Mercedes-Benz isn’t all what it seems. While some may mock it for expanding the E-Class range to a coupe and a convertible, and some may question it for offering AWD on the AMG products, no one will see me on that side of the line. In fact, I’m the one doing the slow clap. Mercedes is taking a lesson from its rivals, Audi and BMW, and using the best of what it’s learning. The German luxury market is changing, and Mercedes is keeping up with it in an exemplary way–but the new E63 is proof that they’ve got their ears to the streets and listening to the good word.
AMG has always duked it out with BMW’s M Division for supremacy within Germany’s performance-car brand names, and that competition has become an absolute brawl in the past five or so years. BMW launched the M3, and AMG put out the 190E 2.6, and it happened again in the late 1990s–Mercedes-Benz put out the new ML 55, and BMW fired back with the X5 4.6iS (not an M-car, but still the same story). Mercedes has often been chasing BMW in the performance category, but I’d say that this might be changing now. BMW’s slipping a little with such gaffes as the X6M (again remind me why people buy these? No, I’m talking about rational human beings, not Orange County tanning salon addicts). Mercedes still won’t offer a manual transmission in any AMG product, but then again, they never have, so I won’t complain too much. But, the new E63 looks like a car that M-B has to be proud of at this point. The new M5 isn’t really that great by most indications. In my opinion, it is trying too hard to be something it isn’t. The E63 doesn’t seem to have the same identity crisis–it embraces its size and uses it to its advantage.
With a twin-turbocharged V8 up front pushing out 557hp, the power part of the equation hasn’t changed too much, other than becoming a bigger part of said equation, with 32 more than last year. The S-Model, a new addition to the line which replaces the old Development Package, will put out 585hp, making the new one the most powerful E-Class AMG ever. It still uses a seven-speed automatic transmission, but the big drive train change is that the wagon, which Mercedes introduced alongside the sedan, will get a standard AWD system (optional on the sedan). The transmission gets stop-start capability, proving that perhaps AMG does care a small amount about fuel economy. The styling is changed too–I didn’t hate the old E-Class’s looks, but I like the new face a lot. It’s softer–in fact, dare I say it, it looks like a proper Benz should, especially one in the middle of the lineup. It won’t challenge the vaunted S-Class for regal supremacy, but it still commands attention from the right angles.
The wagon is my favorite, though. Everyone can have a sedan, and everyone can see the point of one. But show a typical American a fast wagon, and they’ll show you a fast crossover SUV. Show me a fast wagon, and I jump for joy like an immature child (which is what I am thinking about this car). 550hp is no joke–in fact, with RWD, I would be happy, but I live in New Jersey, where snow seems to fall when it wants to, so as a year-round car, the previous-gen E63 estate was a scary proposition–500+hp in a RWD wagon is fun, until you have it sideways in the wrong direction. AMG has also done some work on teh 4MATIC unit taht will go into this model, so I don’t expect it to be a complete performance inhibitor. This system is a 33/67 split, so I don’t see things going wrong as easily when the fun pedal is in style. In fact, I see this as a car that can be all things to all people (except Greenpeace, but they don’t count) who can afford it. Finally, MB will probably offer it as a special order vehicle (as they do with the current wagon-blaster), which makes exclusivity somewhat guaranteed. Until Audi brings us Americans the RS6 Avant, this is the only game in town if one wants an AWD superwagen.
-Albert S. Davis