- Published: Saturday, 29 July 2017 08:03
Velvet sledgehammer - AMG's 600bhp S 63 gets the new biturbo V8
NEUHAUSEN OB ECK, GERMANY — Mercedes-Benz’s Sonderklasse (German for ‘Special’ Class), also known by its more familiar S-Class moniker, is the star of the three-pointed star’s stable.
Like the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series, a car like this is typically the flagship for its brand - but it’s hard to apply such a broad stroke to the S-Class nowadays, because Mercedes-Benz has integrated the once-standalone ‘Maybach’ into its fold. Like the Mercedes-AMG naming change, the ultra-exclusive Mercedes-Maybach cars are basically extensively reworked S-Class models.
Names aside, the current W222 debuted in 2013 is now getting its scheduled facelift, but Merc has started combining the launch of AMG and regular variants into a single event, which means the precious available drive-time now needs to be divvied up across two or more models.
Visually, the facelift sees subtle new front and rear redesigns, but naturally, the S 63 boasts the most sporty elements; the V12 S 65 adds chrome accents to the 63’s sporty aesthetics.
Apart from the commanding front grille and large motorsports-inspired air-dams, you may recognise the stylised ‘Jetwing’ design element from the AMG GT R sportscar, with a three-dimensional lower splitter serving to reduce lift. In fact, that’s a common thread across the other sporty, long wheelbase limos in this genre, such as the Alpina B7 and BMW M760Li xDrive, which operate in the same super-limo segment.
As testament to the daily-use sensibilities of such limos, all the respective brands adopt a holistic philosophy to aerodynamics that reduces lift, as opposed to adding body-parts to increase downforce as you would for a track machine. Also, a giant GT wing on the back is special in the wrong sort of way for an S-Class.
The reason for this is multi-fold: firstly, more downforce results in higher drag and ultimately, a lower top speed due to the increased air-resistance, which inadvertently also has an impact on fuel consumption.
Weight is a perennial issue with cars of this size and girth, especially since they typically tip the scales at two+ tonnes. The AMG Lightweight Performance strategy comprises of lightweight components that are, or can be applied to the S 63 as a cost option, all of which can save up to 50kg. For instance, the lightweight lithium-ion starter battery alone saves more than 20kg (this was featured in the pre-facelift S 63 Coupe), while smart forged alloy rims with cost-optional carbon composite brakes and a spare-wheel recess made of F1-derived carbon complete the package. After all, reducing unsprung mass is a surefire way to enhance the car’s agility as well.
With the current E 63 S and now the S 63, it looks like Mercedes-AMG is upping the ante in terms of dynamic performance, since it probably recognises that the age demographic for such cars is dropping. Furthermore, in the case of the S 63 (and also the B7 and M760Li), folks no longer look at you strangely for deciding to self-drive (as opposed to being chauffeur-driven).
Naturally, the cabin is properly luxurious and this author even dozed off in the back while another colleague was tackling the mountain roads. There’s some new enhancements to the cabin that alter the ambient colour (64 colours! Go wild!) and scent to suit your preference.
The drivetrain and heart of our demo S 63 are adopted from the E 63 S, which means it is animated by a biturbo 4.0-litre V8 mated to the very engaging 4Matic+ variable all-wheel drivetrain. Unfortunately, although the E 63 S is available in RHD with this perfect package, right-hand-drive S 63s bound for Singapore will only be available in rear-wheel-drive.
According to the AMG engineers on-site, there were technical difficulties involved in adapting the 4Matic+ for use in a RHD, which makes the fact that it is available on the E 63 S even more perplexing. This is the same issue for the Alpina B7, which is available only as rear-drive for right-hand-drive models, so it is only the M760Li that comes to us with all-wheel-drive, albeit with active rear steer to impart the limo with extremely engaging dynamics.
AMG’s work with the 4Matic+ has resulted in a variable drive system, whereby it can operate in both all-wheel-drive when the roads are slippery, as well as fully rear-drive. The combination of its two-tonne kerbweight and 900Nm can make it tricky to drive in slippery conditions, which is where the 4Matic+ proved its weight in gold, since sometimes, you just want to make brisk progress in the wet without concentrating too hard on keeping the rear-end at bay.
On the dry bits and in the Sport+ driving mode, the S 63 lets you push hard in the corners, as the nine-speed auto offers quick-shifts and the biturbo’d 4.0-litre, explosive energy. We’d found the biturbo 5.5-litre V8 on the pre-facelift models to be more leisurely than urgent, especially with regards to the shifts from the old seven-speed auto.
Of course, one could argue that’s par for the course for such grand tourers, but having the gusto to play tag with more dedicated sports machines is always thrilling. 3.5secs from 0-100km/h is deep in sportscar territory, but the S 63 now has the handling panache to show many other sporty machines a clean set of heels on the winding roads. The optional carbon composite brakes provided great confidence while braking deep into the corners, as well as let you rein-in the two-tonne behemoth corner after corner after corner without flagging.
Unless you’re keeping an eye on the speedo, the S 63 puts on speed so quickly (we touched vmax without batting an eyelid) it defies belief, which is also partly because of how plushly insulated the cabin is. Despite the snap-crackle-pop rowdy ruckus it kicks up through the tail-pipes, you’ll need to wind the windows down, or be standing outside during a blast-by to properly appreciate the V8’s naughty soundtrack.
With brands experimenting with different ways to vary the handling characteristics of all-wheel-drive, such as AMG’s variable system for instance, it’s now possible to have your cake and eat it. If you don’t believe in it, you can kiss this S goodbye as you watch it hurtle towards the horizon. That’s all you’ll be seeing of this S, anyway.
NEED TO KNOW Mercedes-AMG S 63 4MATIC+
Engine 3,982cc, 32V, V8 biturbo
Power 612hp at 5500-6000rpm
Torque 900Nm at 2750-4500rpm
Gearbox 9-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h (electronically limited)
0-100km/h 3.5 seconds
Fuel efficiency 8.9L/100km
Availability est. 2018