I’ve been waiting my whole career to write this story. See, I love station wagons, and the more powerful the better. I’ve spent much of my career championing them as the perfect vehicle—some say too much, though I say not nearly enough. Such is my rep, a man from AMG told me he figures I was personally responsible for half of all E63 Wagon sales. (It’s not a large number).
I hit the wagon jackpot when I first worked for MotorTrend, as I was assigned chaperone duties for our long-term Cadillac CTS-V Wagon. Let’s say I enjoyed my time with that 556-horsepower manual station wagon. I was able to compare it to a brown Mercedes E63 AMG Wagon—as it was then called—but then Caddy killed off its best product of the last few decades, and I was sad.
The AMG remained the sole superwagon on sale in the U.S., until Porsche a few years back delivered the Sport Turismo version of the Panamera Turbo. Then Audi did the seemingly unthinkable and brought the ultimate verbotene Frucht stateside just this year, the long lusted-over RS6 Avant. That’s right friends, we suddenly have three 600-hp (or near enough) station wagons in a comparison test. Turned out 2020 had one small silver lining.
There’s an in-joke with, and perhaps about, auto journalists: we all want brown, manual, diesel station wagons. Part of that is true, and I’ll go so far as to take some credit for the brown and manual parts. The diesel thing? No idea, as I despise diesel anything unless it’s a pickup truck and involves hauling a boat.
Why do journalists like wagons so much? Wagons give you a car’s handling with an SUV’s practicality. Plus, long-roof cars happen to look so much better than three-box sedans. It’s true, don’t argue with me. Going with that, let’s just accept the idea wagons are the best type of cars, and enthusiasts know this is the truth. As editorial director Ed Loh once said, “Americans think they love cars, but Germans actually love cars. That’s why they drive so many wagons.”
Meet the Contenders
And oh, look, these three wagon combatants all hail from Deutschland.
The 2021 Audi RS6 is the newest über wagon to arrive on our shores. Sporting a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 that cranks out 591 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, the Audi is the least powerful of this trio—did you ever envision a world where a 591-hp station wagon is the least powerful anything?
The RS6 is also the heaviest, outporking the Porsche by 39 pounds, 4,862 versus 4,823. “Heaviest and least powerful is bad,” I thought, though I should mention that 39 pounds is nichtes; road test editor Chris Walton and features editor Scott Evans joined me for this dream comparison test, and I weigh around 100 pounds more than Walton. My actual point is when did cars get so dang heavy?
Anyhow, the Audi is also the least pricey as far as starting numbers go, undercutting the AMG by $3,400. As tested, however, the RS6’s sticker climbs to $131,645, which is more, though barely so, than the E63 S Wagon’s as-tested price of $129,065. The Porsche, as is often the case, costs much more. Though the company has not yet fully set its 2021 Panamera prices, it estimates the Panamera Turbo S Sport Turismo starts at $183,000, and the silver one pictured here sells for, Autsch, $214,000.
The Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon—weighing in at a “svelte” 4,658 pounds—also has a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8. The modern-day Hammer Wagon (and really, AMG, please officially call the E 63 the “Hammer” already) is good for 603 hp and 627 lb-ft of torque that gets routed through a nine-speed Mercedes-built automatic transmission. The Audi RS6 uses an eight-speed ZF-supplied auto, while the Porsche uses an eight-speed PDK dual-clutch.
All three wagons are all-wheel drive, though the AMG does feature Drift Mode, which disconnects the front driveshaft, turning the car into a tire shredding RWD manic. Why maniac? Traction and stability control must be deactivated to enter Drift Mode, and 627 lb-ft of twisting force is fed into only the rear axle. Fun!
The Porsche also comes with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, and now in Turbo S guise (the previous version was just plain old Turbo) generates 620 hp along with 603 lb-ft. One more thing: The E 63 S comes with an expandable, detachable beer/grocery holder, which is quite cool/wagon-like.
How Do They Drive?
We talked briefly as a staff about paying lip service to the fact that with the seats down, these three cars are pretty useful. Maybe we’d get hold of a 65-inch TV’s box and see how easy it is to load? In the end, that seemed like a lot of work (for those wondering, the Mercedes-AMG has the most cargo room).
Instead, we decided to bash the wagons within an inch of their mechanical lives up and down some serious mountainous hunks of macadam, Angeles Crest Highway and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Then, to finish them off (or at least their tires), we popped over the hill to the Streets of Willow for a private track day (big thanks to our friend Jonah!) around the gritty, 1.6-mile circuit. There was a bit of freeway time tossed in, too, but let’s be honest: performance is what matters with these three.
I don’t want to write this next part; you don’t want to read this next part. So, maybe just skip ahead to the end and you can pretend the Audi RS6 is 99 percent as good as the AMG and the Porsche, and just barely lost. But the Audi comes in a distant third in terms of driving dynamics. I’ll let Walton deliver the opening bad news salvo.
