Seriously, this is a “1 percenter” conundrum, but it’s a fun automotive/escapist exercise, nonetheless. Let’s imagine you have a family of five to seven, perhaps a doggo, and occasionally visit a local nursery, home-improvement store, or big-box outlet. Oh,, and you have the financial means to consider a $100,000-plus, fire-breathing, AMG-built wagon or SUV. Which path more-rapidly traveled should you take?
2020 Mercedes-AMG E 63 4Matic+: A Rare Breed.
On one side of the garage, we have an ultra-wagon—the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4Matic+ station wagon. It’s the ‘have your cake and eat it, too’solution to “I want an all-wheel-drive AMG super sedan, but also I want more than double the cargo capacity.” Because Cadillac pulled the plug on the CTS-V wagon in 2014, Dodge stopped building the Magnum SRT way back in 2008, and BMW built a very limited run of rare M5 wagons (none of which were available to U.S. customers), only a handful other automakers currently stand with AMG and offer performance wagons: Audi, Jaguar, Porsche, and Volvo. (Until we can arrange for that dream comparison, here’s our initial take on Audi RS 6 Avant against an E 63S wagon. Meanwhile, back to the AMG intramurals.)
Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4Matic+ SUV: The Unicorn You Didn’t Know You Wanted
On the other side of the garage, we have the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4Matic+ SUV, the largest sport utility Mercedes-Benz builds, that’s also been massaged by the AMG division. No other automaker offers a luxury high-performance 3-row SUV, not Audi, Bentley, BMW, Lamborghini, Porsche, or Rolls Royce. It is literally in a class of one. The GLS 63 SUV a (very fast) rolling seven-seat contradiction that defies logic. How can something so large, with a weight approaching 6,000 pounds, feel so lithe and capable on a twisting road and yet remain an everyday-livable sport utility?
Pro: The GLS 63 SUV is Seriously Quick
Con: The E 63 Wagon is Quicker Still
Both the E 63 and GLS 63 are powered by the ubiquitous AMG twin-turbo 4.0L V-8 making 603 horsepower and 627 lb-ft of torque. With so many automakers offering 600-plus horsepower motors today, we’ll update the old refrain and now say, “600 is the new 500.” They’re both fitted with a rapid-fire AMG-tuned nine-speed automatic, but where the two differ is that the GLS’s engine is a mild hybrid with a 48-volt electrical system and an “EQ Boost starter/generator” that seamlessly fires up the engine and adds 21 hp and 184 lb-ft into the mi—-not additively, by the way. The added electric-motor torque-fill, indeed, effectively eliminates most of the turbo lag you might feel at part-throttle, but that’s where the performance gains end. If you’re at full throttle, the added torque lies waiting in the background.
We’ve tested a 2018 E 63 wagon, and it ran to 60 mph in just 3 seconds flat. Imagine that: one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three: SIXTY! In a wagon. There are roughly 50 cars MotorTrend has ever tested, mostly supercars, that have managed to get under the 3-second mark. That this approximately 4,700-pound wagon gets this close is truly a remarkable feat. Even without considering its drift mode— ensuring it’s completely rear-wheel drive— the E 63 wagon is truly an overperformer.
We’ve yet to measure the GLS 63’s acceleration, but combing through our data and previous tests of the current generation GLS (450 and 580) and tests of the last-gen 5.5-liter 577-hp/561-lb-ft GLS 63, we’re confident to report this one would easily be under 4 seconds to 60 mph; somewhere in the range of 3.8 seconds. Again, a truly stellar performance, but several tenths shy of the wagon.
Ride and Handling
Pro: Both Benefit from Air Springs and Adaptive Dampers
Con: There’s No Arguing with Physics
Air springs do a wonderful job smoothing out the ride, but you need other, smarter, faster systems to aid handling. In the GLS 63, its 48-volt electrical system fires electro-mechanical actuators to effectively negate body roll, and it truly works. What should feel like a runaway Conestoga with steam-roller sized 23-inch mono-block forged wheels, ends up feeling like a very fine handling wagon. What’s more is that the ride is very calm and controlled.
And the wagon, lighter by 1,300 pounds? Well, it feels like top-tier sport sedan; so confident and capable, one simply forgets they’re driving what is otherwise a smooth-riding wagon. That thought simply vanishes as the roads grow more challenging.
Pro: The E 63 Wagon is Spacious
Con: The GLS 63 is Cavernous
OK duh, so the heavier SUV isn’t as quick or agile as the wagon, but what about space? You wouldn’t be considering either of these if all you needed was a fast AMG-branded car, right? Then it’s about people space and cargo space.
With a 7.7-inch longer wheelbase, you anticipate the GLS would easily trounce the E wagon for passenger comfort. You’d be mostly right, but then you realize those inches need to be chopped into three rows of seating rather than two. (Note: The current non-AMG versions of the E-Class wagon come with standard rear-facing third-row jump seats, bringing the seat count to seven—same as the GLS. This will remain true in 2021 when the only other E-Class wagon will be the soft-road-ready All-Terrain, set to do battle against the Audi A6 Allroad and the Volvo V90 Cross Country.)
