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Mercedes E63 AMG Estate (2011) long-term test review

Published: 04 October 2011

Goodbye to our E63 Estate  – 4 October 2011

So, it’s all over; the best, most complete, most satisfying car I’ve ever owned is returning to Mercedes. I’ve loved the look, the comfort, the performance, the practicality, the lairy chassis, the main dealer aftersales service.

There’s only been one niggle: I’ve not always been convinced by the gearbox’s Comfort and Sport modes, because if you select Comfort the car is noticeably more refined out of junctions (because it stays in second, rather than jolting into the short first gear), but it’s too lethargic when you want to overtake; and if you select Sport you get sparkier gearshifts, but also that uncomfortable jolt at junctions. If I remember to select Comfort at a junction, I invariably forget to select Sport by the time I come to overtake. Then again, some people live in North Korea.

Mercedes supplied the car with a new set of boots all round when I got the E63 at 6590 miles, and now, at 17,505 miles, they’re absolutely shot. I was generally well behaved, but a few skids for photographer Mark Fagelson probably took a couple of thousand miles out of them in the first week.

Other signs of wear are few and far between. The Alcantara on the steering wheel is just starting to get a little worn and shiny where my thumb rubs against it, and the leather on the outer edge of the driver’s seat is showing the very, very early signs of wear – although I actually quite like that; it’s slightly cosier somehow. But for all my two-year-old’s kicking, the front seatbacks refuse to wear.

How much E63 owners care about running costs, I’m not exactly sure, but as petrol prices crept up I ended up spending £100 every 300 miles, and the cost-per-mile including depreciation has been £3.17, or 29.6p without.

I can’t justify those kind of figures, but if you can you’re in for a very good thing indeed. E63, you will be missed.

By Ben Barry


No compromises  – 6 September 2011

I’m not really a fan of compromises when it comes to my daily driver – perhaps it’s because I spent too long daily driving a stripped-out M3 in my 20s – and I just love the E63’s flexibility: hoon wagen one minute, family car the next and – with the sun poking out – the ultimate transport to, erm, lug a garden furniture set back from Homebase. You can’t do that in your GT3.

And I know this probably sounds very sad, but one thing I particularly like about spoked wheels is how easy it is to check the meat on the brake pads. Yep, still plenty there. Must try harder.

By Ben Barry


E63 vs DR520 – 26 August 2011

It's not just the E-class that AMG offers as a 6.2-litre estate – you can get the smaller C63 too. Usually the C63 is around 60bhp less powerful than the E63, but Brooklands Mercedes has produced 20 DR520 editions, with 520ps, or 513bhp.

It makes for an interesting comparison. The C63 feels a far bit cheaper inside, there’s less space in the back seats and there’s far less room in the boot too. But my god it’s a good steer – the C63 feels much more nimble than the E63, and the DR520’s power boost makes it ridiculously exploitable, whatever the weather. It feels benign when you slide it, where the E63 can sometimes feel a little snappy and intimidating.

The E63’s a great car, but I’d squash up the kids and the shopping and take the C63 instead if I could.

By Ben Barry


Porsche vs AMG – 16 August 2011

I went on the launch of the Panamera V8 S with the PDK gearbox a couple of years back and came back a bit lukewarm. But the other day I got in the manual version and, wow, what a car. The engine’s smooth, the steering’s great, and it’s really, really sweetly balanced – it’s so much better than the far pricier and heavier Turbo. At £77k, it’s also similar money to the E63, which feels a lot more raucous, and quite a bit clunkier when you drive the two back-to-back.

Problem is, the Panamera is a lot less practical – the boot is tiny, and the rear seats are hardly generous. Give me one road and I’d take the Panamera; give me a year and I’d take the Merc.

By Ben Barry


Our E63 meets Mikko – 4 August 2011 

I got a call at short notice a little while back. ‘Fancy interviewing Mikko Hirvonen,’ said the man from Ford Motorsport. Yes, said I. ‘And, erm, can you give Mikko a lift to Heathrow airport when you’re finished?’ Cue the slightly bizarre situation of me folding my two-year-old’s pushchair up and dropping the E63’s rear seats to squeeze in the huge bag Mikko takes with him to WRC events. 

