Mercedes-Benz launched the current wagon platform (W212) four years ago and treated it to a significant facelift less than a year ago. For the AMG wagon, this year's new standard equipment includes full-time 4Matic all-wheel drive, all-LED headlights, Collision Prevention Assist, Attention Assist 2.0 and several interior enhancements. The new S-Model package for AMG models, which replaces the AMG Performance Package, includes a power increase (+27 horsepower and +59 pound feet of torque), limited-slip differential, 10-spoke alloy wheels, red brake calipers, unique Black Nappa leather, contrasting stitching on the interior, an AMG Performance steering wheel, a host of cosmetic enhancements and the obligatory "S" badging on the rear decklid and speedometer.
Shoehorned under the hood is a hand-built, twin-turbocharged, 5.5-liter V8 that cranks out an impressive 577 horsepower and a staggering 590 pound-feet of torque. So owners don't have to purchase expensive rear tires every few months, Mercedes-Benz fits all of the AMG wagons with its 4Matic permanent all-wheel-drive system, configured with a fixed rear-bias torque split of 33-percent front and 67-percent rear. The transmission tasked with rocketing the five-place wagon to 60 miles per hour in less than 3.5 seconds is the automaker's seven-speed MCT automatic. Breaking every speed law in the land is as simple as putting the gearbox into Drive, straightening the steering wheel and then mashing the gas pedal into the carpet for less than five seconds.
As expected, the independent suspension has been upgraded for AMG duty. It features a wider track than the standard E350 Wagon, and a three-mode (Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus) dial in the cockpit controls damping, throttle, steering and transmission logic. Colossal ventilated and drilled iron brakes, 16 inches in diameter up front, feature six- and four-piston calipers tasked with bringing the family hauler to a stop, while grip is the responsibility of Continental ContiSportContact 5P tires (255/35R19 front and 285/30R19 rear).
The updated-for-2014, five-passenger, sport-tuned station wagon is nearly twice as powerful, twice as fast and twice as expensive as the automaker's standard E350 4Matic Wagon. But that's just fine in my book, as it's easily twice as fun to drive.
- The Streets of Willow race track, located in the Southern California high desert, is tight, challenging and paved with asphalt that in spots is really showing its quarter-century age. It's a workout for both the car and the driver. Soccer moms will likely leave the wagon in its default "C" (Controlled Efficiency) mode for daily driving, as it is the least aggressive drive program. In contrast, I ran the circuit in "S+" (Sport Plus), a mode that increases throttle response, configures the gearbox for track duty (full-throttle shifts and rev-matching) and enables the three-stage ESP's torque vectoring function. Lastly, I set the Adaptive Sport Suspension to Sport Plus for the firmest ride.
- A curb weight of 4,703 pounds means the E63 weighs as much as two Fiat 500s, or a Porsche 911 stuffed with a quartet of 400-pound, singing sumo wrestlers - the five-passenger family-wagon is far from dainty. Despite the laws of physics working against it, the Mercedes absolutely flies when the accelerator is pressed. Full throttle application causes lightheadedness and cornering grip is remarkable for such a large vehicle (some publications have recorded .95 Gs on the skidpad). After driving the E63 Sedan and E63 Wagon back-to-back on the same circuit, I honestly preferred the wagon as it felt better balanced with the additional weight over its rear wheels.
- Those who are concerned that the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system destroys the wonderful driving dynamics of the E63 need not worry, as the rear-biased system still delivers 95-percent of the fun while supplementing it with a 50-percent increase in traction. The driver wins as the tail still readily kicks out, but annoying oversteer (wasted wheelspin) is eliminated as the front wheels grab tenaciously to pull the wagon back on course and straighten it out. Surprisingly, sending power to the front wheels also appears to reduce the E63's understeer as it is easier to transfer weight off the steering tires mid-corner with the throttle. Don't complain about the weight penalty (155 pounds), as it improved the AMG under all driving conditions.
- Aside from the sticker price, which won't dissuade a single well-heeled customer, the only big bummer about the wagon is that its charming twin, rear-facing, third-row Lilliputian seats aren't offered on the AMG derivative - it seems the upgraded suspension tuning prevented the engineering team from including them. No worries, as many of your adult friends will still volunteer to sit on the flat, carpeted load floor and be tossed around like loose watermelons (those antics make entertaining GoPro footage).
- Savvy readers will note that Mercedes-Benz isn't the only automaker offering a high-performance track-ready station wagon. Cadillac plays the same game with its rear-wheel-drive V8-powered CTS-V Sport Wagon. Now that I have tracked both (I enjoyed the CTS-V Wagon at Laguna Seca a few years ago), I am inclined to state that the smaller and lighter Cadillac is more agile and nimble in the corners, but the Mercedes is more adept at putting its power down on the exits and more stable at speed. If forced to choose one over the other and money is no object, I'd grab the keys to the costlier Benz in a heartbeat – it is roomier, more luxurious and it does a better job of hiding its devilish talent from those around it.
- Scroll down to watch a video of our test on the track.