The verdict: Beautiful to behold and a blast to drive, the perfect high-performance sports car may just be a family wagon.
Versus the competiton: In the United States, there is no competition for the E63 wagon. No station wagon sold in the U.S. can do what the E63 does. Moving to a high-performance SUV like the Mercedes-AMG GLE63, Porsche Cayenne Turbo S or Maserati Levante Trofeo is one option, but those come with higher seating positions and less adept handling. Until and unless Volvo makes a V90 Polestar or Audi imports the RS6 Avant, this is the high-performance wagon of choice.
Not too long ago, I wrote an article about how the Mercedes-Benz E400 wagon should be your next Mercedes-Benz. I extolled the virtues of its fine interior, the spacious cabin, the smooth and highly responsive turbocharged V-6 and nine-speed automatic. I said that its price tag, while lofty, was eminently reasonable for such a fine automobile, and that all these things made it the perfect model to buy if you were thinking about a new Benz. I also said that the more expensive, faster, more athletic E63 wagon really wasn’t necessary because the E400 was more than enough car.
I was wrong. I was so wrong.
After spending a week in the 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S wagon, I rescind the verdict I made about the lesser E400. That’s not the Benz you want; this is. Yes, it’s more expensive, to the tune of nearly $40,000 extra. But it’s also $40,000 better than the already outstanding E400 wagon. That extra cash gets you more than just a quicker car; it gets you one that can embarrass sports cars costing twice as much. It gets you a car that’s richly rewarding to drive, has an imposing physical presence and can carry five people and luggage to boot. And because it sits lower than an SUV, it doesn’t have the tippy, piggish handling characteristics of most go-fast family haulers.
The Perfect Looks
Station wagons used to be big in this country, and they still are in most of the rest of the world. Americans’ love of SUVs has ended the reign of the family wagon, and that’s a shame. Just look at this beast: long lines stretching from front to back that accentuate a long, low profile — and that roofline is pure artistry. White is not this car’s best color, but it does help it fly under the radar when blasting down a highway. Nobody’s paying attention to the white station wagon; they’re all looking at the brightly colored sports coupes. Never mind that this family wagon can outperform nearly anything else on four wheels.
The E63’s wagon shape is part of its appeal. You can get it as a sedan, but for a few dollars more, you add that extra cargo room that makes it totally unique. Its 35 cubic feet is roughly triple the cargo volume of the sedan, plus you can drop the seats and get a cavernous 64 cubic feet of room — in a vehicle with a 603-horsepower V-8. The Mercedes-AMG GLE63 has a little more cargo room at 38 cubic feet behind the backseat (expandable to a much larger 80.3 cubic feet thanks to its taller roof), but that mid-size performance SUV doesn’t match the E63 wagon’s performance numbers, probably because it’s over 500 pounds heavier.
The Perfect Drive
The E63’s weight advantage over the slightly larger but porkier GLE63 really comes out when you start to drive the E63 aggressively. The AMG Dynamic Select drive modes allow you to choose between several sport settings, plus an individual setting that allows you to customize different systems to your tastes. I generally kept things in Comfort mode, as the suspension is already as firm as I’d care to experience anywhere outside an Autobahn or dedicated racetrack. While not harsh or punishing, the E63 wagon’s softest suspension setting reminds you that this is not your average family hauler; it’s a supercar in drag.
The E63 is powered by Mercedes-AMG’s ubiquitous hand-built 4.0-liter V-8 engine. It now features new twin-scroll turbochargers for the first time and has been boosted to 603 hp and 627 pounds-feet of torque. Power is channeled through a dual-clutch nine-speed automatic transmission and now goes down to all four wheels via a new AMG Performance 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. The transmission can be left in automatic mode or shifted manually via paddles behind the steering wheel.
Despite all that plumbing and the massive power on hand, the E63 drives as smooth as silk in all conditions. Leave it in Comfort mode and it won’t upset those bags of groceries in the cargo area in the slightest. Acceleration flows calmly and easily, the brakes are firm and progressive, and ride quality is acceptably firm. Even in the softest mode, the car’s steering feel is still communicative and tight — with no wallowing, no play, no vagueness to be found.
After you’ve dropped off the groceries and your mother-in-law, of course, it’s time to have some fun, and fun is just a few knobs away. Slip the E63 into Sport or Sport Plus mode (leave Race for the track), and everything comes alive. Throttle response is immediate, shifts bang off with racecar precision, and steering feel goes from enjoyable to ridiculously accurate.
Mercedes says the big wagon sprints from zero-to-60 mph in just 3.4 seconds, matching the factory numbers from the 797-hp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye. The company hasn’t published any times for the GLE63 S SUV, but given that it doesn’t have as much power as the E63 and has two fewer gears and weighs considerably more, it’s no stretch to say the E63 wagon is quicker. I’d put it up against the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio — the only other SUV I’ve driven on a track and enjoyed — in terms of abilities. The turbocharged V-6 Stelvio is still down 100 hp and two cylinders from the E63 wagon, but it’s also smaller and lighter, and it feels that way when driven hard.
