The facelifted S-Class remains a technical tour-de-force delivering the very best that Mercedes-Benz can offer. And, despite what you might think, the S63 makes a whole lot of sense.
The savagery of the exhaust note at redline is utterly at odds with the gentile confines and bespoke mastery of the cabin, and yet on this stretch of German Autobahn, the 2018 Mercedes-AMG S63 4MATIC makes complete – if somewhat costly when it lands in Australia – sense.
I peel out from behind a Skoda Octavia wagon rolling along in the middle lane at a tick over 140km/h. Already in Sport+ mode, the S63 is ready to unleash its tarmac shredding potential, and as I move into the fast lane, I introduce the back side of the throttle pedal to the firewall in fairly unsophisticated fashion. Sir would never ask his S63 to deliver such crude performance. Or would he?
The gearbox drops back a few ratios – with the requisite throttle blip – and the digital tacho needle starts sweeping toward redline. Another gear, then another, over 200km/h with consummate ease, and before you know it, you’re beyond 240km/h and concerning yourself more with what’s going on ahead of you than either the tacho or speedo.
Alone for a quick blast on both the Autobahn and urban roads, it’s the last time I look at the speedo, but there’s little doubt the S63 AMG is a serious performance sedan, despite the undoubted focus on luxury.
A few things to note here. This is a facelift rather than a case of ‘all-new’ so there’s a lot that’s familiar about the 2018 S-Class if you’ve driven the outgoing model as I (and we at CarAdvice) have. Secondly, we don’t yet know where the local pricing will sit; that information will come closer to launch. Lastly, the AMG variant we test drive at launch is AWD, and we still don’t get that platform in Oz.
In many ways, the S-Class does and always has, represented the very best in automotive technology and indeed a pointer to the future. Technology that has, over the decades, debuted on the Mercedes-Benz flagship, trickles down to other vehicles in the stable over time. It means you don’t have to have S-Class style pockets to indulge in S-Class tech.
Where exactly does the monstrous AMG variant sit within the S-Class range? To be blunt, right in my garage if I had the money. The more I drive it, the more it makes sense. It’s the kind of S-Class you’d buy if money was no object, you love cars and you love driving them. Sure, it’s hard to argue that anyone needs eleventy million Newton metres and a bellowing V8 engine in a limousine, but since when has that mattered anyway?
The S-Class in general remains the limousine for the buyer who has ‘made it’ and if you’re a motoring fanatic who happens to have made it, the AMG S63 is undoubtedly your weapon of choice.
The engine and gearbox combination are spectacularly good with the downsizing regime – to a 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 – not resulting in a loss of weaponry at all. Its 450kW at 5500-6000rpm and 900Nm at 2750-4500rpm are proper performance outputs, while a combined 8.9L/100km fuel claim is pretty frugal when you're not assaulting the throttle pedal.
The cabin remains a work of art. The seats, the carpets, the leather trim, the stitching, every panel gap, every surface exudes quality and a bespoke feel. It isn’t of course, unlike competitors such as Rolls Royce or Bentley. The S-Class is a mass-produced car, and the fact that Mercedes-Benz has executed the finished product it has, is truly remarkable.
Modern technology such as the LCD gauge cluster, means the display can be customised to better suit the AMG’s sporting bent. Toggle through to Sport or Sport+ mode and the gauge display changes, glowing red, more purposeful and more, um, sporty.
The twin 12.3-inch screens are masterful in both design and display, now covered with a single piece of glass rather than the old model’s two separate pieces.
The S63 though, despite the undoubted quality of the cabin, is all about the driving. Most S-Class owners in Australia drive their own vehicle, and the S63 is perhaps the most glowing example of why you would.
On the subject of driving, a quick test of the autonomous driving system illustrates it is a step up from the excellent E-Class system we've tested before, indicating the incremental step forward each generation brings. It’s a very safe, linear experience, and you can even roll through roundabouts with it working. It’s very clever and a pointer in the direction of the future.
There’s no doubt that 4MATIC – AWD in everyone else’s world – is the best way to harness the thunderous torque delivery. We nail the throttle out of an intersection into a hard right turn, and there’s barely a hint of protest from the tyres, such is the smartness of the system. While there are few things more likely to get you grinning like a loon than a lurid power slide from a RWD performance saloon, safe deployment of power is the name of the game at this end of the price spectrum.
AWD doesn't dumb down the steering either, which remains sharp and direct – certainly more so than you’d ever expect from a large, long wheelbase sedan of this ilk. We spent some time on wet roads at launch too, and there’s absolutely no doubt AWD is the way to go as soon as its available in RHD.
There is brutal power on offer; it’s visible at all times really, simply a prod of the accelerator away, but it never overwhelms the feeling of luxury or quality either. Everything about the S63 feels sporty in fact, sportier than you’d demand from this platform and the exhaust note is of course amazing.
The different drive modes really change the character of the S63 too, and switching into either Sport or Sport+ results in sharper response, firmer suspension with less lean, sharper road holding, and snappier gear changes with an even more aggressive throttle blip. Most impressively, while the S63 is absolutely a large car, it never feels cumbersome or boat-like. It tends to shrink around you, and you only ever notice its heft on tight side streets in town.
The Mercedes-AMG S63 is a very special car in every sense of the world. The interior, especially, feels luxurious and bespoke, and the drive experience is every bit as engaging as it should be. Thud the door closed, and unless you want to assault the throttle pedal, you’re cocooned in calm and quiet, with not a care in the world as to the maelstrom outside.
Switch to Sport+ mode though and work that throttle and the gates of hell open. There’s no doubt in my mind that the S63 does exactly what it needs to do and what its makers intended from the outset. The theory of the world’s most luxurious mass-produced limousine having such sporting intent might not make sense on the surface, but I dare you to drive one and not agree that the S63 has nailed the brief.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images of the Mercedes-AMG S63.