I recently had the chance to drive the Mercedes-Benz R63 AMG, which is a 500-horsepower minivan. This is not some weird one-off project designed to earn Instagram likes. This is a bona fide 500-hp minivan that Mercedes-Benz offered for sale to human beings like you and me 10 years ago.
Except, well, it wasn’t quite offered to human beings like you and me. One reason I say this is the asking price: The R63 AMG started at $88,400 with shipping, and that was before options; then one I drove was well north of $100,000 back when it was new in 2007. But the main reason we couldn’t buy an R63 AMG was the rarity: Mercedes didn’t actually tell anyone about the R63 AMG. Instead, it was special order only, and virtually nobody "special ordered" a $100,000 minivan; most reports say they sold less than 200 in the world, and some number well below 100 in the United States. That makes it rarer than a Ferrari Enzo, rarer than a McLaren P1 and only slightly more common than a Pagani Zonda.
And so you can imagine why I freaked out when I received an email from a local viewer here in Philadelphia offering me the chance to drive his R63. I emailed him back, we set up a time, and I was soon sitting in a 500-hp minivan.
Before I get to the driving experience, let me clarify the whole "500-hp minivan" thing. First off, yes, it does have 500 hp: It’s delivered by AMG’s 6.2-liter V8, which makes a monstrous 503 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque and sends the R63 AMG from zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds … which is just insane. But is it a minivan?
To me, the answer is a clear yes. The overall profile is clearly shaped like a minivan rather than an SUV, and the low step-in height, massive rear doors and ease of accessing the third row all scream "minivan." Sure, it doesn’t have sliding doors, but the original Honda Odyssey didn’t have those either — and we all agree that’s a minivan. Of course, no luxury-oriented European automaker can use the term "minivan," but even Mercedes didn’t think the R-Class was a true SUV; instead, they called it a "Grand Sports Tourer," which is a term that does not make sense. This is the kind of thing that comes out of automotive marketing departments.
So now, let’s discuss the actual R63 AMG experience. I’ll start with practicality and, more importantly, with my utter amazement at how incredibly well-packaged the R63 really is. There’s a lot of room up front. There’s a lot of room in the middle row. There’s a lot of room in the third row — and it’s easy to climb inside. And there’s even room behind the third row, which is rare for three-row vehicles. This is certainly a minivan when it comes to family-hauling practicality, and yes, the owner of the one I drove uses it as his family car: The owner’s wife primarily drives it to cart around their two kids.
But you’re probably more interested in the experience of actually driving a 500-hp minivan, so I’ll move right along to that. In a word, it’s joyous.
The joy doesn’t come from the steering, or the handling, or any sort of quirky driving situation, but rather the knowledge that you can simultaneously drop your foot on the accelerator (beating a Subaru WRX STI from zero to 60) and also glance into the rear and see three rows of seats. Very few other cars allow this ridiculousness — and no other cars do it with such amazing, under-the-radar subtlety. Aside from badging, there are only three ways you can tell apart an R63 AMG from a standard R-Class, making this basically the subtlest AMG car in an ever-expanding world of side vents and body kits.
The real joy in the R63 driving experience is on the highway. Yes, it’s fun around town — but when you can’t let the engine loose, you can easily be tricked into thinking you’re driving a normal minivan. On the highway, the thing has endless passing power and endless on-ramp-storming capabilities, but it seems like it’d be most at home just cruising on the autobahn, doing 120 miles per hour, passing everything and treating the six occupants to immense comfort while doing so. I truly think this car is the closest you can come to actually driving a private plane; monstrously quick, tremendously sleek, highly comfortable, effortlessly fast. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so at home simply sitting in the left lane, insulated from the road, planted on my plush leather seat, removed from all wind and road noise, cruising past everyone else with monumental confidence.
I’d love to own an R63 AMG, except for two problems: One is the fact that there are never any of them for sale. The other is the dreaded "head bolt" issue, which affects a small portion of 6.2-liter AMG V8s and could destroy the entire engine without warning. Fixing the head bolts as a preventative job isn’t easy or cheap — but once you do it to your R63 AMG, you’re driving the greatest minivan in automotive history. And if you ever see a Ferrari F40 at Cars and Coffee, you can give it a knowing glance, secure in the knowledge that your minivan is six times rarer. Find a Mercedes-Benz R 63 AMG for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.