Mercedes E63 AMG estate

Agility and practicality ensure ultimate E-Class remains a great car

If you value driving thrills above all else, the E63 takes some beating. With its thundering V8 and sharp handling, the AMG makes every journey an adventure. Yet it’s the depth of the Mercedes’ talent that seals its victory, because it backs up the exhilarating dynamics with class-leading practicality, excellent refinement and a lower price tag.

Mercedes’ E63 AMG has ruled the fast estate sector since its debut more than two years ago, but it has its work cut out against the RS6. In an effort to maintain its grip on the top spot, the company has treated its practical flagship to a mid-life refresh.

The most obvious change is at the front, where there’s a pair of sleek, swept-back headlamps and a heavily revised bumper. Elsewhere you’ll spot the revised tail-lamps and subtly reprofiled flanks. And while the E63 doesn’t look as muscular and aggressive as the RS6, neat additions include multi-spoke 19-inch alloys and quad-exit exhausts.

The Mercedes must give best to the Audi when it comes to cabin design, though. There’s nothing wrong with the build quality, upmarket materials and logical layout, but the upright dash looks dated and too much of the switchgear is shared with cheaper models. You also don’t sit as low in the AMG – but you get a commanding view of the road and the heavily bolstered sports seats are supportive.

As with the RS6 there are a number of racy touches, such as a stubby AMG gearlever, tactile metal shift paddles on the steering wheel and a V8 BiTurbo logo on the rev counter. Another reminder of the AMG’s range-topping status is a generous equipment tally that includes sat-nav, climate control, heated seats and panoramic glass roof.

Not only is the E63 better equipped than its rival, it’s more practical. While there’s little to separate the two for passenger space, the Mercedes’ 695-litre boot is a huge 130 litres larger than the Audi’s. And with the rear bench folded flat, there’s a generous 1,950 litres. Numerous hooks, cubbies and cup-holders help make the AMG the more family-friendly choice. Yet while the Merc wins on space, it bows to the Audi when it comes to pace.

In the wet, the rear-wheel-drive E63 was eight-tenths slower from 0-60mph, while its seven-speed box isn’t as quick to respond and its longer ratios blunt acceleration. Yet in the real world, the differences are hard to detect. With 720Nm of torque at a mere 1,750rpm, the E63 blasts past slower traffic in the blink of an eye. It’s the soundtrack that really grabs your attention, though. From a burbling V8 idle through to a NASCAR bellow at high revs, it never fails to raise a smile.

And you’re likely to continue grinning as you guide the Merc through a series of corners. The steering is direct, naturally weighted and delivers a more positive turn-in than the Audi’s. As you’d expect, there’s not as much grip or traction as in the RS6, but the engaging AMG’s line through a bend can be subtly altered using a blend of steering and throttle. You can also tune the three-stage adaptive dampers to suit the road conditions and your mood. In their softest setting they deliver a remarkably supple ride, which – combined with the well insulated cabin – helps make the Mercedes an effortless cruiser.

So the Mercedes is more fun, more practical and, at £75,535, not as expensive as the Audi. On that basis, it’s a strong contender for victory.

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