Last spring, I sold my Porsche to buy a station wagon. Car guys understand this, because it’s outlined in our unspoken creed: eventually we all trade in our beloved sports cars for a practical family vehicle that can haul our kids and whatever expensive musical instruments they’ve decided to learn this week. But for me, the swap came early: at 23 years old, single and without children, I swapped my 911 Turbo for a mommy-mobile.
Most car guys understand this, too, when they hear about my mommy-mobile of choice: a 2007 Mercedes E63 AMG station wagon. At 507 horsepower and 465 pound-feet, it had more of each than the Ferrari F430 or Lamborghini Gallardo of its day. This compares rather favorably to the car my own mom had when I was growing up, which was a 1993 Isuzu Rodeo with a stick shift and no airbags.
The Rodeo had more power than nothing, except maybe one of those little scooters you rent in the Caribbean from a place that just finished washing off the blood stains from the last guy who rented it (“No helmet … sorry … is okay?”). But the Rodeo was capable of hauling children, provided you didn’t mind springing for expensive dental work should their heads hit the rather vertical dashboard.
In addition to no airbags, Mom’s Rodeo also didn’t have a third-row seat, which I’m proud to say the Mercedes did possess. In true Mercedes wagon style, it was located in the cargo area and faced backwards. Yes, this was automotive heaven: a 500-horsepower car with a rear-facing third row. I pictured pulling away from an Audi R8 while a tuba-playing eight-year-old boy waved goodbye from my third row. Not that I ever street race. Or carry around eight-year-old boys.
Still, there were some enthusiasts who didn’t get it. A few weeks before buying the wagon, I was at a party and met a self-described car guy who owned a Monaro-based Pontiac GTO. When I told him I was planning to swap my Porsche for a three-row station wagon, he gave me a disgusted look and walked away. This actually happened.
I didn’t mind. I had always been into strange cars, and the E63 AMG wagon is among the very strangest. In the wagon’s three years on the W211 chassis, the US got only 153 units – the same number of Camrys that Toyota sells in three hours. In other words, it was about as common as the Ferrari Enzo, which couldn’t haul anywhere near as many eight-year-old boys, or their tubas.
Finding one, then, was a challenge best described in another story. After months of searching, I eventually located mine in Indiana and drove it home to Atlanta. I owned it for eight months and around 9,000 miles, nearly all of which were spent with an ear-to-ear grin across my face.
Generally speaking, I find the W211 E-Class wagon to be a handsome car in the same way that William H. Macy is a handsome man: not really at all, but you can sort of see it. The AMG version boosted its appeal with those enormous wheels, the rear diffuser and those little inlets on the front bumper that are the kind of thing I absolutely love, but my girlfriend would never notice unless she damaged them. Which is quite possible.
However, being a typical car enthusiast, I couldn’t help but notice a few flaws with mine. One was, quite obviously, the color. My wagon was painted a shade Mercedes called pewter, which I believe came from a focus group of 97-year-old men, 87-year-old women, and people who actually do find William H. Macy handsome. The color never should’ve been allowed on any AMG car, but unfortunately it was on mine. This may help explain how I was able to afford it.
The other flaw with my wagon was an issue I had with all 2007-2009 E-Class models. A facelift inexplicably gave the cars a pointy beak, which oddly resembled the 1997-1999 Acura CL. Mercedes never provided an explanation for this, though I suspect the car could double as an Arctic ice-breaking ship. It certainly has enough torque.
The interior of the E63 AMG’s main competitor, the E60 BMW M5, had attractive carbon fiber and aluminum on nearly every surface. The E63 AMG, meanwhile, had what I call “Mercedes wood,” which starts its life as real wood but then, after weeks of hard work at the Mercedes factory, ends up looking like plastic.
This was one low point. The other was the interior’s color, for which Mercedes probably devised some high-class-sounding name to take your mind off the fact that it was actually a somber shade of dull gray. Presumably, this one came from a focus group of lifelong Seattle residents.
However, the E63 wagon’s cabin had some benefits. One was, of course, the third-row seat, which every single one of my friends tried to sit in. They were unsuccessful, largely because they have legs. But while third-row room is tight, the overall interior volume is immense. I ended up using the E63 to move my entire apartment, which included my queen-size bed (broken down, of course). I also used it to transport my electric keyboard, proudly joining the ranks of those musical instrument-schlepping parents.
On The Road
Up until now, I’ve been a little negative about my E63 wagon. That’s because it’s not about exterior styling or interior design. The E63 AMG wagon is all about the monstrous engine you’re reminded of whenever you put down your foot or visit the gas pump, which happen equally often.
Acceleration is the car’s strong suit. There is no other car on earth that lets you go so fast and look in your mirror to see seven headrests and a rear wiper.
Acceleration is so massive that I just had to take the wagon to the drag strip. This occurred on a Friday night in rural north Georgia, where going to the drag strip is something people do, presumably instead of reading. There’s even an announcer, who initially made fun of the wagon (“Mom’s here, roof racks and all!”) until it ran a 13.1. I believe a twelve was in it somewhere, but I was embarrassingly unqualified since my previous drag strip experience came as a high-schooler in an automatic Volvo.
Handling, however, wasn’t the E63’s strong point. I once took it on a mountain drive that included Lamborghinis, Ferraris and even a Carrera GT. It kept up with the pack, mostly because of its monster engine and immense grip, which comes from tires as wide as a regulation speed limit sign. But it had some noticeable body roll – even in the “Sport” chassis setting. Still, for a family car, it was damn good. Far better than Mom’s Rodeo, which – on similar roads – probably would’ve gone the way of the Consumer Reports Isuzu Trooper.
One of the best parts about my E63 wagon driving experience came from other drivers. I once had a Lotus, which earned me commentary at every stop light from people whose brother’s cousin’s milkman had one. (Side note: how does one respond to this? I never figured it out. Eventually, I just sold the car.) Not so with the E63 wagon. The only people who ever approached me were true car people, which made virtually every conversation tremendously enjoyable.
Once, when I was in my wagon, I spotted an E55 wagon, which was made in only slightly larger numbers. This is the automotive equivalent of two black people passing each other on the street in Vermont. The response was similarly enthusiastic, with lots of waving and smiles all around. If this happened in my Lotus, the other driver would’ve been mad that someone dared to try and steal the attention from him.
In the end, I loved my E63 wagon, but my mechanic loved it more. That’s because I spent several thousand dollars keeping it in perfect condition during my tenure as its owner, from suspension work to a new differential. (Yes, a new differential. Your guess is as good as mine.) When I discovered that brake rotors cost something like two grand in parts alone, I had reached the final straw.
I sold my AMG wagon – with newly-installed brake rotors – four months ago. Still, in spite of the huge running costs, I miss it dearly and I occasionally check used car listings to see if any are available. By chance, mine went to a TTAC reader, long before I ever started contributing to this site. When he sees this post, he will undoubtedly e-mail me and say: “You took my car to the DRAG STRIP?!”
Hopefully, this will prompt him to sell it back to me for exactly what he paid.
Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.