While hugely inconvenient for many reasons, the nation's Corona-lockdown does mean that this week's Brave Pill has at least managed to last until the weekend to be shared for your amusement and comments. If I wasn't confined to my own prepper bunker there's a serious chance I would have already swept in to buy it, thanks to an oddball spec that makes it close to my personal unicorn: an E-Class wagon combining both the sonorous charms of the already legendary 'M156' AMG 6.2-litre V8 and the practicality of seven seats. Throw in a price tag that makes it one of the cheapest 6.2s in the country and gets dangerously close to "take my money!" territory.
Merc's approach to car equipment used to be based around a stingy standard spec and a huge list of options, with most of these available across the board. On older cars this often throws up strange outliers. I've seen a W124 E-Class with manual windows but the pricey addition of factory air conditioning, and a late R107 SL with a blanking plate instead of an audio system. Although by the time the W211 E-Class was launched in 2003 the poverty-spec base models had gone, Mercedes continued to allow options to be added to pretty much anything in the range.
So full credit to the first owner of this black E63 AMG estate, who clearly wanted the chance to share the car's spectacular performance with more than the five people it could ordinarily accommodate and ticked the box for the rear-facing pop-up seats beneath the boot floor. While a still-popular option on lesser versions of the E-Class, this seems to have been rarely selected with the AMG versions, possibly because of the risk of having to scrape chunks from the inside of the rear screen if the car's full performance was exploited with them in use. But for a practical and supremely fast all-rounder, it takes some beating.
Fold-up rear seats had once been a widespread option. The Peugeot 504/ 505, Citroen CX and Austin Montego estates all offered them, as well as bigger Volvo estates, and in the days before people-carriers they were popular with those trying to carry a larger family. As anyone who has owned a car fitted with them will be able to testify, kids seem to absolutely love them - the ability to wave or make obscene gestures to passing HGV drivers more than offsetting the cramped accommodation. But the arrival of much more spacious MPVs pretty much killed demand, and by the mid-'noughties only Mercedes and Volvo were still offering them in the UK. (Mercedes actually persisted with the idea for the successor W212 and even early W213 wagons, although it was no longer possible to order them with AMG variants.)
Not that occasional pop-up seats are ever going to be the most exciting thing about a 507hp mega-estate, of course. The W211 was launched before the M156 engine arrived and the earlier 55 AMG version got a supercharged 5.5-litre V8 with 476hp. It was monstrously fast, the wagon capable of dispatching the 0-60mph benchmark in just 4.6-seconds, the same as a contemporary 997-generation 911 Carrera. But this was also Merc's Peak Bork period and, like lesser examples of the W211, the 55 AMG also came with several significant faults including a Sensotronic electric brake pump designed to expensively throw in the towel after a set number of cycles, and also failure-prone air suspension.
The E55 was toweringly fast and, for all its firepower, remarkably good at finding traction through just a pair of driven wheels. But it was always more impressive for what it did rather than the way it did it, the supercharged engine always feeling a little isolated, the chassis better at grip than response. The numb-feeling brake pedal, something that's been widely noted on the more modern e-boosted systems, didn't help with the sense of dynamic connection either.
Launched in 2006, the E63 wasn't just a transition to a different engine, with improvements going well beyond that. AMG had lobbied hard to be allowed to build its own V8 following the full amalgamation into the Daimler empire, particularly as sales of AMG models increased, all of which were powered by reworked versions of base Mercedes engines. The M156 was pretty much a clean paper piece of design, with development led by Wolf Zimmerman, who had previously worked on AMG's motorsport motors. (He later went to Lotus under Dany Bahar and is now in charge of Ferrari's F1 power units.) The racing pedigree was obvious with features like a rigid bedplate to locate the main bearings, aluminium-silicon alloy for the block and head, plus a forged crankshaft and connecting rods.
The economics of constructing such an expensive bespoke powerplant meant it would have to be used in every AMG variant it could physically be squeezed into. As the big seller at the time, the E-Class was one of the first to get it, with fitment coinciding with the mid-life facelift given to the rest of the range. With 507hp the new engine had a bigger headline output than the 55, but the new motor actually had significantly less torque, with the new peak coming higher up the rev band. Even under the sort of mechanically unsympathetic testing necessary to extract performance numbers, it was only a tenth of a second quicker than the outgoing model to 60mph, and real world pace was slightly inferior to the supercharged unit.
Yet the naturally aspirated V8 was also a far more charismatic companion, with more direct throttle response and a far more bristly and interesting soundtrack as it closed in on its 7,200rpm redline. The M156 also got Merc's then state-of-the-art seven-speed auto 'box, the 55's higher torque output meaning it had to make do with the older school five-speeder. Facelift cars also lost Sensotronic and gained a conventional brake servo, with the AMG getting other chassis mods that made it feel more wieldy and keener to dance than the '55 had. The upshot was a car that was only fractionally better on paper, but which managed to feel significantly better in almost every subjective regard. It wasn't as sharp a steer as the E60 BMW M5 Touring, but it was a much more relaxed proposition for everyday use.
The division between 55 and 63 variants of the W211 has long been reflected by a split in values, with the later cars commanding a significant premium, a supplement our Pill suggests is now slipping. Three years ago we highlighted a seven-seat E63 wagon in Spotted which looked well priced (for the time) at £28,595. Our Pill is (obviously) older and also significantly leggier - with 121,000 miles - but it is also being offered for barely a third of the price.
Sure, the heavily tinted windows and black-painted alloys won't be to all tastes, although they certainly give this AMG a menacing air, and such details are easily reversed. Five previous owners is hardly unusual in this part of the market, and although the MOT history has a mileage anomaly - the recorded total jumped from 53,000 to 96,000 between 2011 and 2012, then fell back to 64,000 the following year - that seems more likely down to a tester's stubby finger than malicious intent. The advisories are unscary, mostly concerned with a predictable appetite for tyres and minor suspension components. Running costs will doubtless be chunky, though, with full-wallop £580/year road tax (being six months too old for the over-255g/km exemption) and fuel economy that will only get into the 20s under gentle use. But consider those numbers on a per-seat basis and they look considerably less fearsome, especially when you've had to pay so little for the cheapest E63 in the classifieds.