The 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon Is The Hellcat Magnum Wagon Dodge Needs To Build
Comparing AMG Apples To Hemi Oranges With The 2021 Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon
It’s no secret that SUVs and crossovers have taken over the streets of the U.S. over the past few years. But before these high-riding behemoths found favor with the mainstream, it was the humble station wagon that served American families with comparable seating and cargo capacity.
Research has long shown that the amount of sport-utility buyers that actually require off-road capability in their daily driver is a slim percentage of the overall market, and many are more interested in style and performance. A little over a decade ago, Dodge considered this and took a gamble with its LX platform to develop the Magnum; a sleek, low-slung hauler that sought to shed wagon stigma as a stodgy people hauler.
To further bolster the notion, a year after the car’s initial debut, the automaker unveiled the Magnum SRT8, a fire-breathing sport wagon with 6.1-liter Hemi V8 and all of the requisite go-fast hardware found in the Charger SRT8 sedan. Although it saw plenty of interest when it debuted, sales of the Magnum SRT8 fell precipitously soon thereafter, and the model was put out to pasture after just three years on sale.
Predating the sport-utility craze we’re seeing today, some have argued that the concept was simply ahead of its time – although popular in Europe for decades, fast wagons have always struggled to find an audience in the States.
Still, it’s clear that we have a strong appetite for fast, V8-powered five-doors, so if there was ever a time for a car company to make a move in this segment, it’s now. While Dodge doesn’t seem particularly interested in reviving the Magnum and giving us a supercharged iteration in Hellcat guise, the folks at Daimler offer an excellent solution for well-heeled American buyers with this, the Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon.
It’s a machine that merges the cargo and people-hauling capability of an SUV with the white-knuckle performance of AMG’s hot-blooded sports sedan while boasting undeniable curb appeal. We spent a week putting the technological powerhouse through its paces out on the streets of LA and along the mountain roads of the Angeles National Forest, and we were left with an unshakable notion: We want one, and you probably should, too.
But it also left us wondering how a modern-day, top-spec Magnum might stack up against Affalterbach’s new road-going missile. Using the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye that we recently piloted as a general guideline, we wanted to see how AMG’s überwagon compares to this theoretical Hemi-powered hotrod.
Refreshed for 2021, the E63 S looks the part of a proper sportswagon. This year the AMG scores a reworked front fascia that’s paired with 20-inch forged wheels, carbon fiber accents, a quad-tipped exhaust system and, in this particular case, a killer Designo matte blue paint job to create a package that’s simultaneously understated and head-turning. It really epitomizes the “thug in a suit” vibe.
Back in its day, the Magnum SRT8 was a bit more sinister and extroverted by contrast. Given the SRT team’s continued proclivity for that kind of aesthetic, it stands to reason that a modern Redeye interpretation would carry on the tradition with even wider fender flares, aggressive aero bits, and muscular proportions. Our rendering offers a glimpse of where SRT might go with such a vehicle, though it’s safe to assume the stance would be a bit higher from the factory and the front fascia would be unique to the Magnum in much the same way that things were done when the original LX-based Charger and Magnum were in production.
AMG’s handiwork touches nearly every aspect of the E-Class, and perhaps nowhere is it more evident than in the powertrain that the E63 S Wagon shares with its sedan counterpart.
For the top-performing E-Class offerings, AMG has shoehorned a twin-turbocharged, all-aluminum 4.0-liter V8 under the hood, here dishing out a very healthy 603 horsepower and 627 pound-feet of torque. Power is routed through an AMG-tuned nine-speed multi-clutch automatic transmission and sent to all four corners by way of AMG’s version of the Mercedes-Benz 4Matic all-wheel drive system.
It’s a combination that will rocket this 4700-pound car to 60 miles per hour from a dead stop in three seconds flat on its way to a low 11-second quarter mile ET before topping out at a lofty 186 mph. These are straight-line numbers that would be normally be associated with 911s, Corvettes, and other dyed-in-the-wool sports cars, but here they’re available for the whole family to enjoy on the way back from Costco.
Of course, similar praise has been heaped on Hellcat Chargers over the years, and with nearly 800 horsepower on tap, the Dodge has the AMG handedly beat when it comes to outright grunt. Interestingly, while that gives the Charger (and by proxy, our theoretical Magnum Hellcat) an advantage in outright top speed (203 mph versus 186), the AMG is a half-second quicker to 60 mph from a dead stop thanks to its all-wheel drive system and quick-shifting multi-clutch nine speed gearbox.
