2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ first drive review

AMG’s 603-HP Wagon Puts The “Haul” In Family Hauler

There isn’t a sane reason for 603hp in a wagon – and that’s what makes the E63 S so beguiling
There isn’t a sane reason for 603hp in a wagon – and that’s what makes the E63 S so beguiling
There isn’t a sane reason for 603hp in a wagon – and that’s what makes the E63 S so beguiling

Highs

  • Supercar acceleration… from a wagon
  • A toned, not bloated muscular body
  • Ergonomic luxury for long-haul comfort
  • Tractable performance on road and track
  • Snarling V8 music to liven up any commute

Lows

  • COMAND infotainment is finicky and complicated

Peak Mercedes-AMG nuttiness isn’t the AMG GT R, with its neon green paintjob and carbon ceramic brakes. Nor is it the F1-derived Project One hypercar, with its sophisticated hybrid powertrain and 10,000-rpm redline. No, the wildest side of AMG takes the shape of a family station wagon with 603 horsepower.

The E63 S 4Matic+ Wagon is a more practical side to AMG’s midsize luxury sedan and BMW M5 fighter. With space for five adults and plenty of cargo, there’s little reason to assume the E63 wagon is anything more than an upscale grocery-getter. That is, until one blows the doors off your muscle car.

Mercedes-AMG says the long-roofed E63 is built for a particular buyer – so particular, that only about 300 of them turn up each year. Even compared to E63 S sedan sales, that figure is small. The vehicle’s niche status also explains its uniqueness in the market; the closest rivals to the E63 S Wagon ($107,945) are Jaguar’s much less potent XF Sportbrake ($71,445) and Porsche’s not-quite-a-wagon Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo ($155,050).

It’s the wagon’s stretched roofline that stirs within us the perfect combination of fear and desire

Keen to the wonderful absurdity of its own car, Mercedes-AMG invited Digital Trends to NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky to test its E63 S 4Matic + sedan ($105,395) and wagon ($107,945) in a proper performance environment. Guess it’s time to put the “haul” in family haulers.

While not dramatic departures from the E-Class’ elegant baseline, the AMG versions of the sedan and wagon are distinctly more muscular and proud than their Mercedes-Benz counterparts. The clearest AMG callouts include re-sculpted front bumpers with larger air inlets, inset hood creases, V8 Biturbo badging with carbon fiber accents behind the front wheels, gold painted brake calipers, black painted rear diffusers with quad trapezoidal exhaust ports, and five unique 20-inch wheel designs within flared arches. Both the sedan and wagon strike wide stances to match their potent powertrains, but it’s the wagon’s stretched roofline that stirs within us the perfect combination of fear and desire.

Interior and tech

Sporty and sumptuous details serve the needs of track day enthusiasts and suburban explorers alike. Classic E-Class touches, including dark wood grain trim, machined aluminum toggles and buttons, and plush leather seating surfaces make for ideal accommodations during our three-hour trek to the racetrack. Superb insulation and Mercedes-Benz’s air ride suspension filter most wind noise and road vibration while ventilated seats counter Kentucky’s humid, 98-degree heat.

Further easing the commute is Mercedes-Benz’s Intelligent Drive suite of driver assistance features. E63 S models are available with full-speed adaptive cruise control with steering assist, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, driver attention monitoring, lane change assist, speed limit assist, and Pre Safe (a network of pre-collision measures to mitigate harm to all passengers). Combined, these systems significantly reduce driver fatigue and distraction. At this stage in the semi-autonomous game, most mainstream automakers have some version of these features baked into their vehicles, but Intelligent Drive is among the most intuitive and effortless systems we’ve encountered.

Other interior technology highlights include a pair of 12.3-inch digital monitors (one serving as the driver display, and the other as the infotainment), a full-color head-up display, a Burmeister premium sound system, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and wireless phone charging. Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND software dazzles with depth of functionality and customization, but the learning curve is steep – especially compared to BMW’s iDrive system. Touch-sensitive controls on the steering wheel are better in theory than practice, and navigating the complicated menu structure can become frustrating. Thankfully, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto simplify the process appreciably.

