2013 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Review

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The S63 AMG can do fast - very fast - but can the high-performance limo do corners? We enlisted the Austrian alps to help find an answer...

430kW, 4.4 second 0-100km/h, $400,000 – big numbers for a big car, but the ‘four’ that doesn’t fit the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG arriving on our shores concerns the number of wheels it will drive.

An all-wheel-drive system dubbed 4MATIC is for the first time available on the S63 AMG, but as with the smaller E63 and CLS63 it is only available in left-hand drive.

Adding a front driveshaft means it protrudes out of the seven-speed automatic gearbox to the right … and right where steering hardware for our markets needs to sit. Incidentally, Benz promises it’s the last time that will happen on a new production model.

Selecting all-wheel drive instead of rear-wheel drive means the 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine can put its prodigious 900Nm of torque (which arrives at just 2250rpm and is maintained until 3750rpm), and 430kW of power (all of which arrive at 5500rpm) to work more effectively.

Extra traction means the 0-100km/h sprint is reduced by four-tenths to just 4.0 seconds, despite the all-wheel-drive’s 1995kg kerb weight, versus 1970kg for the rear-drive models (in any case, the S63 is 100kg lighter than before).

To make things more complicated, however, that extra weight also buys in addition to all-wheel drive the long-wheelbase version, yet the rear-drive long-wheelbase we’ll also get locally curiously weighs the same.

The numerical difference between short-wheelbase and long-wheelbase respectively is 5.157 metres versus 5.287m length, and 3.035m against 3.165m from front axle to rear.

That buys longer rear doors and plenty of extra legroom, though, disappointingly, the same relatively small 510-litre boot. And if buyers choose the ‘first class’ reclining rear seat, the hybrid-hardware-like divide in the boot reduces volume even further.

All this is common to the non-AMG S-Class, but the S63 is also claimed to score new for the multi-link front suspension, in addition to extra negative wheel camber, a larger rear stabiliser bar and stiffened rear subframe. While 19-inch alloy wheels are standard overseas, Australian models will get the 255mm-wide 40-aspect front/35-aspect rear 20-inch Continental tyres driven at the international launch as standard equipment.

From here it (again) gets complex with the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG, because the 4MATIC versions solely get adaptive air suspension, where rear-drive models only get hydraulic spring suspension teamed uniquely with Benz’s lauded Magic Body Control (MBC) system.

Here, it’s a win for the Aussies. Both the rear-drive and 4MATIC versions were driven at launch, and our suspension has unquestionably the better ride quality, particularly in Comfort mode.

Where the 4MATIC is just a touch too floaty, though still supremely comfortable, only the rear-driver with MBC uses the forward-mounted stereo camera to ‘read’ the road 15 metres ahead, then electronically adjust the hydraulic fluid in each strut to best deal with the road ahead. It works superbly, endowing the S63 AMG with, as per the regular S-Class models, the title of the world’s finest-riding car.

Switch to Sport mode, and both Airmatic and hydraulic versions harden-up by around 40 per cent, while dropping the body 10mm lower to the ground. It is a default-setting to switch to Sport with the Airmatic long-wheelbase car we tested, which removes float without adding harshness. In the short-wheelbase rear-driver, selecting Sport turns the fantastic MBC off, however. There are pros and cons, then, but only the latter suspension matters on our shores anyway.

What doesn’t change between the models is the level of grunt on offer. The hand-built 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 is beautifully smooth and quiet in Comfort mode, when the flaps inside the quad exhaust pipes mostly stay shut to aid rear passenger freeway refinement, in particular.

Switch to Sport and the flaps open to produce a classic AMG rasp. Through our drive around the Austrian alps the hills were alive with the sound of eight firing cylinders and burnt-fuel crackle. If there’s a downside, it’s the wonderful sound heard outside is toned down a bit inside – though the S63 is still a luxury-limo and it sounds better than the Jaguar XJR driven last month.

Mid-range acceleration is phenomenal with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Unsurprisingly, it’s off the line that the difference between them is mostly felt. It certainly didn’t help that following 10 straight days of warm summer weather in the region, the clouds opened in time for our test drive.

Turning from one T-intersection the rear-drive S63 AMG scrabbled for grip before the stability control light strobed and briefly cut power. Where in the all-wheel-drive model your right foot can be dropped with all the subtlety of a boat anchor, the throttle in the rear-drive models needs to be treated as though you’re stepping on wet paint.

Although we left stability control firmly on for our drive – and it was mostly unobtrusive in wet bends – an AMG sport mode loosens the parameters.

The S63 AMG also gets cold-to-touch magnesium shift paddles with a manual mode that won’t auto-upshift and redline or shuffle back through gears manually.

The gearbox throttle blips neatly on downshifts coming into a corner but also takes a fraction too long responding to an upshift request, which at one point meant ramming into the engine cut-out briefly, despite the paddle having been slapped long before.

Mercedes-Benz AMG also admits it is working on the final calibration for the automatic transmission, which at times would give a slight clunk coming to rest at the lights as it shuffled back gears.

The Affalterbach performance division also says the S63 AMG isn’t intended to be the same balls-out proposition as a C63 AMG or even E63 AMG, but is instead an executive express with sporting intent.

That’s certainly how it feels. The electro-mechanical steering is brilliant, taking just 2.2 turns to go from full left lock, to full right, which helps make the S63 AMG feel smaller than it really is (a Toyota Corolla requires 3.2 turns, for example, which means more arm twirling is required). Even better, the system is slick and feelsome, although the heavier weighting in Sport mode isn’t necessary – Comfort’s lightness is no barrier to feedback.

The S63 AMG feels a bit nose-heavy and blunt at the front end, though equally it feels surprisingly light on its feet and obviously grippy, even in soaked conditions. A harder drive in the dry is really required to test AMG’s claim of huge dynamic improvement over the outgoing car.

When it arrives in December with the rest of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class range, the S63 AMG will cost a fraction over $400,000 but it will be substantially better equipped than both the outgoing model and the Euro-spec new model.

Optional overseas, but standard locally, will be heated and ventilated front and rear seats, dynamic front seats, panoramic sunroof, surround camera, LED headlights, hands-free access, Burmester sound (tier one of two) and red brake callipers.

That’s in addition to the pioneering full list of active safety systems that come under the banner of Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive (read more here).

By far the element that makes the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG absolutely feel its worth, and warrant the $100K-plus extra over the Jaguar XJR, is the interior, which near-perfectly blends old-world charm with thoroughly modern detailing.

Take the quilted-leather dashboard, two-spoke steering wheel and woodgrain, which interplays with two huge colour screens that ‘float’ ahead of the dashboard and score ice-blue lighting outline.

Carbonfibre and alcantara trimmings befit the sports-luxury image of the S63 AMG, while the Affalterbach logo on the (heated) centre console lid literally stamps the S-Class interior with more authority.

It may be expensive and grandiose, but the S63 AMG isn’t garish or overdone.

It is superbly finished and spacious, astonishingly fast yet also quiet, fantastic to steer at a decent pace yet still with benchmark ride quality, and teams grippy and composed handling with a full armour of active safety gear.

The cliché you get what you pay for certainly rings true with the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG … with the single exception of course being that no Australian can pay for that final ‘four’ wheel drive.