Lest we forget about AMG’s long history in motorsport, the E63 S Wagon is designed to impress with more than just its acceleration. There’s an electronically controlled limited slip differential out back, and the air suspension system has been tuned to provide responsive handling when the roads get interesting while still maintaining a comfortable level of compliance around town.
All E36 S models score upgraded AMG-spec brakes by default, but our tester has been further upfitted with AMG’s optional carbon ceramic brake package to provide a bit more heat management capability for the big-boned E-Class and its grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires, the latter of which measure 265/35ZR20 up front and 295/30ZR20 in the rear.
The Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye, and its would-be Magnum counterpart, roll on optional Pirelli Pzero summer tires that aren’t quite as sticky as the AMG’s Michelin Pilot Sport 4S. But with a 305mm square setup, they’re substantially wider, and could accommodate stickier rubber of that size as well.
Carbon ceramics aren’t currently on offer in any SRT product, but to be honest, you probably don’t want them. They’re astronomically expensive as an option, astronomically expensive to replace, and if you overheat them once, they have to be replaced. That’s why you don’t see road course guys running carbon brakes on their track cars.
The Charger makes do with a more sensible six-piston Brembo brake system with a traditional 400mm two-piece iron rotor at the front (a four piston Brembo setup is installed in the rear). On a fast track these brakes are probably good for about a half-dozen hot laps before the pads turn to goo, but plenty of more track-capable brake pad options already exist on the market for these cars.
In a similar fashion, the Charger uses a conventional coil and shock suspension setup, the latter an adaptive Bilstein unit with three distinct stiffness settings. It’s not quite as pinned down as the AMG’s air suspension in the canyons, nor as comfortable in everyday use, but it has an admirable range of versatility and there are opportunities to tune the system for better performance.
Interior and Tech
As is typically the case with great grand touring machines, the E63 S Wagon isn’t just about performance – sure, the side bolsters of the heated and ventilated Titanium Grey Nappa leather sport seats can be electronically adjusted to hug you tight and keep you planted when you’re sending this thing this thing into Turn 8 on Big Willow, but they’re also outfitted with a massaging feature. A flat-bottomed, alcantara-trimmed steering wheel and optional carbon fiber accents further the cabin’s sporty credentials, but luxury ultimately rules the day inside the E63 S.
A pair of 12.3-inch screens comprise the displays for gauge cluster and infotainment system. Mercedes’ latest MBUX system is on hand here, offering both touchscreen controls as well as a touchpad and quick-access hard buttons to give front occupants several different ways of controlling its vast array of features.
It’s an admirably spacious interior, too, providing 35 cubic-feet of cargo space with the rear seats up. Fold those down and the E63 S yields a cavernous 64 cu-ft. – nearly as much space for hauling stuff as you’d find in a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
From a cargo perspective, in its final year of production the Magnum had this AMG beat on overall volume – 71.6 cubic feet with the rear seats down – but it comes up short with 27.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats. Working under the assumption that a would-be Magnum Hellcat would utilize the same LX platform it previously did (and the Charger continues to), it’s reasonable to expect that these dimensions would be similar today.
While the Uconnect 4 infotainment system used in the current Charger is a noticeable step behind the pair of widescreens used in the AMG wagon, the Uconnect 5 system we recently used in the Durango SRT Hellcat is more advanced than the system in the Benz. Offering not only fast response, sharp graphics, and a wealth of customization options, but also headline features like wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s safe to assume that the Charger will adopt some form of this system in the near future. And by that rationale, our theoretical Magnum Hellcat probably would, too.
It’s also safe to assume that the Magnum’s cabin would largely mirror that of the Charger, as was the case in the past, so we’d expect to see Nappa leather SRT seats with a fair amount of shoulder and thigh bolstering, a flat-bottomed steering wheel with shift paddles, and an array of hard buttons for climate control and performance functions for quick access on the center stack just beneath the infotainment screen.
Behind The Wheel
First, it must be said that the E63 S Wagon does cut quite a figure in this specification. We’d argue it’s a sharper looking instrument than its sedan counterpart thanks in part to its flowing curves and sloping roofline, but regardless of where you stand in the “are wagons actually cool” debate, it’s hard not to grin when you press the start button and bring that boosted V8 to life. There’s an AMG-tuned active exhaust system on hand here, of course, but one of our favorite features has to be what essentially boils down to a “loud” button on the center console that opens up the valves more to let that throaty 4.0-liter sing. It’s particularly fun in the Race drive mode, which produces all manner of snaps, crackles and pops when you lift off the throttle.
