Driven: 2012 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Wagon

Reviews I By John Beltz Snyder I August 22, 2012
—Ann Arbor, Michigan
We love wagons. We’d like to see more of them on American roads. We love their utility, their unassuming looks, and the sense of nostalgia the evoke from us. We also love Mercedes-Benz’s performance department, AMG. The sheer power and sporty luxury they combine are things we don’t think we could ever get sick of. It’s no surprise, then, that we were very excited to take loan of the new E63 AMG Wagon for a week.
The centerpiece of the new E63 AMG Wagon, the biturbocharged 5.5-liter V-8 engine, is intensely fast. It can pull this 4200-plus-pound wagon to 60 miles per hour in just over 4 seconds. Those turbos spool up quick, too. We didn’t notice any lag before being thrown back in the seat. The AMG Performance Pack upgrades the boost to a whopping 18.8 psi of boost pressure, and raises the top speed from 155 miles per hour to an unnecessarily lofty 186 mph (probably good for bragging rights, and not much else, we’d imagine).
Stepping into the pedal, the engine belts forth a mighty snarl as it races toward its 6400-rpm redline. With the Performance Package, the car’s 590 pound-feet of torque (up from 516) is available in a wide range from a low 2000 rpm up to 4500 rpm. There is no discernible part of the rev range that feels weak—at any time, this beastly wagon can go from cruiser to starship with just a bit of intent on the part of the driver.
When left to work on its own, the seven-speed AMG transmission jumps to life when the driver decides to go berserk. It downshifts very quickly to get the most out of the engine. In Sport or Sport-plus (S or S+ on the dial next to the gear lever), it holds gears longer and keeps the revs higher, responding instantaneously to inputs from the right pedal. S seemed to be amply sporting for when we wanted to keep this engine running hot for our enthusiastic outings, while S+ seems reserved for those times when money or reputation is on the line.
Driven: 2012 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG WagonFor those who prefer the thrill of shifting on their own, Manual mode (M) allows the driver to control the transmission via a pair of very sturdy metal paddles on the back of the steering wheel. They are within easy reach, and feel very nice to the touch. Even when we weren’t using these paddles, we still found ourselves stroking the contours of the cool, matte metal as we cruised along. We enjoyed playing with them, but found that the computer was better suited to timing upshifts than we were, and the slight but natural delay in response was just enough to turn us off from swapping the gears on our own, particularly in straight-line accelerative runs.
Despite its massive power, this 5.5-liter engine isn’t as brutal as the 6.2-liter V-8 it replaces. It behaves very calmly when not being flogged, and it is very easy to drive this car smoothly and modulate the accelerator. When put into Economy mode (E on the dial), the revs stay pretty low most of the time. Not only is this better for fuel economy, it makes it really easy to use around town. We had no trouble at all driving smoothly when running our errands or ferrying companions to dinner. Still when we wanted it, that full power was always on tap, even in this mildest setting.
Also in E, the E63 activated its start/stop system to save fuel. We were a bit skeptical as to how this V-8 motor would fare when it started up after turning itself off at a stoplight. We’re pleased to announce that the system works pretty flawlessly. The engine doesn’t sound harsh or loud when it restarts, and it all happens very quickly as soon as you take your foot off the brake pedal. We never found ourselves waiting for it to get back into action, and the engine was always totally ready to go by the time our right foot could cover the rightmost pedal. The serenity and quietude of that big motor at rest was always welcome in the otherwise stressful hustle of in-town motoring.
This engine, as hearty and mean-sounding as it is, has a civilized sonic profile most of the time. At idle, and when cruising, it provides a comforting rumple that doesn’t intrude into the cabin too much. Occupants can easily carry on a conversation without having to shout over the sound of the burbling engine and exhaust.
The E63 AMG also has three different suspension settings, selectable via a button just below the dial used to select the transmission mode. The difference between them wasn’t huge, and we think we’d have to be pretty picky or pretty familiar with the car to really care that there is even a middle setting. In the softest mode, we were still able to feel the bigger bumps, and in the hardest setting, a lot of the smaller stuff was still filtered out for the most part. If your passengers are big fans of The Princess And The Pea, though, you’ll be glad to have a modicum of control over the suspension firmness.
Driven: 2012 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG WagonOur tester came equipped with some of our favorite seats available in any vehicle on the market today. The driver’s side featured the DriveDynamic Sport seat. This is the one that has the side bolsters that expand in response to the g forces in a turn. This feature can be turned off, and has two settings depending on how much support you need. While this seemed like a cool party trick when we first tested it on older AMG products, the technology seems to have improved over the generations. The bolsters seem to respond more quickly to motions of the car, and aren’t as distracting in action, providing a more seamless and appropriate level of support. Either that, or our body has just grown to fill out the seat a little better. We’ll give AMG the credit for this one.
In the turns, this big wagon’s behavior depends a lot on the mindset of the driver. With steady speeds and judicious use of the gas pedal, the E63 AMG Wagon feels pretty stable in the corners. It has a bit of extra heft in the rear, and the vehicle is hauling a lot of mass in general, but the sticky tires do a good job of keeping the rear end where it should be—behind you. The electronic nannies, while not particularly intrusive, are ready to step in when grip begins to fail. And it will fail under the right conditions. With enough lateral movement, a dab of power can overcome the grip limits of the rear tires. This is especially true on loose or wet roads. The few times we were brave enough to turn the traction control off, we found that the big rear end was more than happy to swing wide in a wild roar of hooliganism that no wagon should be expected to be capable of. Still, it was pretty easy to rein it back in and quietly slink away on to our next errand.
Really flogging the E63 Wagon on dynamic roads is a bit tricky, though. The steering doesn’t offer much in terms of feedback, and with all that weight, it feels just a bit sloppy when trying to tackle a stretch of road with perfect grace. Not that we really cared, though; this sucker was still freakin’ fun.
Driven: 2012 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG WagonSo yeah, the E63 AMG Wagon is a blast to drive, but it is also really nice to live with on a day-to-day basis. We found ourselves piling passengers inside, and they were happy to do so. There’s no shortage of room inside the vehicle, and the interior suite is a pleasure to behold even for those with the most discerning tastes. Materials are nice, and everything looks well planned out, attractive, and classed up. The huge space behind the rear seats was plenty to accommodate large shopping trips—we just had to remember to drive sanely to avoid spilling the groceries throughout the cargo area.
In addition to a lot of comfort, our tester was equipped with some serious safety features. Ours had lane departure warnings, which were helpful on the highway. The electronic brake assist came in handy when some cars in front of us almost collided and came to a quick stop. The E63 was already responding in the time it took us to reach for the brake. Sure, some of these things can seem a bit intrusive at times, but one can turn them off, and were it one of our loved ones behind the wheel, we’d want them to have every advantage they could get.
If we had to spend $100,000 or so on just one car, we would be nuts to overlook the E63 AMG Wagon. As an all-arounder, it checks every box. It has loads of performance, a huge amount of comfort, great utility, and some impressive convenience and safety technology. In essence, it’s a lot of fun, and it is really nice to live with. In some ways, it is the perfect car. If you are lucky enough to own the E63 Wagon, we are a bit jealous, but mostly, we’re just happy for you.
2012 E63 AMG Wagon With AMG Performance Package
Engine: Biturbocharged V-8, 5.5 liters, 32v
Output: 550 hp/590 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 4.2 sec (est)
Weight: 4282 lb
Fuel Economy: City/Hwy: 15/23 mpg
Base Price: $98,950

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