Mikko’s not hugely into his new cars – he loves old Fords and American V8s – but after a while sitting in London traffic he said ‘This is a nice car.’ Then, when I gunned it a little to switch lanes, he realised it sounded juicy too. ‘Nice sound,’ he said. ‘How powerful is it?’ Over 500bhp, I replied. By then we were on a nice quiet bit of dual carriageway, so I found myself in the slightly disquieting position of flooring it with an infinitely better driver than me sitting in the passenger seat while my kid’s pushchair rattled around in the back.

By Ben Barry


An impressive dealer experience – 25 July 2011 

I'm always a bit skeptical about main dealers, but when the onboard computer flagged up an impending service at 12,000 miles, I booked the E63 into Robinsons Mercedes-Benz in Peterborough. It was a genuinely impressive experience. After one phone call, the receptionist dealt with me on email (much more convenient), always remembered who I was, got my car booked in at a time that suited me and offered to either pick my car up from work, or to give me a loan car for the day.

I went for the loan car, to hopefully avoid the dealership noticing the motoring journalist link.

I mentioned that the passenger-side wing mirror was making a graunching sound as it folded in automatically when I turned the car off, and the service technicians noticed that my rear brake lights were staying on for a fraction too long.

Unfortunately, the parts for both jobs weren’t available immediately, so I had the choice of leaving the E63 with the dealership and keeping the loan car, or bringing it back in some other time.

I chose to re-book the car in and both gremlins were sorted. Total price? £269. I think that’s pretty reasonable considering I was supplied with two loan cars with ample fuel, plus my own car was fully valeted (twice), re-filled with screenwash and, let’s not forget, topped up with oil.

I also got back in the car to find a nice little brochure, which wondered if I might be interested in some of the attractive deals that Robinsons were offering on new AMGs. It just felt like a very joined up, well thought out, well run organisation.

By Ben Barry


A naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 vs a twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 – 19 July 2011

No, I haven’t moved to Germany and re-registered my E63 – this is a snap from the launch of the new, improved E63, the headline of which is the addition of the new 5.5-litre bi-turbo engine. All things considered, it’s a triumph – it’s 22% more efficient, still sounds great and it’s faster too, with a real thump to the mid-range. The turbos also bring the possibility of easy tuning, which AMG has capitalised on – 30-40% of customers are spending around £6.5k on the Performance Package, boosting the new car’s figures from 518bhp and 516lb ft (versus 518bhp and 464lb ft for my naturally aspirated 6.2) to 549bhp and 590lb ft.

The only downside with the new turbocharged engine is that it doesn’t sparkle as brightly at the top end and doesn’t rev as highly – I was denied a downchange a few times, when I know my car would have indulged me. 

I also got to drive the car on track, where it felt like downshifts were being denied – yet often they weren’t, it was because the engine sounded so similar between around 5000 and 6000rpm that I couldn’t actually tell the difference.

But if I had to choose one or the other, I’d vote for the new 5.5. 

It was also interesting to see a couple of spec differences on this test car – it didn’t have the expensive Alcantara covering on the rooflining, pillars and sun visors, and, actually, it didn’t spoil the ambience quite as much as I expected.

The test car was also fitted with the optional carbon ceramic brakes. Now, I’ve always thought the standard E63 brake pedal is a little spongy at the top, and I’ve felt the stoppers going off a couple of times after some admittedly very hard cross-country runs late at night – not surprising in a car weighing nearly two tonnes. I didn’t get to drive the carbon-equipped car as hard or for as long as it took my own brakes to wilt, but I did notice that the brake pedal still felt a little spongy in normal use. Provisional verdict? Stick with the almost-always-up-to-it six- and four-pots that you get from the factory.

