Oh, and Drift Mode

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Review: 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque… In a Wagon


August 15, 2018 Cars By Photo by Mercedes-Benz
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The total number of station wagons Mercedes-Benz sells in the United States is pitiably small, barely cracking five figures in any given year. This is particularly true compared to the number that fly off showroom floors in Europe. Still, the company keeps at it, working to appease the rare enthusiasts stateside or, perhaps, hoping that the sluggish pendulum of public taste will eventually swing back in the wagon’s favor. For those who do see the great appeal of a roomy vehicle that isn’t a sky-high, top-heavy monstrosity, the company has given us the fiercest yet in the AMG E63 S Wagon, the sport-tuned version of the E400. Only 300 of these pups will reach U.S. speed traps. It is, of course, an upgrade from a humble, conventional station wagon — in this case the E400 — to a 603 hp, 627 lb-ft bruiser that can deliver the kind of road trip that will thrill, or terrify, the kids.

The Good: Did I mention that 603 hp, 627 lb-ft of torque? In a station wagon? That’s the most obvious “good” in this picture. The second-most obvious is the drift mode, in which 100 percent of your prodigious torque can be sent to the rear wheels, permitting insane burnouts anywhere you want. There’s also a nicely tuned, adjustable air suspension that keeps the car planted even in the tightest chicanes. Bringing up the rear: that wagon configuration, which allows you to haul stuff and even catch some Zzzs in there if a road trip yields crushing fatigue… and the inability to pay for hotels thanks to the fact that you just spent $107,945 on a nuclear-powered station wagon.

Who It’s For: On a recent trip to Germany, I couldn’t help but notice how many sport wagons I saw bombing up and down the Autobahn. In Europe, the wagon never left. It’s logical, smart and practical — and to many is actually a more appealing visual configuration than the sedan. Besides, why not have the extra space back there? But there’s no accounting for taste, apparently, so U.S. drivers rejected the idea decades ago, on the flawed assumption that they would become like their dads if they bought a wagon. So this car is for folks who aren’t insecure, weak-minded sheep. There, I said it.

Watch Out For: Being A) a Mercedes and B) a station wagon, this is an undeniably large vehicle, tipping the scales at a pavement-pounding 4,700 pounds. It feels — and for that matter looks — like kind of a heavy thing, but Mercedes uses all of its available tricks to dial out that mass. Another quirk that might be discovered during particularly hard driving, which I experienced while pummeling NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is the car’s pre-accident belt-stiffener and the Pre-Safe Sound feature. In the former, the car will cinch up your belt if it anticipates an accident, while in the latter it will play a loud static-like noise through the car’s stereo, triggering an acoustic reflex that protects your ears from a far louder accident that’s on the way.

Both are brilliant, of course, but in track driving the car was frequently spooked into thinking I was going to hit the car ahead of me, and fired off both features, causing momentary disorientation as well as a bit of discomfort until the belt sheepishly relaxed itself when no big crash transpired. Ye of so little faith, E-Class! (That said, it was cool to actually experience the Pre-Safe Sound effect, a curious feature that also happens to be one of those rare things, like airbags, that Mercedes won’t just fire off during a press event to demonstrate.)

Alternatives: There aren’t many truly high-performance sport wagons out there, but what is available is generally pretty awesome. You have the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo — though with perhaps the smallest bump in available space in the transition to a wagon — the BMW 3-Series Sports Wagon, the Jaguar XF Sportbrake S, and the Mini Clubman John Cooper Works edition. Surprisingly, all are pretty distinct from each other visually, but all possess some performance edge that sport wagon aficionados will appreciate.

Review: There’s sometimes a moment in a great drive where the car itself recedes into the background. Call it what you want — flow, the zone, man and machine becoming one, the dancer becoming the dance — but it’s a real thing and it’s downright magical. Unless, that is, there’s something about the car that inhibits that transition to true, uninhibited, high-confidence driving. Maybe its transmission is slow, or its engine not quite there for you when you need it, or it creaks and groans through every turn. With a station wagon, the risk is that the car’s general gestalt will be more utility than performance, or that even the perception of its outsize dimensions will somehow slow you down, that the extra two feet of roofline will murder your aero or something. With the E63 S, there’s very little of that. Yes, it’s a heavy car, as mentioned, but once your brain accommodates that and all the Mercedes engineering muscle come to bear, you can reach that state quite easily in the E63 S. It felt smaller than it was entitled to, and I hardly noticed the car itself — just the next turn.

