The Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S-Model station wagon makes no sense. Who needs to combine 577 hp, all-wheel drive, and a limited-slip differential with 57 cubic feet of storage and load-leveling air suspension? It's an odd concoction of brute force and practicality. There's no reason it should exist, but we love that it does.
We tested our long-term E63 over 10,000 miles in massaging-seat comfort. Considering the Mercedes sprints to 60 mph in only 3.4 seconds, 19 mpg isn't that bad. But as the miles passed, I grew increasingly concerned that we weren't really using the car. Highways and back roads barely stressed the 14.2-inch front brake rotors, and the Continental ContiSport-Contact tires remained almost pristine. Sure, it's a station wagon, but it has the lungs of a Trans-Am car. So one of us (okay, it was me) asked, "Well, is it faster than a Skip Barber race car?"
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The question follows the same logic as coaxing a rhino to fight a honey badger, which is to say, none. But logic was never the point. The Skip Barber Racing School is one of our favorite outfits; a decade ago, I competed in the related Barber-Dodge racing series for two seasons, so the Skippy open-wheeler is my go-to reference for relatively cheap speed. Given the E63's potency, I couldn't stop wondering how far apart the two cars would be.
Looking for a road trip as well, I packed my race suit and R&T's data-acquisition equipment and drove 1000 miles to NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans. A few laps later, I set a best time in the E63 of 2 minutes, 3.71 seconds. The Mercedes is no sports car, but it cornered at over 1 g, stopped with authority despite a 4700-pound curb weight, and rocketed out of every corner. More important, it felt planted yet playful. Thanks to gobs of power and modern technology, this 193-inch-long grocery-getter likes to dance.
My challenger, Skip Barber Racing School's formula car, has 132 hp and a 1220-pound fighting weight. It sat so low to the ground that the rollhoop barely reached the E63's door handles. It's a raw, old-school machine, with no power assistance for anything. Everything takes effort, but because every response is immediate, you must be delicate, or you'll spin. Driving properly rewards with unfiltered joy.
Around the 2.75-mile NOLA track, the cars were separated by 1.2 seconds. Say what you will about light weight always being better—that's extremely close.
On the way back to R&T's Michigan office, I sipped iced green tea, kept the wagon's three-stage, electrically cooled front seats on icy-cold, and listened to This American Life podcasts over Bluetooth. By the end of our wagon's stay, we had logged those 10,000 miles on Midwestern highways, dirt roads, and drive-thrus while carrying luggage, pets, race gear, lumber, and lots of people. The E63 did just about everything a car can do, did much of it better than most, and even gave a hard-core track specialist a serious run for its money. It may cost almost $110,000, but that buys a hell of a lot of car.
WHY WE GOT IT: Insane speed, happily absurd form factor.
PLUS: Quicker than a Dodge Viper, has a wayback.
MINUS: No longer available with hooligan-spec rear-wheel drive.