“Yikes, where do I even begin?” he said. “The brake pedal is too sensitive. It makes braking unpredictable. I was left-foot braking in the other two with ease, but not in the Audi.”
I experienced the same with the RS6’s large, carbon-ceramic brakes. Not having confidence in the brakes is one thing, but when you combine that with poor body control (the car’s, not mine), it’s a bad combination.
“It doesn’t have very good suspension compliance, and there is a constant vertical motion. It never seems to settle down,” Walton continued. “The steering is far too light in my hands and provides zero feedback.”
I should mention this RS6 had the optional air suspension; the other choice is steel springs with hydraulically linked dampers. When I attended the car’s original launch event, I noted, “The hydraulic system offered better body control,” and, “The steering felt sharper, too.”
“The RS6 feels heavy—and not good, bank-vault heavy, just heavy,” he said. “It especially feels nose-heavy. As soon as you start pulling real cornering Gs, the front tires start screaming.”
Yes, the tires made a ton of noise. All three cars had their respective tire pressures adjusted to the respective manufacturers’ suggested pressures the day before. However, on the RS6 we noticed that pressures shot up to 56 psi in the front. Usually that’s a result of too much weight being on a car’s nose. Sure enough, the Audi is the most nose heavy here by the specs, 55-/45-percent front to rear, compared to the AMG’s 54/46 and the Porsche’s 52/48. Evans also pointed out the driver is too isolated from the big engine, but we all loved the Audi’s straight-line performance.
“Think of it as a muscle car,” said Evans, meaning in the traditional sense: goes real quick, doesn’t stop or turn so hot. Especially not compared to the other two. To mitigate all this a bit, the RS6 is brand new, whereas the E63 S wagon and the Panamera Turbo S Sport Turismo are both mid-cycle refreshes, meaning the latter two’s engineers have had more time to fiddle and make things right. Also, an RS6 Performance version is probably on the horizon. Still, this was a disappointing showing by Audi.
Next up, let’s talk AMG.
“The opposite of the Audi. It’s an engaging experience, in every way,” Evans said. Yeah, there is a feel to the E63 S wagon that’s just … good. Look, we just named the thing our 2021 Car of the Year (the E-Class as a whole), so we collectively, surely dig the platform. Then you take those great bones, add gnarly, cacophonous emotion, poke it with a sharp stick, and the result is a machine you can love.
“The engine is wonderful, sounds glorious everywhere from 4,000-7,000 rpm, it rips,” Walton observed. I drove the Porsche Panamera before I drove the AMG, and I was bowled over by how much more engaging of an experience the Mercedes is. Same is true when you compare it to the RS6. The Hammer brings the drama.
The Porsche? It’s a bit of a sensory deprivation tank, but man, does it fly down the road well. Walton nailed it with his comments.
“Wow, what a machine. It has a fluidity to it that the Mercedes certainly doesn’t have,” he said. “I could get in and go without hesitation because it gives me so much confidence. I could detect the four-wheel steering, but in a good way, actually helping it rotate.
“The way the Sport Turismo puts power down on the exits is amazing: the solution is always more gas,” Walton added. “Its steering provides actual feel as well as precision. The brakes are mighty and also provide feel so I could stay out of the ABS with ease. This wagon profile is so much better for the Panamera. It’s the only version I think is attractive.” Anything he didn’t like? “I wish the engine had more character and voice.” Same here.
Intellectually, I get that the Porsche Panamera Turbo S Sport Turismo is the superior car. But emotionally, the Mercedes-AMG E63 S Wagon … it just snorts and grunts and thrusts and hollers and roller-coasters and goes berserk and punches and kicks and screams. It’s Howard Dean in matte blue paint.
It’s crazy capable, too. Evans was in the Panamera, and on a particular high-speed stretch of road I told him to go as fast and as hard as he could. My thinking was, if he really went for broke in the Panamera, there would be no way the AMG could keep up. But the end of the road, he said, “I couldn’t shake you.”
Damn skippy. To be fair to the Porsche, I’ve rarely pushed a car as hard as I pushed that AMG. Likewise, the way in which the E63 S kept up with the Sport Turismo wasn’t pretty. Body roll, tires screaming for mercy, hot plates for brakes. Still, it kept up. Oh, and we couldn’t even see the RS6 in our mirrors.
At the Racetrack
After lapping the three wagons around the Streets of Willow, it became crystal clear the Porsche is the best car, period. There’s sophistication to its chassis the other two simply don’t possess. Yes, there’s a big price premium for that sophistication, but in this case, we think you get what you pay (mucho) extra for.
“I swear Porsche engineers must spend a lot of time watching how athletes and animals move at full run,” Evans said. Walton added, “The way the Turbo S moves feels organic.”
