Luxury and performance need not be mutually exclusive, as proved by this storming new Merc
|V8, twin-turbo, 4000cc||612hp @ 4,800rpm||664lb ft @ 2,750rpm||3.5sec||300kph||2070kg||$190,540|
The motoring world is at a tipping point. With electricity threatening the gas pump, countries abolishing diesel engines, tech companies investing in swarm self-driving systems and governments eyeing the traffic fine as a veritable and predictable source of revenue, the new Mercedes S63 AMG arrives at a digital battlefield seemingly armed with bows and arrows.
And on paper that’s exactly what we have here: a 4.0-litre V8 engine, with 612bhp and 664lb ft of torque, in a comfy saloon that weights 2,070kg and offers a top speed of 300kph. Impressive? Undoubtedly so but there’s a sense that this is just the same old story. Until we remember that it’s Mercedes we are talking about – arguably the most innovative and modern automaker in history.
Externally styling differences are plenty but subtle. The headlights now offer a multi-beam LED, and feature triple LED ‘eyebrows’. The lower air intakes are bigger and have a chromed outer rim and the front grille now has four horizontal segments separated by chromed double lines. The side profile has not changed much from an aesthetic perspective and the rear view differs, ever-so-slightly, in the diffuser, which on the new model occupies a space of its own.
My interest is piqued, however, with a couple of small details. One is the entirely aluminum body, which saves weight. Another is the carbon fibre spare wheel cover, which saves weight. And the third, a Li-Ion battery replacing the regular acid one, which also saves weight. In fact the whole package is about 100kg lighter than the previous version, which is a significant improvement.
On the inside, the AMG personality is immediately revealed. The steering wheel is flattened on its bottom and side edges. The pillars are covered with Alcantara and the seats, which offer additional lateral support, have the evocative AMG logo embossed on their backrests. The dashboard is dominated by a large TFT screen, with dials displayed in a variety of designs and personalisation options. This being the AMG S-Class, we can also access a bunch of nerdy data and, for the more simple-minded, lateral and longitudinal acceleration graphs.
My test drive entails a circuitous loop of the alps that begins in Switzerland, enters Germany and returns to Zurich. As luck would have it, the day starts rainy and ends sunny, giving me ample opportunity to drive in varying conditions. Me being used to Dubai’s climate, the Alpine air is too cold for these old bones so the cocooning S-Class is the nicest of refuges, especially with its heated and massaging seats.
Less impressive are the interface and main dashboard controls, with Mercedes now incorporating three touchpads – two on the steering wheel and one on the central console one to handle the infotainment system. These work relatively well once you get ahold of the menu and options structure but they can be rather sensitive. As a result, maneuvering out of streets and parking spots can change your dashboard, switch the radio station, deafen you, or redial a call.
The S-Class features a myriad of assist technologies for the driver. Through the use of both radar and cameras, the car steers, accelerates and brakes depending on the traffic. Further, it now detects turns and junctions, and the car will reduce speed automatically to safely negotiate them. Set the cruise control to 120kph and this Merc slows down when the speed limits decrease, thanks to the synchronisation between the navigation and IntelligentDrive systems, which is no small feat. It also reads road signs, reducing speed when approaching and passing temporary road works.
Additionally we have the various emergency stop triggers to protect pedestrians, objects and side traffic and, although it still requires you to hold the steering wheel, it seems quite clear this could be the last S-Class you need to actually drive. On the event of leaving the wheel to its own devices, the car will continue to drive avoiding all obstacles, will slow down, sound alarms and, if still unresponsive, will stop and place a call to emergency services. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, for this is a car positively dripping with unfathomable technology.
But this is an AMG, so there’s always a magnificent, hand built engine to talk about, too – in this case the same 4.0-litre, V8, bi-turbo engine that lives on the smaller E63 and C63 models, paired for the first time in an S-Class to a four-wheel drivetrain and a nine-speed automatic transmission. Here it produces 612bhp and 663lb ft of twist but, as outstanding as those figures are, the true highlight of the package is its 8.9L/100km economy and 203g/km CO2 emissions. To put this in perspective, these numbers are similar to those of a 2.4-litre Suzuki Grand Vitara.
Granted, these results are difficult to attain, especially when the right pedal commands such explosive performance from a machine that’s so progressive and controllable. Across the rainy mountain roads of Germany, the S63 moves about with outstanding aplomb, effectively hiding its two-tonne girth thanks to Mercedes’ trick ‘Airmatic’ suspension set-up.
It’s a serious performer, with its maker claiming 0-to-100kph time of just 3.5 seconds and I manage to crack an apparent 280kph on an unrestricted stretch of autobahn with surprisingly little drama, the S63’s prodigious torque available the instant I even feather the throttle. With enough space it will top out at 300kph, and that’s only because it’s electronically limited.
Some say the AMG badge on an S-Class is completely unnecessary; that it betrays the model’s traditional spirit of luxury, poise, presence and status. I would agree if the S63 was a rougher ride, with low profile tires and a trigger-happy throttle, but this magnificent machine has none of those things. It is as luxurious and discreet as any other and, when required, can show an Audi RS4 a clean pair of heels. What a car.