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How Do You Spot a Plain Clothes Supercar?

Alexander George
Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz

From Popular Mechanics

It’s a cruel reality of liking cars. The few who will ever own something as fast as a Lamborghini or McLaren probably won’t be able to afford one until they’re older. But with age, the desire for swing-up doors and loud exhaust fades, replaced by practical needs, like trunk space and fuel efficiency.

But no matter your age, if you’ve ever understood the appeal of driving something as outrageous as a Lamborghini, a sensible hybrid crossover doesn’t really cut it. For those who still want and can afford that muscle, there's Mercedes-AMG. This division of Mercedes-Benz hides unnecessarily powerful engines and precision tuning inside practical, visually conventional vehicles. At a certain age, that incongruity becomes even more appealing than dihedral doors.

Same as Audis with an S badge, Lexuses with an F, or BMWs with an M (though that brand’s naming structure is slightly more complicated), a Mercedes-Benz with the letters "AMG" is a more powerful, expensive, and special version of whatever letter identifies that car (E-Class, C-Class, etc). Many manufacturers do this, but Mercedes does it exceptionally well. Among the professional car geeks that own or have owned an AMG: Doug Demuro (E63 Wagon), Parker Nirenstein of Vehicle Virgins (E63 sedan) and Ed Bolian of VINWiki (GL63).

Doing this is an engineering feat. Same as their peers, most AMG cars start out heavy—heated steering wheels, leather, wood, and metal, all-wheel drive, sound-damping glass. That all adds up to some serious lbs. For example, the GLE 63 S Coupe ($113,000) weighs over 5,300 pounds, which is why moving it from zero to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds requires a 577 horsepower 5.5-liter V8. Let's not discuss the highway fuel economy...it's rated at 17mpg. (But in AMG vehicles I’ve tested, moderate highway driving in Comfort mode kept the miles per gallon in the mid-20’s, which is acceptable).

Why would someone buy a big, potentially inefficient engine in the era of Tesla? Speed aside, they make a hellfire exhaust sound that you'd confuse for that of a Lamborghini. But coming from a station wagon, that noise and speed is confusing in a way that, inexplicably, will please almost anyone who likes driving.

Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz

The best example of an AMG’s appeal is probably the E63 Wagon. Besides being fast and unassuming, they’re rare. Mercedes sells so few wagons that the AMG versions typically have to be special ordered. Driving that wagon, or any wagon, affirms your distinctness from the crossover and SUV masses—but you can still make a Home Depot run.

A new E63 S Wagon will make just over 600 horsepower, and go from zero-to-60 mph in about 3 seconds. Meaning, you will pass all except those mid-engine supercars with swing-up doors. From the driver's seat, in Sport+ mode, the tight suspension, sensitive gas pedal, and violently effective brakes make driving an E63 a pleasantly confusing experience. A car that weighs over 4,500 pounds shouldn’t be able to stay so horizontal and steer so precisely.

Plenty of expensive, fast cars disguise weight with power and predictive mechanisms that try to imitate the feeling of something like a Mazda Miata or Subaru BRZ. The E63 just does it really well. But back to the original selling point: When you or your passengers need a break from the thrashing, you can put it in Comfort mode and eat up highway miles. Unlike those mid-engine supercars, you're very comfortable, even in heavy traffic.

Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz

A new Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon costs over $110,000. Fortunately, used AMG cars typically don’t cost much more than the non-AMG version. Which is why, most weekends, I have several browser tabs open to listings for certified pre-owned E63s, and C63 Coupes. Most new ones are still expensive (E63 S Wagons often hover around $50,000). Expensive, yes, but more attainable than an iPhone wallpaper supercar.

Mercedes-Benz is a precision manufacturing and sales operation. But somewhere in this company that sells millions of sensible luxury crossovers, the AMG employees are building 600-hp luxury station wagons. It took me until now to understand why AMGs cost so much, and why car geeks covet them. It's because driving one feels like being in on a joke. And because, by the time you can afford one, you're looking for the chance to simultaneously comply with, and mess with the expectations of adulthood. These kinds of cars achieve that.

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