The AMG was sloppy on the racetrack but was still better than the RS6. “You were on your mirrors in that last corner,” the boys laughingly pointed out after I climbed from the Audi. The AMG was only ever on its door handles. Walton made one final, notably valid point: “Let’s not have another story where the best driving car loses because it’s not emotional enough.”
At the Test Track
Objectively, we have some numbers from our test track to back up our subjective findings, as the wagons’ performances were in line with our rankings.
Take 0-60 mph. The Audi RS6 needed 3.1 seconds, the AMG E63 S Wagon 3.0, whereas the Panamera Turbo S Sport Turismo got it done in an astonishing 2.7 seconds. Chalk up that Porsche launch advantage to the quicker-shifting dual-clutch. The quarter-mile results are mirrored. The RS6 ran the distance in 11.5 seconds at 120.2 mph, the AMG in 11.2 at 124.0, and the Porsche delivered an incredible 11.0 at 123.6 mph. Notice the AMG’s trap speed is slightly higher by the end of 1,320 feet; maybe chalk it up to the E63 S’s slight power-to-weight advantage, 7.72 pounds per hp for the AMG versus 7.78 pounds for the Panamera? Maybe not? Aero? I’m not sure.
The story is the same for braking. The Audi RS6 stopped from 60 mph in an un-supercar-like 113 feet. Not a bad number, but most high-performance machines are much closer to 100 feet. Take the AMG E63 S wagon at 104 feet. See? The Porsche wagon was best, stopping in just 102 feet. Then there’s the figure-eight test, where the Audi tied the AMG, each completing the 1,600-foot lap in 24.2 seconds, though the Mercedes’ roadholding is a touch higher, 0.83 versus 0.81 g. The Porsche smacked the other two here, with a time of 23.6 seconds at 0.86 g. To put into context how insane of a figure-eight that is (and really to show how great all three cars are), an Acura NSX takes 23.8 seconds. Mid-engine Corvette? We’ve tested two top-spec 3 LT Z51 models; one did a 23.6, the other a 23.3. Man, the Porsche is nuts.
No Denying Reality
Again, I want to stress the fact this test shouldn’t ever have happened. High-performance wagons are supposed to be a rare oddity in America, not plentiful enough that a buff book can pull off a three-way comparo. We’re supposed to be happy with the 1,200 or so AMG wagons Mercedes sells a year (special-order only, mind you) and that’s that.
Still, there have been moments of foreshadowing. My mind wanders back to the 2010 New York Auto Show. I was at Cadillac’s party when the wraps came off the CTS-V Wagon. I turned to a Cadillac marketing person I was chummy with at the time and asked, “How can a barely post-bankruptcy General Motors be selling a 556-hp station wagon with a manual transmission?” He shoved his highball glass in my face and answered, “Because [Bob] Lutz wants some guaranteed good press out of you bastards.” Let’s not overlook Volvo’s Polestar badged V60s. Hint, hint, Mercedes (see sidebar).
So yes, having three mega-wagons available to well-heeled American enthusiasts is most likely the crown jewel in this, the actual golden age of the automobile. It’s all downhill from here, because it has to be. As for these three, they’re all incredible. Logistics wound up dictating that I used the third-place Audi RS6 for a road trip with my family to Palm Springs, and the entire time I kept asking myself, “How is this magnificent beast be third place at anything?” Gorgeous, elegant, comfortable, bullet-train fast, and did I mention gorgeous? The “loss” just shows how mighty the competition is.
Which brings up the second-place AMG E63 S Wagon. First off, it kills me when a derivative of a vehicle just awarded Car of the Year loses a comparison test. Literally, I hate it. Makes us look inconsistent in our judgment, we’re well aware. But because of price, we tend to lump Porsche Panameras in with the S-Class, not the E-Class, so if you ask a MotorTrender what’s best in the 5 Series/A6/E-Class segment, we can legit say the Mercedes.
Moreover, had this E63 S gone up against the pre-facelift Panamera Turbo, the one that “only” made 550 hp, I think the AMG would have won. Again, it’s not like there’s anything bad about the way the Hammer Wagon performs, and if you drive it like Mercedes just dropped one off at your house (guilty!), the E63 S Wagon can indeed keep up with the Turbo S Sport Turismo on a fast-moving canyon road, if only just.
That leaves us with the first place Porsche. Yes, another comparison test win for Porsche. The boys and girls back in Zuffenhausen must be getting sick of all of the accolades. I know I am. Yes, for the nearly $85,000 price difference between the Turbo S wagon and the second place AMG, you could buy any number of phenomenal automobiles (might I recommend an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio?) and have the Hammer. We get that, totally. But the fact is, we invited these three wagons to compete, and all three manufacturers knew what we were up to. This is a clean win for the Panamera Turbo S Sport Turismo as, price notwithstanding, the Porsche is the superior driver’s wagon. That’s the way she goes.
Source: Read Full Article