On the track in Kentucky, after just a few laps of grasping the quickness of the nine-speed multi-clutch transmission, the unbelievable braking ability — via the optional $9,000 ceramics — and the precision suspension control as you have at your disposal, I indeed quickly felt one with the machine, easily maintaining my pace and pushing the car harder and harder through the track’s undulating ribbon of asphalt. In the track-ready Sport+ mode, the car blasts out of each turn with millisecond responsiveness to your throttle inputs, and the driver assists—traction, stability—keep things nice and tidy for you. There’s a manual mode available should you like that granular level of control, but it’s really not necessary — though it’s admittedly fun — since the computer’s gear selection is usually right on the money in terms of timing and delivery. The car’s stiff, form-fitting seats hold you firmly in place through the worst of it.

On the road, the E63 S is just as much fun as your bravery will permit, with a 0-60 time of 3.4 seconds when you want to feel the Gs, but docile low-speed manners and a compliant comfort mode when you actually do have your little critters in the back seat and don’t want them to spill their Pringles into the nooks and crannies of the leather seats. (Speaking of seats, the extra-firm AMG Performance seats might be great on the track, but they’ll try your patience on a long drive. Be warned.) The car also comes loaded with much the same tech as its non-hypercharged sibling, including the big dual 12.3-inch display screens, all the advanced driver assistance systems, including semi-autonomous highway cruising, and the COMAND infotainment system that’s soon to be replaced with the new MBUX system — though it won’t be available in this model until the next generation lands. This being an AMG, the E63 S also comes with the Track Pace app that can log your track-day success — or failure — by coughing up everything from gear selection to steering angle to speed.

Verdict: There’s a lot to love about this wagon, from the design touches that set it apart from the E400 — an assortment of new creases, inlets and badging, along with flashy touches like gold brake calipers and blingier 20-inch wheels — to the things it shares with it. These include the core tech, but also the elegant, gently arcing profile that gives this and other Mercedes models a distinctive common thread, as though they’re shaped like suction cups thereby holding fast to the road. Of course, all those touches vanish from view and thought when you drop the hammer, because the car flat-out goes like stink, its engine growling fiercely with every exploration of the tachometer’s furthest end. If this machine doesn’t push the pendulum of public taste back in the direction of the wagon, nothing will.

What Others Are Saying:

• “Like every AMG today, quad exhaust finishers out back give away that this car comes from Affalterbach. Gaping front air intakes contribute to an overall menacing look, yet somehow the E 63 S wagon’s design comes off as understated.” — Joel Feder, Motor Authority

• “The new E-Class’ interior is wonderful, though it’s perhaps at its best in AMG form. The slim AMG Performance seats are as comfortable as they are supportive, though they’re also a $2,500 option. Open-pore wood accents and real aluminum trim match the rich leather appointments, and every single surface is both beautiful to behold and excellent to touch.” — Steven Ewing, Road Show

• “Hour after hour, lap after lap, both the E63 S sedan and wagon deliver consistent braking, acceleration, and handling performance to satisfy any enthusiast. At day’s end, we use our biggest puppy dog eyes when asking permission to try “drift mode” – a sub-selection within Race mode that turns the E63 S into a completely rear-drive vehicle – but to no avail. Instead, Tommy Kendall (racing driver and television broadcaster) puts on a drifting demo to separate the last tread from some well-used tires.” — Miles Branman, Digital Trends

2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon Key Specs

Engine: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8
Transmission: nine-speed automatic; 4MATIC+ permanent all-wheel drive
Horsepower: 603
Torque: 627 lb-ft
0-60: 3.4 seconds
Top speed: 180 mph
Price: $107,945 (base)

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