Any wagon with a three-pointed star on the nose, an AMG badge on the bum and 350kW under the bonnet has gotta be a thug in a Hugo Boss dinner suit, right? You’re damned right it has. The sedan version of the E55 AMG didn’t crack the top six at PCOTY 2003 based on its subtle good looks.
This review was originally published in MOTOR’s December 2004 issue
So how does the Estate go? Like the proverbial off a shiny shovel, once the five-speed auto gearbox had rubbed its eyes and got out of bed, that is. It was a pretty exciting ride, and the legal limit arrived in a wristwatch-timed 5.6 seconds using a foot-off-the-throttle start instead of the balls out left foot on brake and right foot loading the torque convertor technique we use when performance testing cars.
It certainly feels like it could go on to prove its boast as the world’s fastest production wagon, alongside Audi’s RS6. Like the Audi, the AMG’s top speed is limited to 250km/h, but unrestrained it would run very close to 300km/h.
And the pace is accompanied by a sensational note from the supercharged V8. Certainly, it’s not as nape-prickling as the thunder-deep rumble heard from an SL55 (which has a shorter exhaust system), but it’s also not what you expect from a subtle family wagon.
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But then there’s nothing subtle about a station wagon packing a 5.4-litre huffer-enhanced bent-eight, with 700Nm of torque available between 2650-4500rpm, which can rocket from 0-100km/h in (a claimed) 4.8 seconds. But more than any performance boast, it’s the sheer elastic urge of that colossal engine that defines the E55 AMG Estate. Hit the throttle and the boost swells almost instantly, flinging you down the road towards the horizon.
There weren’t a lot of hard cornering opportunities on our route but a hairpin signposted at 40km/h was no drama at double that speed. A bit of tyre squeal in protest, that’s all.
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Like most Mercs, the E55’s steering is a bit too light and not that sharp. The rack is reasonably slow and there’s a surprising amount of kickback through the wheel over anything but racetrack-smooth roads – which don’t exist in Australia. These are all complaints that kept the E55 AMG sedan from finishing further up the order at PCOTY 2003 and also made themselves known on the SL55 AMG roadster at the same event.
The biggest difference between the three adjustable suspension settings seemed to be a slightly rougher ride on the stiffest setting, along with the expected reduction in bodyroll and pitch.
The brakes – 360mm cross-drilled rotors squeezed by eight-piston calipers up front – do a fine job of countering the tremendous urge of the V8 and crushing 1990kg weight. But over bumpy roads, the E55 will squirm about nervously during a panic stop.
So, no real surprises about how the E55 went. Strip away the fancy AMG gear, though, and there’s an E-Class underneath. A typical Benz: oozing with snob value, put together like a Swiss watch, and with more features than an art-house movie company.
Two that tickled my fancy were the speed limiter, which took the worry out of speed cameras around town, and the cruise control, which downshifted when travelling downhill to make the most of its awesome engine braking.
The AMG-tweaked E55 and I would have got along just fine if only a handful of annoying irritations hadn’t spoiled the fun. Mostly silly little things, like a foot-operated park brake that barked my left shin when I used the footrest. And a very user-unfriendly sat nav. And a cheap-sounding stereo system that took three button-pushes to change from AM to FM. And an in-dash info display that had me punching the steering wheel scroll buttons from Tulla to Tarcutta trying to work out how to zero the tripmeter (it’s just a manual twist-stalk).
Nit-picking aside, is the E55 AMG Estate worth $230k-plus? That kind of money buys some seriously talented sports cars, so maybe not. But if you need to move four or five people and their gear in fast luxury, the mega Merc is hard to beat. At least until BMW builds its much-mooted first M5 Estate...
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Engine: 5.4-litre supercharged V8, SOHC, 24-valve