By Ben Barry


RS6 vs E63 – 13 May 2011 

I love that the E63 is rear-wheel drive and quite slidey, but it can be a pain out of wet junctions. I’ve found myself stuttering out into traffic once too often with a sudden lurch of oversteer followed by the traction control over-zealously cutting the power. It’s the one time I really envy those Audi RS6 owners.

I attended the launch of the now-dead Mk2 RS6, and didn’t quite click with it on dry roads and amid the yawning expanses of the Paul Ricard circuit. It was epically fast, actually rode well, but was pretty uninvolving. Yet 18 months later I tried an Abt-tweaked RS6, with power and torque boosted from 572bhp and 479lb ft to 690bhp and 590lb ft. It shamed a Porsche 911 Turbo on a soaked motorway, and destroyed wet, bumpy back roads with consummate ease.

However, I’d happily take the E63’s unruly low-speed behaviour for the involvement and excitement it feeds to the driver the rest of the time. The RS6 just can’t match it on that front.

By Ben Barry


How to save £8k on your Merc E63 Estate – 20 April 2011 

There are a juicy £17k of options on my car. Here’s what I’d spec and what I wouldn’t (and a couple of maybes):

1. No: reversing camera, £375. It’s a big car, and the camera is useful, but would I pay nearly £400 when parking sensors already come as standard? No.

2. No: AMG driver’s package which increases electronically limited top speed, plus it entitles you to a AMG driver training, £2090.  No. 155mph is enough for me, and I’d sooner go on several trackdays

3. No: ski-bag with through-loading facility, £180. No. Never used it – I don’t ski, and when I’ve got bigger loads, I just drop the seat.

4. No: telephone pre-wiring with hands-free facility and aerial, £280. No. Bluetooth is standard.

5. No: heated and cooled ventilated front seats, £670. No. Heated seats are standard anyway.

6. Yes: multi-contour dynamic seats for driver and passenger (massage function, plus bolsters that automatically firm up under cornering), £1045. Love the massage function – it definitely keeps backache at bay – and the way the bolsters firm up under cornering – or the way they can be manually firmed up just the way you like it – is well worth it.

7. Yes: limited slip differential with 40% lock, £2350. This should be standard, and there’s enough torque to make it a necessity. A warning though: it is quite aggressive, so as you turn out of a junction you’ll feel it bind clumsily.

8. No: tyre-pressure monitoring system, £285. I like to think I’m sensitive enough to notice when I’ve lost a few psi.

9. Yes: DAB digital radio, £320. I love 6Music, plus I’d regret it once the analogue signal is switched off.

10. No: nightview assist plus, £1175. I do not understand the point of this at all. Basically, the centre screen shows the road ahead at night more clearly than the car’s lights can. But it means you have to look at the screen, not the road! It reminds me of Condorman’s car, and that’s just wrong.

11. Maybe: Harman Kardon Logic 7 with 14 high-performance speakers and additional amplifier, £625. I haven’t heard the standard system, but this one is very, very good.

12. No: TV tuner with digital and analogue reception, £930. It channels through the screen on the dashboard and understandably only works when you’re stationary. I have a TV back home for that.

13. Yes: rear-seat entertainment system with two 8in screens in rear headrests, CD/DVD player, plus two sets of headphones and remote control, £1695. Essential for families on long trips.

14. No: heated rear seats, £320. They’ll barely be used.

15. Maybe: easy-pack load securing kit with rear sill protector, £245. I’ve never used the load securing bit, but I can see times when it would be handy, and the sill stops scuffs too.

16. No: AMG door sills with white illumination, £560. You’re joking, right?

17. No: red brake calipers, £560. I like them. But £560?

18. Maybe: sun protection package (roller blinds for rear side windows, plus two-part folding sun visors), £350. I’d get the roller blinds for the two-year-old… if we didn’t already have rear tints.

19. Yes: luxury package (nappa leather seats, armrest and door centre panels, plus upper section of instrument panel and door belt lines in leather and Alcantara for the roof lining, pillars and sun visors), £3300. It’s an extravagance, but together it adds up to a must-have that really transforms the interior.