Intelligent Drive is among the most intuitive and effortless driver aid systems we’ve encountered

AMG’s approach to technology centers on track tools. In addition to an onboard lap timer, AMG’s Track Pace app imports speed, gear selection, steering angle, time, position and temperature from the vehicle log to let driver’s analyze their track day performance. The analog side to AMG’s improvements is just as useful. A thick-rimmed, leather wrapped steering wheel features a stitched 12 o’clock marker and Alcantara inserts at the 9 and 3 hand position. AMG Performance bucket seats with adjustable side bolsters and tall thigh supports keep drivers of all shapes and sizes in place while the G forces mount.

Both the E63 S sedan and wagon offer spacious cabins with good legroom and headroom for four full-size adults (or a trio of kids on the rear bench). Unlike Porsche’s Panamera shooting brake, the E63 S wagon is truly practical to boot. 35 cubic feet of cargo space is available behind the second row, or a whopping 64 cu. ft. with seats folded flat.  

Driving experience

It takes no more than five seconds to transform the E63 S from cruiser to corner carver thanks to Mercedes-AMG’s performance software. The shortcut to tractable track magic is called Dynamic Select. Scrolling the console-mounted wheel between Comfort, Sport, Sport +, Race, and Individual drive modes adjusts suspension stiffness, steering weight, stability control, shift timing, throttle response, and engine mount rigidity. With 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque on tap, it requires precise coordination of these systems to keep the E63 S under control.

2018 mercedes amg e63 s 4matic plus review xxl
Miles Branman/Digital Trends

Mated to AMG’s hand-built 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 is a nine-speed multi-clutch automatic gearbox and variable all-wheel drive system. Other AMG-specific upgrades include an electronically locking rear differential, dynamic (adjustable) engine mounts, a three-stage stability control system, and available carbon ceramic brakes. Thanks in part to a launch control system, the E63 S sedan rockets to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds (the wagon trails by just a tenth of a second) and on to a top speed of 186 mph (please leave your kids at home for that trip). By comparison, BMW’s new M5, with 600hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, blasts to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds and is limited to a top speed of 163 mph.

Lap after lap, the E63 S delivers consistent braking, acceleration, and handling performance to satisfy any enthusiast

Two things become immediately apparent as we pilot the E63 S wagon around NCM Motorsports Park’s 3.2-mile course: first, this thing is heavy (4,697 pounds to be precise), and second, AMG masks that heft brilliantly. Gripping with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, the E63 S wagon shuttles torque wherever it’s needed to slingshot out of corners. Not that it requires the momentum; once a straight comes into view, the bi-turbo V8 roars its way towards the next braking point. In no time, we’re digging into the carbon ceramic brakes to shear off speed before pitching into a corner. Smooth inputs and a modicum of restraint keeps all four of the E63’s tires on rails, but the wagon’s big arse loves to come ‘round when we hop on the throttle a bit early or trail brake too aggressively. In those moments of oversteer, though, reeling the wagon back in is little trouble.

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.

Warranty

Mercedes-AMG offers a four-year/50,000-mile new car warranty to match its luxury rivals, but while BMW, Audi, and Cadillac offer complimentary scheduled maintenance (for varied terms), E63 S buyers must pay for all service from day one. Owners of the previous generation of E63 sedan and wagon report general positive experiences with rare instances of unscheduled repairs. Though the E63 S is new and therefore unproven, the E-Class on which it’s based has been out for a couple years without major red flags.

How DT would configure this car

Our perfect E63 S 4Matic+ has “wagon” in its title and sleeper sensibilities. Painted obsidian black metallic with matte black forged alloy wheels, you wouldn’t want to meet this brooding beast in a dark alley. Inside, we prefer our seating surfaces coated in nut brown Nappa leather and contrasted by natural grain black ash wood. Add in the AMG Premium Package ($3,600) for Mercedes-Benz’s full suite of driver aids, a surround view camera system, and a head-up display. Our final add-on is massaging front seats with rapid heating ($1,770). The final tally on our 2018 Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ Wagon is $115,885 including destination and handling fees.

Conclusion

There isn’t a sane reason for 603 horsepower in a sedan or station wagon – and that’s what makes the Mercedes-AMG E63 S 4Matic+ so beguiling. Leave the giant wings, dihedral doors, and inch-high ground clearance to the supercars, but take the ludicrous acceleration with you on the way to soccer practice. Is there such a thing as a carpool waiting list?

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