What is it?
The entirely inevitable AMG version of the recently-launched S-Class. The S63 AMG uses a 576bhp version of Mercedes’s familiar 5.5-litre twin-turbocharged V8 and – in rear-wheel drive form – can dispatch the 0-62mph benchmark in just 4.4-secs. British sales start in November, and it costs a very serious £119,565 before options.
Subscribe to evo magazine
The S63’s engine is in the higher state of tune of the recently-launched E63 AMG S. Unlike other versions of the S-Class, which stick with Merc’s smooth-but-slushy 7G-Tronic torque converter autobox, the S63 uses the MCT auto, which combines a hydraulically actuated clutch with planetary gears to give punchier reactions.
All British S63s will be rear-drive, but in left-hand drive markets Mercedes is now offering the option of a 4-Matic four-wheel drive version, which uses a transfer box at the back of the gearbox to split torque between axles. Opting for this drops the 0-62mph time to just 4-seconds. The transfer shaft that carries drive to the front can’t fit past the right-hand drive steering rack, we’re told, which seems a bit of a miss given the popularity of all-paw drive performance models in the UK.
The S63 will also get Merc’s ‘Magic Body Control’ as standard, the system that uses stereoscopic cameras to ‘read’ the road and to adjust dampers accordingly. Buyers will also be able to choose a Driver’s Pack that increases the speed limiter from its standard 155mph to 186mph (£2760), or even full-on carbon composite brakes (£7090.)
How does it drive?
The S63 is big on effect, but short on drama. We drove both the four-wheel drive and the two-wheel drive version. And, at everyday speeds, the two cars are dynamically pretty much indistinguishable from each other. The rear-drive car has slightly lighter-feeling steering, but both offer similarly vast levels of grip, on dry tarmac at least.
It takes the combination of a slow corner and a big throttle opening to get the stability light in the two-wheel drive version flashing, although its fair to say that the 4-matic system we’re denied would have a far more obvious effect when conditions turn slippery. But even if you turn off the assistance systems, the S63 stays predictably sensible – it’s got none of the hooligan DNA of its smaller siblings. On tighter roads it hides its bulk remarkably well, although the steering lacks the sort of communication you’d find in a basic C63 AMG.
The V8 engine is as mighty as ever, with nearly as much charisma as power. It pulls relentlessly in the middle of its rev range, with the peak 664lb ft of torque arriving at just 2250rpm. At the top end it runs out of puff sooner than obvious rivals, the red line is set at 6200rpm and its easy to inadvertently find the limiter if you’re trying to change your own gears. But it’s brutally effective, and also delivers a full-chested V8 burble under hard use.
One big surprise is how close the S63 feels to the regular S-Class in terms of refinement and comfort. There are no noticeable penalties for picking the supposedly more hardcore model – it ride just as well, especially with the magic road-reading dampers doing their thing in the chassis’s ‘comfort’ mode. It’s quiet at cruising speeds, too – sitting on the Autobahn at 120mph with huge pace to spare.
There’s another side to this argument, of course – that the S63 might be lacking a bit of the excitement you’d expect from an AMG. There might be something in that, especially considering how charismatic the cheaper S500 petrol version is. But the sort of buyers drawn to the S63’s mega performance are unlikely to be put off by how civilised it is.
How does it compare?
This is where it gets tricky. On one hand the S63 AMG is a cut-price alternative to cars like the Bentley Flying Spur – which is £13,000 more expensive and considerably less well equipped, despite its standard W12 engine. But buyers looking for a similarly effortless high-speed express can also choose the Audi S8, which lacks the AMG’s ultimate dynamic focus and gives away 70bhp – but brings the four-wheel drive denied to British Merc buyers and costs a whopping £40,000 less. Even the £97,700 BMW M6 Gran Coupe, a car that looks expensive in most company, seems cheap next to the S-Class.
Anything else I should know?
A V12-powered S600 will follow, probably reaching the UK next year. In addition, there will almost certainly be a S65 AMG for anyone who thinks the 63 is lacking in pace.
|Engine||5461cc V8 twin-turbocharged, petrol|
|Max power||576bhp @ 5500rpm|
|Max torque||664lb ft @ 2250rpm - 3750rpm|
|0-60||4.4-sec (claimed 0-62mph)|
|Top speed||155mph (limited)|
|On sale||November 2013|