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For most people, and for so long, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been the last word in premium automotive luxury. Unless, of course, it happens to be an AMG S63 with a virtual volcano lurking under the bonnet. Then it becomes a whole lot more than just a grandiose limo.
But here’s the thing – along with the latest upgrade that sees a staggering 6500 improvements over the old model, even the power-feasted S63 has now given in to the downsizing trend, but only when it comes to engine displacement, mind you.
In the interests of pure efficiency – that’s everything from fuel consumption to emissions and weight saving – Benz's legendary go-fast division has dropped the 5.5-litre biturbo V8 for the same 4.0-litre biturbo V8 in the E63 S. Here’s why: the old engine made a maximum of 420kW and 900Nm of torque, while the new powertrain belts out 450kW and the same colossal torque output between 2750–4500rpm.
There’s a new nine-speed auto transmission, too, replacing the previous seven-speed gearbox and claiming quicker throttle response. This is another seriously quick car from AMG capable of ferocious acceleration that’s all the more impressive given its grand proportions.
That said, this is yet another car we’d like to stick a V-Box on, because we reckon its claimed sprint time of 4.3 seconds to 100km/h feels decidedly undercooked – at least to this reviewer.
Pity, then, we don’t get the all-wheel-drive version that uses all-paw traction to extract a mind-blowing 3.5-second run. Apparently, it’s due to an engineering issue from left- to right-hand drive, which is why Australia is only offered the rear-wheel-drive version at this stage.
Either way, this is proper cutting-edge weaponry for car-loving CEOs and cashed-up truck fleet owners, but curiously enough, it’s not the thing that immediately impresses about this latest powerhouse Benz limo.
The S-Class is a spectacularly large, if not confronting, automobile for its sheer size alone – more than 5.3m in length and nearly 2.0m wide. Visually, it’s got massive road presence, stately even, and unmatched in the segment.
Rival makes like the Audi S8 and BMW M760Li measure 5147mm and 5238mm respectively, and frankly neither has ever quite achieved the same level of cachet as the now iconic S-Class.
Even before you hop in and explore the endless inventory of five-star luxury and cutting-edge gadgetry, you’ll find yourself subconsciously running a visual scan before nervously adjusting your schedule for user-friendly carparks only. Rim damage, or worse, on a high-performance Mercedes-AMG S63 just wouldn’t be acceptable – under any circumstances.
Inside, the big Benz is simply spectacular, with a cabin so ridiculously well appointed as to rival the very best in corporate jet fit-outs. Front and rear seats are beyond plush, while the headrests are goose-down-filled for next-level comfort. I mean, you can’t actually feel your head touching anything, so airy-soft are these pillows.
Rear-seat passengers will love the electrically adjustable seats – heated and ventilated, of course – not to mention the sun-shielding electric blinds for the side and rear windows.
Everywhere you look is a carefully balanced blend of soft-stitched leather, real wood veneer and polished metal accents. It looks and feels bespoke rather than the interior of a mass-produced model, albeit a high-end luxury one. The open-pore black ash is a modern-day take on old-world charm, but is trounced by the black-faced IWC clock – I only wish it doubled as a removable wristwatch.
Forget about traditional instrument dials and buttons too, the S-Class moved that game forward several years ago when it launched the current sixth-generation model. Instead, you’ll be blown away by the two giant-size 12.3-inch high-definition screens, front and centre of the driver, now fused by a thin slice of anti-glare glass. The clarity and colour definition are quite stunning, while sound from the Burmester audio system must be heard to be believed.
There’s a new AMG flat-bottom steering wheel that houses the cruise-control functions for the first time, replacing the old-school stalk for ease of use, but the wheel itself is a three-spoke design wrapped in Nappa leather and Alcantara for a decidedly racy AMG GT R look and feel about it.
And, as you would have every right to expect from its stratospheric price tag, the S63 boasts a truly exhaustive list of creature comforts, as well as a full suite of the latest active safety systems including Mercedes’s advanced cruise control, which along with steering assist even slows the car down for intersections, corners and toll booths (at least those that remain).
Even lane changes are semi-autonomous – you just indicate left or right and the steering assist will make the switch after cameras give the all-clear signal, but only on multi-lane roads. Either way, it all points towards fully autonomous driving – perhaps sooner than we might expect – in the case of Benz.
Basically, every bit of new tech that has been invented and engineered for the automotive industry is on board this car. Don’t even ask, trust us, it’s all there.
However, forgive me if this sounds a tad dismissive, but while all the kit, hide and theatrics are bound to persuade some, it’s not the big-ticket item that’s likely to convince those captains of industry to hand over $375,000 (plus on-roads) for their daily drive. That’ll be the AMG factor, and that alone.
It’s also a significant price bump from the $295,000 S560 L, which also gets the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, minus AMG’s tuning wizardry. Nevertheless, it’ll still go from a standing start to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds – three-tenths off the S63’s drag time.
At first, you tend to take it easy behind the wheel, locking in Comfort mode and mostly just enjoying the sublime opulence of a fully stacked S-Class cockpit. At least that’s how things kicked off as we made our way from Bathurst to Sydney recently.
In this mode, the steering feels light, though still quick and offering some feedback. In fact, all the other key parameters such as engine response, transmission, suspension ESP and all-wheel drive are automatically calibrated for refinement and smoothness.
The nine-speed transmission is new, ditching the torque converter for a clutch pack, but it’s doubtful you’ll notice any difference just ambling around town. But toggle through to Sport or Sport Plus as the road opens up and traffic thins, give it a good solid prod, and you’ll know you’re in one of the most powerful limos on the planet, but not at the expense of refinement, mind you.
There are very few dual-clutch boxes capable of such sharp cog-swapping, and just like the Mercedes-AMG E63 S there’s a perfectly good set of paddles attached to the steering wheel that you simply won’t need to touch, so instinctive is the transmission in this setting. Again, the rapid-fire downshifts with accompanying whip-crack-like throttle blips are meticulously timed and aurally intoxicating.
Blasting along these undulating, curve-infested B-roads at a decent rate of knots, it’s all too easy to forget there are a couple of lush leather recliners directly behind with more leg room than a Qantas business-class seat. Amazingly, the long-wheelbase chassis is still brilliantly composed and body roll is all but extinguished.
It feels right, too. The steering weight is always spot-on, brake pedal pressure the same, and throttle response goes from soft in Comfort to hair-trigger-rapid in Sport Plus. And despite its rear-wheel-drive architecture, traction and grip levels are high enough to allow proper exploitation of the S63’s huge power and torque reserves.
The ride, though, which is cushy in the least aggressive mode, firms up dramatically in Sport Plus. And like its smaller E63 S stablemate, any sharp-edged potholes are properly felt in this mode. But we think that’s a small price to pay for what is astounding agility and light-footedness.
It might seem at odds with its luxury car billing and giant-size proportions, but the S63 also happens to be a thoroughly inspiring driver’s car despite its humungous profile – to the point where it starts to feel almost chuckable once you’ve settled in. Ludicrous stuff, really.
Worth its asking price? You bet.
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