Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S-Model 4Matic Wagon

There are four more horses out of jobs these days.

And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
– Revelation 6:8, King James Bible

The Horseman of the Apocalypse, should they arrive in the next year or two, will surely arrive comfortably ensconced in this spacious and apocalyptic shuttle, the Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG Wagon. If I was one such horseman, it would definitely be the pale horse of choice for me, looking particularly cold and heartless in this Polar White shade. Plenty of room for my three buddies, too. And their gear. Trust me, when you travel with Pestilence, War and Famine, they don’t pack light (okay, maybe Famine does, but the guy never stops eating – how does he stay so skinny?). And War? War refuses to go anywhere without a big honkin’ chest.

Lucky for us the Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG Wagon, nicknamed here at the offices “Hellwagon”, has 695 L of space behind the rear seats (and that measure is below the rear windows, as it is easily larger – wider and deeper – than compact crossovers like the RAV4 and CR-V, which are right around 1,000 L with seats up). Total cargo volume grows to 1,950 L with the rear seats folded (very close to those same compact utes). As strongly as we feel about wagons, that is only a small part of the charm of this vehicle, though it is the one aspect that makes this an incredibly rare beast.

In fact, it’s rarer to find a wagon these days than it is to hear about another 500-hp luxury vehicle. It seems like you can’t throw a shammy at an auto show these days without it landing on a 500+ hp four-door coupe. So a 500-hp wagon, here in North America? It is the last of its breed, unless Cadillac surprises us with a return of the CTS-V wagon. I wouldn’t bet on that. Sure we get the occasional taste of an illicit superwagon over in Yoorup, but the breed is rarer than unicorns, so how does it survive here?

Simple. Mercedes-Benz has a commitment to diversity that has them covering every niche imaginable from insanely powered mini-four-door coupes and weapons-grade baby utes to obscenely powered ostentatiously trimmed formerly utilitarian military-purpose vehicles. Thank you, Mercedes! There is no branch of overpowered vehicle that they will not explore.

So back to our darling Hellwagon. Why would we give such an innocent, angelic-looking practical family hauler such an evil moniker? It all starts with the push of the big silver button to the right of the steering wheel. That button summons not just 500 furious horses to breach that psychological barrier, and not the awe-inspiring 550 horsepower of your garden-variety E 63 AMG (whether wagon or sedan), but fully 577 horsepower that make your average scorned woman seem like a Stepford wife. These are very angry horses. The minute the engine comes to life, they are snorting, pawing at the ground and straining against the harness. Prod the throttle a bit and the exhaust picks up the refrain with snarls and bellows, the car shaking in excitement like a possessed stallion penned in too long in its stall, a frightful symphony that had me sitting in parking lots howling with glee repetedly stabbing at the pedal. The amount of pleasure this thing gives just sitting in an underground carpark stomping the accelerator probably means it is illegal. It must be. And this is even before laying a hand on the delectable alcantara-trimmed steering wheel.

From whence does said sound and fury emanate? From the 5.5 L (5,461 cc) aluminum masterpiece assembled (and presumably blessed with holy water or devil spirits) by a master technician (in this case by Sandro Baier, whose signature is displayed proudly on the engine cover plaque) at Mercedes-AMG’s hallowed ground in Affalterbach, Germany. The two cylinder banks of the V8 are accompanied by a pair of turbos, force feeding air into the cylinders at an accelerated 14.5 psi and helping the potent mill produce an also-staggering 590 lb-ft of torque. Anyone got stumps to pull? And that torque is conveniently available from a paltry 2,000 rpm, meaning you pretty much get the full wallop as soon as you get traction down to the ground.

That traction gets down to the ground awfully fast. In contact with the asphalt – or snow and ice, as was the case for much of our week with the beast – were a set of Pirelli Sottozero winters, 255/35 wrapped around 19-inch front wheels and 285/30 rubber at the back. Those rear wheels receive 67 percent of the torque, the remaining 33 going to the front axle thanks to a very carefully tuned 4Matic AWD system. Carefully tuned not to be ripped to shreds, that is, yet still capable of reversing the split and shifting up to 70 percent of torque to the front wheels for mundane realities like driving around in the snow and still being able to make turns (with the front of the car leading, that is).

Doling out the power is Mercedes’ now-familiar seven-speed AMG Speedshift transmission, a single-clutch automatic that is fast when it needs to be, and reasonably refined for a car with a dual luxury and sport mission. It’s no PDK, though….

Let’s recap what we’ve covered so far: AWD with dynamic power distribution; 577 hp and 590 lb-ft of armageddon; and a practical wagon with impressive cargo room. What more could you ask for? Let’s skip the manual transmission refrain and move on folks – yes I want it as much as you, but let’s not be ridiculous.

How about carbon-ceramic brakes? Okay, these are kind of excessive at $13,500 that will unlikely ever see the demands of a serious track day, but damn, do those gold-painted calipers ever look sharp, the only speck of colour in the profile breaking up the monochromatic white with deep tinted windows and carbon fibre and silver accents around the front air intakes and rear diffuser. Oh, and for carbon-ceramic brakes they were surprisingly docile around town without the usual overeager initial bite, but still massive stopping power.

At the back, the vivid red of the taillights is a similarly captivating splash of colour, especially as day wanes and the bright LED lighting accents wrap around the corners of the car. The front LED accents seem a bit more convoluted, like we’ve run out of original shapes and Mercedes designers were simply looking for a distinctive shape that would be recognizable. It seems a little at odds with the sleek horizontal lines of the car in sedan and wagon trim, though it works for the coupe.