Tally that lot up and you’re looking at around £9k and a lovely spec, depending on whether you go for the ‘maybes’ in my list. That means around £83k all in, and a decent saving. Proper consumer advice, this.

By Ben Barry


Backwards in the Merc E63 AMG – 8 April 2011 

Never mind the fact the E63 is probably our fastest car on the fleet right now. I’ve just had a go and found a handful of flaws at about, oooh, 3mph.

Reverse out of parking space: that reversing camera picture is tiny compared to the screen in my BMW 5-series Touring. The lens gets filthy faster too during the winter grime. Still haven’t found a better solution than VW’s pop-out lens hiding behind the badge (BMW’s doing the same on the new 6-series).

Haul on the lock to turn: judder, judder, grrrruuummble. That rear diff is so tight, the E-class groans like an arthritic relative. It’s very unbecoming on an expensive hyper-wagon, and you lurch around car parks like an amateur.

Pull out of car park, wooooah. Ben did mention the E63’s rear tyres are, ahem, wearing a bit thin. The 285/30 ZR19s have certainly seen better days and we shimmy sideways momentarily even on a light throttle. Think I’ll be advising him to get new boots and fast.

Once on the open road, you quickly forget these manoeuvring grumbles. The E63 is a superb high-performance estate, but I wish they’d spent a bit longer making it excel at low speeds too.

By Tim Pollard


The fuel economy of a 6.2-litre V8 – 30 March 2011

Actually quite impressed with the fuel economy so far: AMG claims 22mpg, but I’m getting 19-20mpg, despite regularly driving above the speed limit. That’s easily shaded by Tim Pollard’s 530d Touring, but he’s finding it harder to match the official figures than I am, generally falling 10mpg short of BMW’s claims for a real-world 34mpg, despite – I’d venture – having a lighter right foot than I do.

Even so, with current fuel prices, I’d pay £2909 in petrol for every 10,000 miles, to Tim’s £1778. And to make matters worse, the fuel filler flap is absolutely enormous, making you feel like you're filling a tanker every time you pop it open at a petrol station.

By Ben Barry 


Flat-out: the E63 as a hooligan car – 14 March 2011

sook all the family on holiday – mother-in-law, wife, two-year-old – to Devon the other week and my big Merc was absolutely brilliant. So much space, so comfortable, so quick, so refined. I only wish we could have had more than 300 miles out of each tank. Then again, that’s just what you’d get with an E350 CDI.

But what you can't do in a diesel E-class estate is hoon around. I was feeling guilty for not using the E63 as AMG intended, so I took a favourite back road the other night and gave it a bit of a work out. It’s amazing just how good this near-two-tonne estate is to drive really hard: the front end resists understeer despite the huge forces at play, the engine soars as if it’s propelling a hatchback, the steering is great, the gearbox is pretty much brilliant and the body is kept well in check even when you’re hammering along a fairly uneven back road. And those adaptive lights – standard you’ll be glad to know – really come into their own, brightly illuminating the space you’re about to charge through, and helping you to better see through corners.

Big brother E is not as slidey as C63, but it’s still very rear-biased, and now the tyres have bedded in it’s starting to flow more than it did – the way it produced its oversteer was a bit too snatchy for me at first. In fact, after my cross-country blat, the only real downside was a mushy brake pedal, which is slightly alarming considering there are six-piston calipers up front and four-pots at the back. I suppose there’s only so much you can do to resist nearly two tonnes of mass hurtling around at speed.

By Ben Barry 


Upstaging the boss of AMG – 4 March 2011

Got to interview new AMG boss Ola Kallenius recently. I asked him what he drove. ‘An E63 AMG estate,’ he told me, proudly. ‘So do I,’ I said. I’m sure he looked a little crestfallen.

