Review: 2021 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon
You know the look. That bewildered, how-did-you-end-up-this-way stare that happens thirty seconds after an Ordinary Person at a social gathering makes the innocent mistake of politely asking you about cars. The conversation starts with promise: a normie might well understand the appeal of a German luxury machine with massaging seats, a 1450-watt premium sound system, and supercar performance with a muscle car soundtrack. The train doesn’t really go off the track until you feel compelled to explain to said person why wagons are cool.
“They’re more practical than sedans, and they handle better than crossovers!”
“They used to be uncool, like minivans, but now they’re stylish!”
“[Gulps down beverage to justify hasty refill retreat]”
And so on.
Inside the car community, on the other hand, the longroof trend is very much of the moment. Whether it’s Mercedes W124s, Buick Roadmasters, or CTS-Vs, this body style’s combination of anti-fashion and ultra-function strikes many enthusiasts as a savvier alternative to stodgy sedans and towering SUVs. Perhaps that’s why the recent arrival of the Audi RS 6 Avant seemed to generate so much excitement here in America—a new-to-us superwagon making landfall precisely at the climax of this automotive meme’s popularity.
Quick note, though. While the RS 6 Avant’s U.S. debut may feel like a watershed moment, another German über-estate has held dominion over this space in North America since 2005. It gets quietly better, generation after generation, and the latest example is probably the most impressive, most well-rounded vehicle in any showroom, anywhere, for under $150,000.
We’re speaking, of course, about the magnificent Mercedes-AMG E 63 S wagon. The current-generation E 63 wagon launched for the 2018 model year, and what we have for 2021 is a mid-cycle refresh. AMG’s twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V-8 remains central to the formula of this hot-rod Autobahn sled, and it carries on here unchanged with 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque that’s sent to all four wheels via Mercedes’ nine-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
Updates for 2021 are fairly minor, which is good because this car was nearly perfect right from the get-go. First, the centerpiece of the revised front end is a wider grille with vertical slats resembling those on the AMG GT, and a new front bumper design increases downforce. Then come the changes to the E 63’s interior, where smatterings of additional tech bring the E-Class more in-line with the current S-Class’ suite of infotainment and navigation advancements. Most noticeable is the new AMG Performance steering wheel, complete with touch-sensitive pads and a circular AMG sub-dial for selecting preferred driving settings. Dynamically the E 63 essentially carries over unchanged, but engineers did modify the adaptive air suspension tuning in response to customer feedback that even the ride in Comfort mode was too harsh.
One imagines even that bit of criticism was dragged out of otherwise blissfully satisfied E 63 owners. This heroic hauler does just about everything right, and that starts with its reserved looks. For fun, go ahead and conjure in your mind’s eye every vulgar choice Lamborghini made with the Urus—heinous grille, contrasting black wheel arches, cartoonish proportions, angular roofline. Despite its amped-up visual aggression compared to a garden-variety E-Class wagon, the E 63’s design remains cohesive, refined. The wagon could slip by unnoticed in a private school drop-off lane or restaurant valet, and yet the details you’d expect from a $140,000 machine hold up to close scrutiny. Our test car’s gorgeous Cardinal Red Metallic paint, for example, positively sparkles in the sunlight.
The interior is also stunning, albeit in a much less subtle way. From the driver’s seat, the view is one of almost overwhelming stimuli: huge twin screens, vibrant ambient lighting, various buttons, a touchpad, and a steering wheel so cluttered with touch-sensitive controls there isn’t an obvious place to rest your thumbs without accidentally fiddling. It would take a week-long class for most people to fully absorb the full capabilities of the infotainment system, the steering wheel, and the center-stack controls—an obstacle for drivers preferring a simpler interface.
Fortunately, the materials are high-quality enough that you quickly forget any initial tech friction. There’s no question the S-Class is an order of magnitude more opulent, but the E-Class is still a damn good luxury car that doesn’t buckle under the weight of a price tag approaching Bentley territory. Technology such as the the navigation system, complete with augmented reality that overlays street names and route guidance onto a live video feed of the road ahead, makes this feel like a state-of-the art machine. The overhead spotlight that turns on automatically when you reach toward the passenger seat in the dark? A brilliant, simple solution.
Of course, the E 63 is also highly functional. The back seat can pamper full-size adults in comfort, and the cargo area is massive. The load floor is nice and low, and the rear glass is large enough that the rearview mirror is actually useful should your backup camera become clouded by dirt or snow slush.
That practicality extends to the wagon’s performance, which is right there when you want it but generally unobtrusive in normal driving. The dual-clutch transmission can occasionally be fussy in low-speed maneuvering, but once on the move the nine-speed seems to always find the right gear. Transmission shifts are crisp, with paddle shifts yielding seemingly instantaneous response. The retuned ride is still firm, but livable and fitting of a full-bore AMG wild child. Steering is heavy but not obnoxiously so, and the chassis feels confidently planted even on wet roads. The all-wheel-drive system is continuously optimizing torque distribution from the rear to the front axle, via an electromechanically controlled clutch, and the result is so effective and refined that you don’t even feel it working. And yet, despite the car’s utter competence in every aspect, it’s always rewarding, never boring. Creating a car with this degree of capability is one thing, but making it feel this engaging and fluid in a variety of situations is another. You don’t need to wrestle the E 63 at the peak of its performance threshold to enjoy it.
One option to skip (and save an easy $8950 in the process) is the carbon-ceramic brake package. Granted, you want stopping power with a roughly 4600-pound vehicle that can hit 60 mph on 3.4 seconds on its way to a 186-mph top speed, but no doubt the standard rotors are sufficient, and there is a tendency for the carbon brakes to grab a bit aggressively in low-speed traffic. Thankfully the Burmester Surround Sound system is standard, because it’s absolute aural majesty.
We should celebrate a car that belies supercar performance in such a usable package. It draws as much visual attention as a nicely equipped Lexus GS. You can fit a ton of stuff in it, even enter parking structures without fear of scraping the nose. Go ahead and fill up on 91-octane, all without suffering a litany of leading questions—well-known to high-end sports car owners—that either start or finish with guessing what it is you do for a living, exactly. If anyone does happen to recognize this vehicle for what it is, staring you down as you glide down the road on a tsunami of burly torque, odds are it’s no Ordinary Person, who might otherwise confuse the marvelous E 63 for an Ordinary Wagon. Which it is most certainly not.
2021 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon
Price: (base/as-tested): $113,500/$140,460 including destination.
Highs: Sensational powertrain, genuine versatility, sacrifices none of its luxury-car essence to thrill when it needs to.
Lows: Not a show-er, for those who want to make a statement. Interior controls and infotainment interface prioritize functionality over user experience.
Summary: Johan of many trades, meister of them all. Simply one of the best-executed vehicles on sale today.