Still, as good as the AMG sounds, the boosted 6.2-liter Hemi in the current SRT Redeye models is tough to beat for the V8 faithful. It won’t slide under the radar the way the AMG will under normal driving conditions, but if you’re buying an 800 horsepower station wagon, is that really the goal? Dodge certainly has an opportunity to be the most sonically extroverted wagon on currently on sale, here.
The E63 S Wagon has an array of drive modes – Snow, Individual, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Race, each of which manipulates the traction and stability controls, steering weight, suspension firmness, and transmission programming to provide vehicle behavior that’s tailored to the task at hand. We spent the majority of our time around town in Comfort mode with the exhaust turned up because, well, of course we did. But we soon discovered that the AMG-tuned air suspension is clever enough to be comfortable around town in nearly any setting while ratcheting up the body control with each more-aggressive setting.
It’s also handy that Mercedes provides hard buttons to switch between suspension, transmission, and exhaust settings on the fly rather than forcing you to create a custom preset to get all the attributes that you might want at any given time. We wish Dodge did this, but at least there’s a shortcut to get to the Custom preset mode by double-pressing the SRT button.
While the AMG’s nine-speed gearbox can occasionally lag when switching between reverse and drive gears, it’s an impressive piece of engineering once things start moving and noticeably more responsive than the ZF eight-speed automatic used in the Charger. Whether left to its own devices or manually triggered with the steering wheel-mounted paddles, the AMG’s shifts were seamless and near-instantaneous. And with nine cogs to work with, the engine is rarely outside of the sweet spot in the power band, so turbo lag is essentially nonexistent as a result, and it pulls like a freight train from any reasonable speed you could carry on a public road.
Out in the hills, the E63 S feels like it is in its element, dispatching fast mid-corner bumps without skipping a beat while the big carbon discs continued to provide massive stopping power time and time again. The 4Matic all-wheel drive system effectively puts the power to the ground, too, and it really came in handy when it suddenly started to snow in the middle of a flogging session. However, AMG knows that, even if most drivers won’t ever actually do any powerslides, they want to feel like they can, and they’ve delivered that in the form of Drift Mode.
It’s clear that AMG wants to be really, really sure that you want to use it, though. In order to activate the hidden mode, the car must first be set to Race mode, then traction control must be fully disabled, then you have to press and hold both shift paddles for several seconds, and then you have to confirm that you want to activate the mode. It’s something that literally no one is going figure out how to use without first consulting the owner’s manual (or the Internet), but it’s there.
While the Charger SRT Hellcat Redeye (and its theoretical wagon counterpart) aren’t as composed out in the canyons as the AMG is – especially when there’s snow involved – the rear-drive Dodge isn’t shy about lighting up tires and delivering epic powerslides on command. Simply putting the stability control system in Sport mode is enough to get the Charger to condone some tire-shredding shenanigans, and totally disabling all the electronic nannies is just a matter of long-pressing the traction control button.
There are other aspects of the AMG’s design where things feel overly convoluted, too. The steering wheel controls, for instance, employ buttons, sliders, and toggles to control various settings. It’s nice to have all of these different functions close at hand but the design strategy isn’t particularly intuitive to use, and we found ourselves searching for controls on the center console to perform the same functions that are available on the steering wheel because of it. Dodge’s steering wheel controls, while not as aesthetically posh in the Charger, are laid out better and much easier to use.
Still, when the steering wheel controls are the biggest complaint about high performance vehicle, it should be taken as a strong sign that this is a pretty damn good car. But here’s the kick in the pants you’ve been waiting for: The E63 S Wagon starts at $113,500 including destination, and our fully loaded tester rang up $142,100 when all was said and done. Pragmatic buyers could easily chop twenty grand off of that price tag with a more judicious approach to the options sheet, though – the carbon ceramic brake package is nearly $9000 on its own.
Yeah, it’s still a significant premium over theoretical Magnum Hellcat money if the top-spec Charger’s $93,000 sticker price is anything to go buy, but trust us, this thing is worth every penny.
More importantly, it’s the only wagon in this comparison that’s actually real and in production. Here’s hoping that Dodge will take steps to remedy that in the near future.
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