Overall, the styling is long, low and sexy, the length accentuated by the black windows with blacked out pillars, and the car hunkers over the wheels, which fill the wheel wells perfectly, looking every bit the business. The one point I take issue with is the odd snout-like treatment to the grille, which seems to jut out from the headlights and hood.

And how about a luxurious and accommodating interior? Well, Mercedes is no stranger to refined interiors, and this pinnacle of E-Classes receives all of the loving attention of Mercedes’ finest craftsmanship, the leather of the seats a lovely cream colour and as supple as you could wish for short of an S-Class. Our tester had the optional interior carbon-fibre trim, a fitting amendment to this high-tech performance vehicle. While the E-Class is yet to receive the more fluid look introduced in the 2014 S-Class, the materials are all refined, the COMAND interface easy to use once you’ve grasped the architecture, and with lovely details like the shifter and wonderfully contoured steering wheel, it will be a joy to experience day in and day out for years. And I haven’t even begun to talk about the driving experience….

But before I go there, let me quickly report that the rear seats are accommodating and comfortable with plenty of leg and headroom, as is to be expected in a mid-size luxury family vehicle. The front seats were wonderfully sculpted and supportive, with dynamic bolstering, though these did not feature a massage function as experienced in the E 63 AMG sedan at TestFest – that was the very definition of sybaritic pleasure.

Okay, I’ve danced around it for long enough. How was this thing to drive? About as awesome as you’d imagine, if you can imagine the incredible force of those 577 hp and 590 lb-ft capable of launching you to 100 km/h in a Mercedes-estimated 3.7 seconds. Car & Driver reports the quarter mile in 11.7 seconds, braking from 112 km/h in 46.6 m (70 mph/153 ft) and almost a full g on the skidpad (0.97). AJAC testing pegs the braking of the E 63 AMG-S sedan at 36.4 m from 100 km/h, bettered only by the Corvette this year. Not bad for a car weighing 2,045 kg.

It’s more than a little ridiculous to be catapulting yourself and your whole family to speed at those rates, never mind doing it with hockey gear, strollers, groceries and whatnot filling the cargo area, but for your sake dear readers, I did. Repeatedly. My daughter loves a good launch and screams in glee. That’s about how I felt, too. My wife, not so much. Anyhow, I suffered the reprimanding look, again and again, and am happy to report that this car is fast. Stinking bloody hell fast. That’s why we called it the Hellwagon. That and so many more reasons.

However, this is no one-trick pony, and it becomes truly surreal, a rolling paradox when you fling this two-ton rig around an onramp at escape velocities and it just sticks. Even in the cold, even on the winter tires, the car has grip that lasts for days and weeks years, long enough to get you to where the wild things are. Now the grip is there, but it comes with a caveat: you feel that weight pulling, and a big messy insurance claim is only a small push of the pedal away. This is no autocross car, its weight showing in any quick directional changes, and even a small track would be out of its element, but the long sweeping curves of our highway ramps just beckon with a set line and an acceptably exciting exit speed to get some part of that thrill this vehicle is capable of delivering. While the steering is direct and accurate, it is a tad numb at times so the car may not feel as lively through the wheel as through the seat of your pants.

And for its final amazing act, the E 63 AMG was comfortable. Not your typical E-Class executive cruiser or SL 550 supple fluidity, but rather like an Audi S4 comfortable, or BMW 5 Series comfortable, so not necessarily your typical Mercedes comfortable. The ride was firm, but punishing only over the most severe craters and buckled pavement that tend to upset all but the most wallowing of SUVs and luxury barges. Entirely livable in my opinion, though I do have a penchant for a firm suspension setup, so take that with a grain of salt, and there are several mildly varied suspension settings, from sports-car hard to sports-car harder to sports-car hardest.

There are also variable engine and transmission settings to fiddle with, dialing up responsiveness and revs, and dialing down traction control intervention. No matter which setting you’re in, this car is still so far from the reality of most passenger cars that it near as makes no difference. There is a launch control, but seriously, how many decimal points do you need to shave off my launch from one stoplight to the next on my way to work? Really, a full stomp on the pedal is as much launch control as anyone sane needs.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about fuel consumption, you’ll have to look elsewhere. I couldn’t care less.Okay, perhaps sane isn’t something we need to bring up here, as clearly that is not the goal with this vehicle. No, this is entirely something more pleasing than sane. This is the most brilliant contradiction that can be had on the market: A stylish, sexy wagon in the age of SUVs, an eminently practical family vehicle with enough power to split atoms, cure disease and establish world peace.

Model Tested 2014 Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG S-Model 4Matic Wagon
Base Price $112,900
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,075
Price as Tested $140,125
Optional Equipment
$25,050; Advanced Driving Assistance Package (Advanced Driving Assistance Package, CMS Rear, Distronic Plus with Steering Assist, Pre-Safe Plus for rear-end collision, BAS Plus with Cross-Traffic Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Pre-Safe Brake autonomous emergency braking) – $2,700; Premium Package (Parking Package, Roller Blinds for Rear Side Windows, Hands-free Access, Heated Rear Seats, Drive-Dynamic Driver's Seat, Climate Comfort Front Seats, Keyless Go, 360-degree Surround View Camera) – $3,700; AMG Carbon Fibre Trim – $2,500; Rear Seat Entertainment System – $2,400; AMG Carbon Ceramic Brake System – $13,750