The E-Class is the staple Mercedes-Benz product, the most versatile model in the range. Looking at the current sleek and elegant W211 E Class, one hesitates to use the word "workhorse," but the E Class plays a huge variety of roles, from 220CDI taxi cab to E55 AMG autobahn stormer. No matter what lengths the factory goes to in its efforts to market a top model, there will always be tuners, and indeed customers, who will want more.
You can justifiably ask who would spend 298,000 Euro (plus tax) on an E-Class when you can start with an S Class, a larger car with higher perceived social status. In this case, the question itself hints at the answer.There are some wealthy people who wish to travel in relative anonymity, and then there are those who simply do not want a larger car. For them, the E Class in either saloon or estate form is the ideal car, large enough to carry four people and their luggage in comfort over distance, with the option in some markets of 4-Matic awd.
However, there has always been the attraction of having the ultimate Q-car. A four-door saloon, preferably dark colored, with the potential to blow the doors off most other cars with sporty pretensions and embarrass a supercar or two along the way has a certain attraction. With its wide range of engine options, the E Class is imminently suited to this role. After all, who would expect a car badged as an E200 or E220 CDI to be packing 600 bhp? Tales of the unexpected can be a lot of fun.
The Brabus E V12 is a massively powerful car that can pass through the population almost unnoticed. In town, we came into contact with dozens of people going about their daily business without anyone giving us so much as a second glance. In fact, most didn't even register the passage of yet another black E Class, probably the most common color for this car after silver. Hidden in plain sight, it was like having our very own Romulan cloaking device. However, point your right foot and the quiet demeanor of the E V12 changes as quickly and as radically as Clark Kent becoming Superman. Thankfully it doesn't show its underwear on the outside. Too much throttle and the back tires instantly lose their struggle to hold onto the tarmac. In an instant, the ESP light in the instrument cluster flashes at you and you feel the electronics reigning in the power. On dry tarmac, the struggle for traction still results in plenty of forward motion, and you're pinned back in your seat by the sheer physics of the moment as the big V12 roars in front of you and tortured rubber shrieks from behind.
The roar of the tuned twin-turbo V12 engine and building g forces continue nearly unabated with each slick upshift, and you could go dizzy just watching the speedometer needle flying around the dial almost as fast as the rev counter in each gear. Of course, you need to be watching the road to avoid it all ending in tears, and it is the rate at which other traffic is reeled in that gives you the real perspective on just how fast you are going. So smooth is your progress, compared to a noisy supercar, that the sensation of sheer speed comes more from the pounding of g-forces on your body than aural stimulation.
The power and torque on tap would likely snap the driveshafts of a normal E Class and pulverize the gearbox innards, but Brabus has compensated by using either Maybach-sourced or suitably beefed-up components where needed. We joked that the first thing to wear out on this car would be the ESP warning light. Handling this much power goes beyond just springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and the electronic safety net of ESP.
"We use a limited-slip differential to provide variable lock up," Brabus R&D chief Uli Gauffres acknowledged. "This diff locks up 40% under acceleration and 70% under deceleration to keep the back end stable, but it can go as far as 100% in an extreme traction situation.
"The engine bay has more than enough room to take the bare motor," he continued. "We had to modify the subframe slightly, but the biggest issue was clearance for the oil sump. However, I would say fitting the engine was a relatively straightforward task compared to the challenges from the electronics, aerodynamics and suspension.
"In the old days, cars had just one ECU and it was relatively easy to recalibrate it or replace it. However, since Mercedes introduced the CAN-BUS system in 1991 with the E500 and started adding more and more on-board systems like ESP, Brake Assist, electronic gearboxes and so on, the number of ECUs has also multiplied. These ECUs are calibrated for four, six or eight cylinder versions of the car and network on a handshake system. When you start the car, they wake up say 'hello' to one another. However, when the V12 motor's ECU introduces itself, they figuratively look at one another and say 'Who are you?' and refuse to communicate further or throw up fault codes. Re-calibrating all the ECUs to make them work with the V12 engine took a serious amount of time."
The company's high-speed aerodynamic work also threw up suspension issues. Gauffres explained: "Like the ABC suspension in the SL, the AirMatic DC system tries to level the car all the time. Its reaction times are not fast enough over 300 km/h, and with the front air splitter the system tries to compensate for the downforce and changes the attitude and ride height too much. In the end we decided to revert to a conventional steel-based suspension with more linear characteristics." Apart from feeling more connected to the road, the steel suspension also saves 300 pounds in complex hardware.