Back to people space: The GLS SUV’s much taller roofline affords an obvious headroom advantage in every seat. Mind you, hoisting yourself into the tall GLS is a bit more of a chore. Then it might surprise you that the driver and front passenger in the E-wagon are afforded about an inch more legroom. The second-row legroom comparison isn’t even close. The GLS offers six more luxurious inches in which to stretch out. Naturally, there’s an available Executive Rear Seat package available. The difference in shoulder room between these two isn’t as great, and three-across in either second row isn’t out of the question.
Pro: The E63 Wagon Can Haul a Boatload of Stuff
Con: Did We Mention the GLS is Cavernous
Although the trunk volume of the E 63 sedan is generous at 13.1 cubic feet, the wagon offers 35 cubes with all seats occupied and 64 cubes with the second row folded. That’s on par with popular SUVs like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Impressive, right? With the second row folded, the length of the floor is impressive. If it were ever needed, a 6-foot-plus tall person could sleep in the back,say for an overnighter at the 24 Hours of Sebring. The cargo lift-over height is a very reasonable 22.4 inches, and the wagon can safely carry as much as 1,300 pounds. It cannot be equipped for towing in the states, but seriously, who needs an SUV?
However, the GLS is a cargo ship by comparison. With all seats folded, it can hold 20 cu-ft more cargo, something like a large ottoman, and nearly accommodate a 4-by-88-foot sheet of plywood. Lifting cargo over the GLS’s 33-inch high transom might be a tall order, but it can carry nearly 1,700 pounds. Considering the significant power of the engine, it’s a bit surprising the GLS 63 is rated to tow a modest 4,300 pounds. No doubt, if you need to move a lot of stuff or people rapidly, the seven-passenger GLS 63 is the one for you.
Pro: The GLS 63 Can Genuinely Go Off Roading
Con: The E 63 Should Never Go Off Road
Both the E 63 wagon and GLS 63 SUV have air springs; however, the GLS’s can raise orlower the SUV at will. While the wagon is fixed at 5.0 inches of ground clearance with bumper-scuffing 12.7 and 15.0 degrees of approach and departure angles, the SUV’s clearance can vary between 7.9 and 8.5 inches, and when raised to its highest level, it can afford a respectable 23.0/21.0-degree approach/departure angles. It would be like a Bigfoot sighting if you came across a GLS 63 in the wild, but it can go off-roading.
Pro: The E 63 Wagon’s “COMAND” is Hard to Navigate
Con: The GLS 63’s New “MBUX” is Worse
Both vehicles come with a graphics-intensive low-button-count version of the Mercedes-Benz User Experience. There are two 12.3-inch multi-configurable color displays with abundant, unintuitive menus. Where the (older) E 63 wagon uses a combo pad/push-knob to navigate what must total 100 different screens buried in menu after menu, the newer GLS 63 is controlled by a trackpad/touchpad alone.
Just as we criticize Lexus for its similarly frustrating interface, we do here in the GLS as well. Besides being variously precise, monitoring where the cursor is and hitting your mark requires far too much of a driver’s valuable attention. We get it, fewer moving parts that could break, taking every last ounce out of a vehicle to save weight, but at some point, the actual user experience should matter more. True story: Family friends who have purchased a new Mercedes-Benz every two years for the past 2 let their new GLE sit in the garage and instead drive their spare 2015 Ford Explorer because the GLE’s infotainment system “scares” them. Do better, Mercedes-Benz.
Pro: Both Have an Extensive Suite of Advanced Safety Systems
Con: Sometimes They’re Intrusive and Difficult to Disable
Besides 10 airbags, a driver attention monitor, and laser-sharp LED headlamps with auto high-beams, the E63 wagon is equipped with standard blind-spot monitoring, a system that Mercedes calls “Pre Safe,” which is activated when an imminent front or rear collision is predicted, and pedestrian/collision-avoidance auto braking. For instance, if stationary and the wagon senses an imminent rear collision, it will apply full brake pressure to avoid being pushed into an intersection or another car, raise the front seats to a more upright position, pretension the seat belts, and issue a particular frequency of sound from the audio system that causes an ear reflex to protect from loud noises. It also has parking sensors and a 360-degree camera system.
The GLS 63 has all the above and yet three fewer airbags (no rear-side or front passenger knee) but adds curve-following LED headlamps, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise. Not bad, but considering so many new cars priced tens of thousands of dollars lower offer an even broader, standard safety suite, this feels a little skimpy for $100,000-plus vehicles.
The E 63 has an additional Driver Assistance package that goes a couple steps beyond the GLS’s standard equipment. This $2,250 option includes adaptive cruise control with active curve-sensitive and speed limit adjustment, lane keeping and lane change assist, auto braking for pedestrian/collision avoidance and rear cross traffic, evasive steering assist including blind-spot assist, and something Mercedes calls Impulse Side protection, which when a side impact is imminent, will nudge a front occupant toward the center of the car in their seat.
