Mercedes’s Boxy AMG Wagon Can Fly When Plane Won’t Wait: Review

I’m lost somewhere in the Mojave Desert. I’m also late for a flight. This is a bad combination.

Los Angeles International Airport is many, many miles away and the hummingbird in my gut comes from that particular anxiety when an airplane is leaving without you on it.

And yet -- kismet! -- I’m also at the wheel of a 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S wagon. By all appearances this is not propitious, as it’s a rather boxy, very European-looking station wagon. A brown one no less. (Not a 1970s brown, thankfully, but more a metallic hue. But still brown.)

Many people might consider a wagon to be the least sexy of all vehicles, less cool perhaps than even a minivan. They’re wrong. This car is a sleeper. Coiled in the hood is a 5.5-liter V-8, with two powerful turbochargers bolted on.

The Mercedes makes 590 pound-feet of torque -- that’s more than the might of a John Deere utility tractor. Horsepower is no less bonkers, at 577. This is a car to get you to the airport on time, even when you’re running very, very late.

The base price is $102,370. With two optional luxury packages, including a driver assist technology with a host of radar sensors, it comes to a heady $106,895. Rather thin air for a brown station wagon.

I had an assignation with another fast car at a racetrack out in the desert and am late because I was loath to leave. (Missing a flight is almost always your own fault.) Now I’ve got to find my way through a tangle of unfamiliar secondary roads to the freeway and through L.A.’s recalcitrant traffic.

Dusty Two-Lanes

I plug Los Angeles International into the navigation system, fixing the quandary of being lost, and then let loose down a series of dusty two-lane roads.

The landmarks on the flat landscape are scant: an abandoned brown sofa; a business selling (or maybe just collecting) old metal signs and a Bob’s Big Boy statue; and broken-down pickups on flat tires.

The car propels forward with a deep rumble. The tremor doesn’t reach the steering wheel itself, which is coated in Alcantara, a fake suede. This is a Mercedes after all, a solid piece of movable architecture from Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler AG. It’s also an AMG.

Mercedes-Benz’s performance arm, based in Affalterbach, Germany, now sells 20 different vehicles in the U.S. AMG mostly takes existing models and tweaks them to an inch of their mechanical lives, changing suspensions and upgrading brakes and putting in hulking motors with outrageous amounts of power.

577 Horsepower

Did I mention that this is the S version of the already nutty E63 AMG? The regular E63 comes as a sedan and has 550 horsepower and 531 pound-feet of torque, a big jump from the plain-Jane, 302-horsepower E350 available in sedan, coupe and wagon forms. But AMG likes to push even more, so we’ve got a full 577 horsepower.

Why the wagon then? Easy answer: It has 57.4 cubic feet (1.63 cubic meters) of storage, dwarfing the sedan’s 15.9 cubic feet.

The torque, that instant twist of power that gets you off the line, is what I most relish as I move between stop signs on the dead-quiet two-lane. I half expect the tires to leave deep gouges in the asphalt.

It would be a task to harness that might, but the Mercedes also has all-wheel drive, which moves it smoothly off the line and keeps it stable through sand and road debris.

This is one of the first AMG models that’s not a sport-utility vehicle to get AWD, a response from customer demand in cold-weather states. We’ll see more AWD from AMG in the future. In the case of the E63, greater torque is delivered to the rear so it still handles like a performance car. The standard summer performance tires would be a serious problem in cold, but on this sunny, blue California day, the sticky treads are ideal.

Sonic Boom

Crack! A fighter jet streaks across the sky from Edwards Air Force Base, causing a sonic boom. I get on the freeway and drop my own boom, trying to make up time as the robotic voice of Mercedes’s navigation system begins providing a long list of traffic delays along my route. I twist the dial, turning the voice down. Not helping my stomach.

Miles slip away and the navigation system begins to estimate ever-earlier arrival times, the minutes ticking backward like Superman spinning the Earth in reverse in the 1978 movie. This would be a great marketing campaign: “AMG gives you back time.”

Still, I feel like I’m crawling, comparatively, through the flat desert landscape, which gives me time to reflect: Who buys this thing, anyhow? (It’s a special-order car, and Mercedes sold 132 in the U.S. last year.) Somebody who relishes power, clearly, and also prefers a certain anonymity you wouldn’t get with most $100,000-plus sports cars.

Tough Competition

For comparison’s sake, even the 520-horsepower Porsche 911 Turbo has less kick. The Porsche also has an oversized rear wing and little storage space. The only apples-to-apples car I can muster is Cadillac’s CTS-V wagon, which used a 556-horsepower Corvette engine and has a starting price of $64,900.

Perhaps, then, the E63 S is aimed at the world’s most successful door-to-door salesperson, who crisscrosses the West in record time as he or she sells goods.

I arrive in Los Angeles wishing I had a passenger so I could use the HOV lane. Miracles happen, though, and traffic clears. I exit to Sepulveda Boulevard and to an airport parking garage. Valeting the E63, I trigger the automatic tailgate, grab my gear and run. There’s a flight with my name on it. And I’m actually going to make it.

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon at a Glance

Engine: 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 577 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 15 city, 21 highway.

Price as tested: $106,895.

Best features: Storage and power.

Worst feature: How much for a station wagon?

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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