The E63’s fuel economy isn’t stellar, but considering what the car can do and what kind of equipment it’s packing, it’s more than acceptable — even superior to most of its SUV competitors. The EPA rates the E63 S wagon at 16/22/18 mpg city/highway/combined, and my week with it, which included several hundred miles of highway driving, netted 21.4 mpg, beating the combined rating. It also bests competing SUVs from BMW, Jeep and Land Rover thanks to its lower weight and standard cylinder deactivation.
The Perfect Interior
OK, so maybe the interior of the S-Class is slightly more opulent, but the E-Class gives up almost nothing to its more expensive showroom sibling. It has the same high-quality controls, the same kinds of electronic displays, the same multimedia systems, even the same adjustable interior lighting offering 64 color combinations. Mercedes-Benz has done wonders at filtering the opulence of its most premium sedans down through its lineup, and the E63 is no exception. My test car was rather somberly done up in Nappa black leather with silver stitching, accented by black-ash wood trim — not the most adventurous color combination. (There are some much more appealing hues available.) It did, however, accent the sporting character of the car nicely.
The front seats are heavily bolstered, as they need to be to keep you in place should you ever take your E63 to a track. There’s more headroom for both front and backseat occupants in the E-Class wagon than there is in the sedan, even with the standard panoramic moonroof. Backseat legroom can be a little tight, as is typical of rear-drive German sports sedans, but the E63’s interior is extremely comfortable overall.
It’s also surprisingly quiet — a credit to the extra-cost insulation package my test vehicle was equipped with. The Acoustic Comfort Package added more sound insulation to the cabin, as well as an acoustic and thermal membrane to the windshield and side windows. There’s more noise than you’d hear in a sedan thanks to the wagon’s cavernous cargo area, but it’s mostly the glorious rumble of that unholy V-8 engine — which can get quite loud when you’ve pushed the button to open up the exhaust’s butterfly valves.
The only foible in the interior is the terrible touch-sensitive media buttons on the steering wheel, which have replaced Mercedes-Benz’s old five-way controllers. Brush against them accidentally and you’ll adjust something whether you wanted to or not. I think it’s lunacy to have any place on the steering wheel that you can’t touch or where you need to avoid resting your hands. Mercedes can’t get rid of these fast enough.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not crash-tested the E63 wagon, but it has rated a similar 2018 E-Class sedan, deeming it “good” across the board. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the E-Class wagon a five-star rating.
This being a loaded Mercedes-Benz, the E63 has all of the company’s latest and greatest electronic safety minders. The optional AMG Premium Package includes all kinds of goodies: adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, blind spot detection, 360-degree cameras, a head-up display and one of the more advanced semi-autonomous driving systems on the market.
You can set the E63’s cruise control to steer for you, provided lane markings are clear, and even briefly take your hands off the wheel. Using the turn-signal stalk, it can even change lanes on its own, using the car’s sensors to detect overtaking traffic and proceeding when it’s safe to do so. The car will summon your attention now and then, depending on road conditions and speed, requiring you to touch the steering wheel to let it know you’re still awake and present. The only system out there that’s better is Cadillac’s Super Cruise, which uses cameras and attention monitors to determine the driver’s attentiveness, allowing for totally hands-free control on approved highways.
Perfectly Priced … for Some
If only Mercedes-Benz saw fit to price the E63 wagon like a Toyota Camry, then I could truly declare this the perfect all-around car. Alas, no such luck — the as-tested sticker price on this bad boy was $127,500 including destination fee, which is a lot of money for a mid-size family wagon. It’s an eminently reasonable sum, however, for a balls-to-the-wall V-8 supercar. It starts at an only-slightly-more-sensible $107,945, but necessary options add up fast. The Premium Package, which includes those safety systems, adds $3,600, and the Acoustic Package, with the extra sound insulation, adds $1,100. You could justify the $1,250 AMG Performance Exhaust, but the rest of our tester’s price jump was purely for cosmetic add-ons — things like carbon-fiber dress-up kits, black trim and exhaust pipes, different wheels, even a carbon-fiber engine cover for $1,500. Silly. Stick to the essentials and save the rest of that cash for your first few fuel stops, or for a dedicated set of winter wheels and tires.
Competitors, such as they are, cost about the same. First of all, there are no other high-performance wagons on the American market. None. If you want something from a competitor that can go this fast and carry five people and luggage, you’re getting an SUV. Mercedes-Benz sells several, like the AMG GLE63, the GLS63 if you want to go a size up or the G63 if you want box-shaped insanity on wheels. Porsche has several levels of Cayenne that can challenge the E63 wagon, while Maserati has just introduced two new versions of the often-overlooked Levante SUV that can do the same: the GTS and Trofeo. Compare some of them here.
For my money, the rarity of the E63 wagon, the packaging, the handling characteristics and all the unique elements add up to something more special than a go-fast SUV. It’s as much a statement as it is a transportation device: It says you didn’t just buy this off a lot or get it on a great lease special. It says you know what you’re doing — and you’re doing something ridiculously fun.
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