September 28th, 2010

Driven: Mercedes E63 AMG Estate

If there is one thing that shocks the human brain into life with startling intensity and bright-eyed focus, it is the unexpected. Have you ever, for example, lifted up a box of eggs to find that instead of being full and even as you thought, there are just two of the little protein parcels left; stored right over on one side of the container? It comes as quite a shock doesn’t it, as your brain struggles to comprehend that this uniform looking shape has weight distribution more akin to that of a Bedford Rascal piloted by Johnny Vegas. If this doesn’t sound familiar, how about when climbing or descending stairs without paying full attention; have you ever found yourself lifting a foot up again expecting another step to come? Stomping it back down to the same level as before is something that really wakes you up rather quickly.

What, you might be wondering, has this to do with a bright white behemoth of a Mercedes? The idea of something unexpected leaving a vivid impression, that’s what. It’s not the power of this car that surprises, nor the way a two-ton load-lugger manages to soldier on relentlessly, feeling every bit as capable of its derestricted 186mph top speed (up from 155mph thanks to the £2090 ‘Drivers’ Package’). No, it is the surprising depth and detail of the experience that I genuinely didn’t think it would be able to offer.

Ever since Audi launched the RS2 Avant in 1994, stupendously quick estate cars have been on the agendas of a few select manufacturers, and such cars initially appeal as the perfect all-round solution. Enthusiasts often like to chortle at the newest headline bhp figure, make a joke about dogs getting squashed against the back window, and then quickly forget them, secretly knowing there is more to an automobile than just the ability to shoehorn a large engine into a capacious car. For genuine drivers’ desire you want character, emotion, and a checklist of minor details that are hard to acquire in such a mass-produced vehicle.

There is just enough visual clout for anyone with a passing interest in the automobile to realise the E63 is something fiery, yet thankfully Mercedes are still busy nabbing leaves from Audi’s book and going for the subtle look. The test car’s white finish maybe didn’t help much on this last point; however finished in a darker hue I can’t help but think that this could be one of the roads’ ultimate sleepers in the eyes of Joe Public.

With a kerb weight of 1945kg, the E63 is no featherweight, so how on earth have the meisters at AMG managed to produce stats indicative of an estate car that can hit 62mph in a near-comical 4.6 seconds? The answer lies in the fitment of their 6.2-litre 32V engine; a near-infamous V8 providing a searing 516bhp and 465lb-ft of Torque. The acceleration figures are not to be doubted in the slightest, as ample pace is on tap to keep check with anything with four seats and then some; only flyweights and impractical exotica will be able to shake this E63 off their tails. This is helped in part by the fitment of AMG’s ‘Speedshift MCT Seven-Speed’ automated-manual transmission. The setup is adjustable for its shift times and the manual cog-swaps are pleasantly quick, yet it is just as easy to let the automatic setting do the work for you in the relaxed manner that one would always regard as a Mercedes forte.

With a starting price of £74,400 (this options-laden model  came in at £85,100), the E63 isn’t exactly cheap, but if there is one thing it seems that money can buy, it is a perfect exhaust note; as AMG have equipped the E63 with what is surely one of the greatest barks of recent times. We all know that a V8 engine naturally sounds rather special by design (especially when you have a touch of German acoustic tuning thrown in for good measure), but the E63 is automotive opera at its very best from off-beat idle through to redline; a crackle to match a tweaked TVR AJP-V8, gurgles to rival most 60s muscle cars, yet backed up with an underlying silky smoothness.

Suspension-wise, Mercedes has made the wise move to stick with conventionally taut coil springs up front, whilst equipping the rear with an self-levelling air system that is undoubtedly necessary for consistent handling whether you are five-up with luggage, or simply travelling alone with a mere Nutri-Grain in your excited stomach. It is an oft-forgotten variation that a car such as this must have the ability to deal with, and trust me, you will want to take it for that early morning blast to nowhere for the sake of it, as the rewards the ‘63 offers the driver extend far beyond just the ‘stamp-giggle-brake-done’ entertainment that would have been so much easier to develop.

The standard ‘Comfort’ ride setting really is that; enough to provide a true luxury saloon wafting quality, no doubt perfect for a cosseting journey home from the racetrack it would be so capable of tackling. Nip the dial round to ‘Sport’ or more importantly ‘Sport-Plus’ and the dampers are firmed up nicely; still pliant enough to happily punt enjoy with a family on board, yet tightening up the two-ton mass so that it instantly seems to shrink around the grinning driver.

In a world of over-assistance and OTT vibration-suppression, it is quite natural to expect little of the steering from a car such as the E63. Yet is pleasantly surprises with a level of feedback and seemingly unprocessed road information that is more fitting to something with far more lightweight sporting pedigree. It is this steering feel that adds so much to the E63’s ability to disguise its bulk incredibly well, feeling quick but never twitchy or intimidating, and compared to many a modern saloon (especially those equipped with electric power steering) it is mightily impressive.

Inside, the cabin strikes a perfect balance between luxury car and performance super-slayer. Leg room in the rear is generous if not extreme for adults; however this is small pittance in comparison to the whopping 1950 Litres of boot-space available behind. Of particular amusement to us was the novel way of dropping the rear seats flat: Just pull a handle inside the boot aperture and watch the front seats slide forwards out of the way, then the rear seatbacks ping down automatically in a mildly-exuberant manner. If this doesn’t impress hotdog-munching bystanders at IKEA (would E63 buyers even go there?), I really don’t know what will.

So with the exception of dubious petrol consumption, the E63 AMG makes a very good case for being added to the list of ‘One Car to Tick Every Box’. Obviously I was expecting to enjoy the car, as would any enthusiast tasked with sampling a brutal bhp-barge. Yet it is the unexpected extra dimensions of the E63; character I must admit I never thought such a car could offer that left a lasting impression. It’s a musclecar that handles; two words that used to be mutually exclusive. The fact you can take other people along for the ride is merely an unexpected bonus.

Words: James Winstanley

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