Meantime, I see Ben Pulman's £80 fuel bill, and raise him. I filled the E63 this week (76 litres – the tank is 80 in total) and it cost me just over £100. That was with regular 95-octane too; had it been with super I'd have had a bill for around £115. Pity Greg Fountain though: back when fuel was (reasonably) cheap in the summer of 2009, his Audi A8 was already costing £100 to tank. Nowadays, we dare not ask him how much it is. I think he might just top it up each night – little and often, that's best.

By Ben Barry


Mercedes E63 AMG Estate long-term test hello – 14 February 2011

I tried to be good, I really did, but my previous long-term relationship – with a Prius – failed. I found the Toyota absolutely fine for running about in, but I just couldn’t get near the claimed 70.6mpg, instead flailing around in the mid-40s. So I’ve lurched from one extreme to another, out of the arms of a hybrid and into the embrace of a Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG estate.

The stats are faintly embarrassing: a £74k, 6.2-litre V8, 518bhp, 464lb ft, 155mph, 22.1mpg, 299g/km C02. But it ticked so many of my motoring must-haves that I just couldn’t resist, what with rear-drive, a plush and roomy interior, gadgets galore and – a key one this – 695 litres of load space – that’s 135 more than a 5-series. Why key? I’ve got a young family – a two-year-old and another one on the way – plus I love mountain biking, and I play bass in a pub band. I’d get by with a saloon, but the estate makes life a lot easier.

The standard spec is strong, and the list is below, but feel free to skip to the final paragraph and get down to the juicy options that tickle this car up from £74,400 to £91,755.

So, the standard spec: 7G-Tronic seven-speed auto with paddleshifts and Comfort, Sport, Sport + and Manual modes; 19in alloys with 255/35 front and 285/30 rear tyres; ambient lighting in dash and door panels; 17mm wider front wings; 360mm brake discs all round with six-piston front/four-piston rear calipers; leather sports seats; three-spoke multi-function nappa leather steering wheel with Alcantara inserts; three-mode adjustable dampers with rear air suspension; speed sensitive steering; Attention Assist (checks for driver drowsiness via steering behaviour); Bluetooth; stainless steel pedals with rubber studs; Comand multimedia system, includes radio, hard disk drive map navigation system with Traffic Message Channel, voice control, 7in screen, 6GB music register, 6-disc CD/DVD changer with MP3 compatibility, plus all cables included for hooking up devices; adaptive high-beam assist (automatically dips full beam when required), bi-xenon adaptive headlights; heated front seats; automatic climatic control (also adjustable for rear-seat passengers); electric memory seats/steering wheel/wing mirror settings, auto-dimming rear-view mirror; panoramic sunroof; rain-sensing wipers; parking sensors; black ash trim; electric tailgate.

Still with me. Then here come the options: reversing camera: £375; AMG driver’s package which increases electronically limited top speed, plus it entitles you to a AMG driver training: £2090; ski-bag with through-loading facility: £180; telephone pre-wiring with hand-free facility and aerial: £280; heated and cooled ventilated front seats: £670; multi-contour dynamic seats for driver and passenger (massage function, plus bolsters that automatically firm up under cornering): £1045; limited slip differential with 40% lock: £2350; tyre-pressure monitoring system: £285; DAB radio: £320; nightview assist plus (the central screen goes all night vision goggles on you): £1175; Harman Kardon Logic 7 with 14 high-performance speakers and additional amplifier: £625; TV tuner with digital and analogue reception: £930; rear-seat entertainment system with two 8in screens in rear headrests, CD/DVD player, plus two sets of headphones and remote control: £1695; heated rear seats: £320; easy-pack load securing kit with rear sill protector: £245; AMG door sills with white illumination: £560; red brake calipers: £560; sun protection package (roller blinds for rear side windows, plus two-part folding sun visors): £350; luxury package (nappa leather seats, armrest and door centre panels, plus upper section of instrument panel and door belt lines in leather and Alcantara for the roof lining, pillars and sun visors): £3300.

Phew.

Something tells me I’m going to quite enjoy this car, but I’ll report back on the highs and lows of E63 AMG ownership on a regular basis.

By Ben Barry


 

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