That’s a lot to digest,and it’s a lot to control or defeat if it’s not functioning to your liking. For instance, when using the curve/speed limit-sensitive cruise control, the vehicle slows inexplicably—sometimes drastically—when entering a slower-speed zone (to the dismay of following drivers). If one simply presses the accelerator pedal in defiance too many times or for too long, the entire system shuts down. Gah! There may be a way to decouple the curve and speed limit tattle tales in a menu somewhere, but good luck finding that while driving.
We did appreciate the blind-spot systems: good clear warnings and a slight nudge on the wheel. The rear cross-traffic auto braking may save the day a time or two. The forward-looking automated braking was properly (not too conservatively) calibrated for L.A. ‘s unpredictable and congested traffic. It never inadvertently sent a brief case into the passenger foot well.
Pro: Unfathomably Capable, Comfortable, and Posh
Con: You Can Choose Only One
There’s no question that if you have more than $100,000 to spend on family/cargo transport, you’re going to be happy with either the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S wagon or GLS 63 4Matic+. Heck, you could probably afford both and be done with it.
In terms of acceleration to 60 mph, with the advantage of all-wheel-drive, either would give a 760-hp Mustang Shelby GT500 a run for its money. That’s simply world-class quickness. They both offer opulent interiors that can comfortably accommodate five to seven people and/or more cargo than you’ll probably ever need them to. Shockingly, neither one is so egregiously thirsty that they earn a gas-guzzler tax.
The GLS 63 is an unapologetically grandiose luxury liner with previously incomprehensible performance. Looking at the nearly 6-foot-tall, 3-row SUV, you’d never suspect such explosive acceleration, cornering ability, or posh ride on those massive mono-block wheels – or that it could (and not that anybody would) safely traverse a moderately challenging trail. Do you want it all with zero compromise? Then there’s nothing like it from any other automaker today. Go claim your unicorn right now.
That said, we in the in the automotive press have always been drawn to stealthy, sporty wagons not only for their incongruous performance-to-image qualities, but also because they’re almost always more attractive than their sedan siblings; the lines are longer, sleeker, and just sexier. Yes, we just said wagons are sexier than sedans. Look at Audi, BMW, Dodge (when they offered one), Jaguar, Mercedes, Porsche, or Volvo. Fight us. And for now, the E 63S wagon is the apex of the breed. It’s incredibly satisfying to drive, rides beautifully down the highway, and literally hauls more than cargo. It’s also easy to park, and doesn’t scream “Look at me!” For us, all these talents add up to one of the most desirable vehicles on the planet. It would be the one we’d choose and even more so, it would be the onewe’d probably be happy with for the rest of our motoring lives.
|2020 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4Matic+ Wagon||2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 4Matic+|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads||Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||243.0 cu in/3,982 cc||243.0 cu in/3,982 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||603 hp @ 5,750 rpm||603 hp @ 5,750 rpm (gas); 21 hp (elec); 603 hp (comb)|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||627 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm||627 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm (gas); 184 (elec); 627 lb-ft (comb)|
|REDLINE||7,000 rpm||7,000 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||7.8 lb/hp||10.0 lb/hp (MT est)|
|0-60 MPH||3.0 sec||3.8 sec (MT est)|
|TRANSMISSION||9-speed automatic||9-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Control arms, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||15.4-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic disc; 14.2-in vented, drilled, carbon-ceramic, ABS||15.7-in vented disc; 14.5-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||9.5 x 20-in; 10.0 x 20-in, forged aluminum||10.0 x 23-in; 11.5 x 23-in, forged aluminum|
|TIRES||265/35R20 99Y; 295/30R20 101Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4S MO1||285/40R23 111Y; 325/35R23 115Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4S MO1|
|WHEELBASE||115.7 in||123.4 in|
|TRACK, F/R||64.9/62.8 in||67.1/67.9 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||197.1 x 75.1 x 58.0 in||206.4 x 79.9 x 70.2 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||5.0 in||7.9-8.5 in|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||12.7 deg/15.0 deg||21.0-23.0/20.0-21.0 deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||41.0 ft||41.2 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,700 lb (mfr)||6,000 lb (MT est)|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||54/46%||53/47% (MT est)|
|HEADROOM, F/M/R||37.5/39.6/— in||39.4/40.2/38.6 in|
|LEGROOM, F/M/R||41.5/35.8/— in||40.3/41.9/34.6 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/M/R||57.8/57.1/— in||59.3/58.5/50.3 in|
|CARGO VOLUME, BEH F/M/R||64.0/35.0/— cu ft||84.7/42.7/17.4 cu ft|
|MAX CARGO FLOOR LENGTH||78.9 in||87.3 in|
|WIDTH BET WHEELHOUSES||43.3 in||41.3 in|
|CARGO LIFT-OVER HEIGHT||22.4 in||32.9 in|
|PAYLOAD CAPACITY||1,312 lb*||1,686 lb*|
|TOWING CAPACITY||Not equipped for towing in the U.S.||4,300 lb|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$161,704||$149,160|
|AIRBAGS||10: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee||7: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||21.1 gal||23.8 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||16/23/18 mpg||13/18/15 mpg (MT est)|
|RANGE (EPA COMB)||379 mi||357 mi|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||211/147 kW-hrs/100 miles||259/187 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.05 lb/mile||1.31 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|
|*European measuring conversion|