complete the allure.

Fast, comfortable and more than able to handle dynamic demands when asked, this surely is the most versatile AMG yet. Purists may lament the passing of pure rear-wheel drive, but few are likely to complain when the result is an offering that gives away nothing to the competition and finally sits at the top of the list. Shame then that with a million Ringgit price tag, only a precious few will ever get to experience the magic it conjures, because it really is quite special.

Full details on the Malaysian-spec Mercedes-AMG E 63 S here. You can also check out the full specifications of the car at CarBase.my.