Mercedes' S63 AMG flexes its bulging muscles

A few months ago, I reviewed an example of the new S-Class and noted that while the two-tonne, $300,000-plus S500 limousine was hardly for everyone, the Mercedes-Benz flagship was a “stunning statement about how brilliant modern engineering can be”.

No reconsiderations there, and I have since had a chance to try a couple of other variants, including the formidable S63.

This is the “hot-rodded” AMG version with considerably more get-up-and-go than the S500, which itself has a twin-turbocharged 4.66-litre V8 developing a handy 335kW of power and 700 Nm of torque. The S500 will hit 100km/h in 4.8 seconds; for most people, that might be seen as enough.

But there’s always someone who wants more, and for that reason Benz (and its AMG division) makes the S63. The twin-turbo V8 has been stretched out to 5.46 litres and delivers 430kW and an amazing 900Nm.

The S63’s rest to 100km/h time – a strange exclusion from the official specification sheet – is 4.4 seconds flat, or about 10 per cent quicker than the S500’s. It should be able to do 4.0 seconds flat, but it needs all-wheel drive. Alas, Benz’s 4MATIC system is available overseas on the S63, but in another example of Australians getting less, despite paying more, for us it’s a case of rear-drive only.

It’s nothing to do with geographic discrimination, it’s right-hand drive discrimination. There was a problem adapting the gearbox and its front driveshaft, apparently. Maybe next time.

Even with two-wheel drive, the performance is suitably eye-widening; though in normal Australian road conditions you aren’t going to scrape even the surfaces of its abilities.

The way the S63 can be thrown around belies its considerable size and weight. The way it takes off, or accelerates from mid-range speeds, gives hints of an old-fashioned muscle car – if anyone had made one this refined.


More a grand tourer

Nonetheless, it is more grand tourer than hard-edged sports machine. For sheer fun, something like the little A45 AMG hatch would trump it.

At $385,000 (plus on-road costs), the S63 is exactly $100,000 dearer than the hard-to-fault-in-any-department S500. Therefore, you could always consider an S500 for the week and an A45 AMG for the weekends. You’d be about $25K ahead, too.

The S63 not big enough? There is a long-wheelbase option. This makes it 130 millimetres longer, at 5.25 metres, and $12,500 more expensive. The extra length goes straight into rear doors and rear legroom. The boot size – an acceptable but hardly gigantic 510 litres – remains the same.

The S63’s seven-speed gearbox has paddle-shifts; the engine is near silent in comfort mode and becomes suitably raucous in sport mode by opening up the restrictor flaps in the exhaust. Composite brakes are fitted for the ultimate in fade-free stopping from high speed.

Sitting on 20-inch wheels and with a sports-tuned spring suspension system, rather than the adaptive air suspension fitted to the S500, this could be a jittery ride. However, the skill of Benz’s suspension engineers, and a feature known as magic body control, means the rear-drive S63 rides, well, like a limousine.

A $9600 option on lesser S-Class models, magic body control uses a stereo camera that scans the road into the distance, looking for bumps and potholes.

Win for Aussie buyers

Having assessed what’s coming up, it calculates how to best adjust the damping on each wheel. It sounds madly complex and perhaps madly unnecessary, but it certainly seems to do the job. It won’t work on the 4MATIC versions either, so that’s one win for Australian buyers.

I wonder if anyone has even made such a sporty machine with a ride this silken. In comfort mode, it is extraordinary. In sport mode, which firms things up by about 40 per cent, the S63 is still more comfortable than it has any right to be.

Inside, our car had classy black leather sports seats with stitched leather on the dashboard and doors, and an elaborate Affalterbach crest embossed on the centre front armrest (Affalterbach, near Stuttgart, is where AMG has its headquarters). The AMG lettering is to be found pretty well everywhere, including on the smaller and thicker perforated leather steering wheel, the centre screen at start-up, and the speedo.

This speedo is calibrated to a not-entirely-necessary 330km/h, considering the S63 is electronically limited to 250km/h. Apparently without the restrictor the top speed would be 312km/h. For what that’s worth.

All the functional aspects of the standard car, including the ultra-wide floating screen in the centre of the dash, are there and they all work beautifully. The build quality and solidity are superb.

Standard equipment runs for a few pages of the brochure. Briefly, it includes keyless entry and start, auto-close boot, spectacular LED interior lighting, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control and something close to the full suite of the company’s active and passive safety systems. The car will steer you back into a lane, for example, if you start drifting. When the rain pounded down and the streets turned greasy late in my test drive I did think all-wheel drive would be handy. The back could be made to step out a little, though the nanny systems were quick to catch it.

I’m not hugely enthusiastic about the external appearance. The S63 is loaded up with an AMG bodykit that, to these eyes at least, make the car look slightly smaller and less sharp-edged (and therefore a little dated). That could be an eccentric view. It attracts plenty of attention.

A greater use of aluminium for the body means a weight saving means of about 100 kilograms over the previous model.

If this leads to any real world fuel saving, it is hard to notice. The digital gauge – which gives the available fuel as a percentage – seems to go from 100 to zero almost as quickly as the S63 goes from zero to 100.

Fun, though.

Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG

$385,000 excluding on road costs ($390,300 as tested)

5.46-litre twin-turbo V8 (petrol); 430kW/900Nm

11.3L/100km (combined cycle); 264g/km

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