The twin-turbo V8 engine of the latest Mercedes S63 AMG delivers 577bhp and 664lb ft of torque. To convert all that oomph into traction, the top-of-the-line AMG S-class is for the first time available with four-wheel drive. UK buyers will only get the option of a rear-drive S63 to start with, but Mercedes has confirmed it'll offer 4Matic in right-hand drive cars later in the S63's life.
What differences are there between the Mercedes S63 AMG and a regular S-class?
A short walkaround is all it takes to reveal plenty of new details. The exhaust tailpipes can now play two different tunes: Metallica featuring Kayne West in Manual and Sport, and Wagner meets Bruckner in Comfort for controlled efficiency. The starter battery comes in the shape of a tiny silver box stuffed with lithium ion energy cells - it weighs 20kg less than its counterpart in the S500. Instead of running on standard 19in rims, our long-wheelbase specimen boasts optional 20-inchers shod with 255/40 tyres in the front and with 285/35 Continental ContiSportContacts in the rear.
We've got a lightly camouflaged S63 with AMG boss Ola Källenius at the wheel and engineering director Tobias Moers in the passenger seat. ‘At a glance, this car may look like a faster S-class,’ says Källenius with a broad smile. ‘But creating yet another high-performance saloon would not have matched the brief. This time, we conceived a proper four-door sports car.’
Another extra fitted to the silver-metallic mule are lightweight carbon-ceramic brakes with massive 420mm rotors in the front. ‘All in all, we managed to reduce the weight by 100kg,’ states Tobias Moers. ‘To reach this aim, all body panels, the roof and the entire front-end structure are made of aluminum.’
What about the S63’s cabin?
Inside, too, the S63 looks decidedly sportier than the emphatically plush volume models. The sports seats have been extensively reshaped, the cabin is littered with AMG plaques and logos, the trim material of choice is perforated Nappa leather, the bespoke clock is courtesy of IWC, the two-spoke steering-wheel features a thicker rim and larger shift paddles, and the animated speedo and rev counter display bespoke graphics and red-over-silver virtual needles.
A new so-called Set-Up menu can be summoned to show the gear indicator, the chosen drive programme, the current damper setting and the ESP mode. Those with spare cash to burn may in addition specify exterior and interior carbon packs, a choice of Burmester speakers and amplifiers, fully electric first-class rear seat accomodation with an energizing 'hot stone massage' function, plus adaptive LED lighting and a host of driver assistance systems.
And the four-wheel drive system?
All-wheel drive, or 4Matic in Merc-speak, is only available in combination with the long-wheelbase body. While the standard-wheelbase, rear-wheel drive version is equipped with the Magic Body Control suspension which employs a stereo camera to scan the road surface ahead, the 4Matic model relies on the AMG Ride Control sports suspension complete with Airmatic air suspension and adjustable dampers.
What’s the S63 AMG like on the move?
Time for a quick spin around the block. On a quiet back straight, Ola Källenius stops the car, holds it with his left foot on the brake, turns the Speedshift gear selector to Manual, dials in ESP Sport, then floors the throttle. Like a bat out of hell, the 2070kg chariot lunges forward, spinning its rear wheels ever so slightly as it gains momentum in time-warp style, the exhaust barking angrily to mark the split-second upshift into second gear, and at 4000rpm we are picking up speed, and noise, and flies, and excitement again. The sprint from 0 to 62mph takes only 4.0sec, a 0.4sec improvement over the rear-wheel drive version.
Redlined at 6400rpm, the 577bhp 5461cc twin-turbo V8 spreads its maximum torque of 664lb ft from 2250 to 3750prm. The average fuel consumption varies between 27.4mpg and 27.9mpg, marginally bettering the outgoing model.
Driver change. Now it is Tobias Moers who turns the Affalterbach hinterland into his own private Nordschleife. ‘Although the power output went up by 40bhp, the real-life economy improved by 5%,’ claims the R&D boss. ‘4Matic does not only solve all traction problems, it also is an important stability factor and a safety enhancing option. Fitted with the rear-bias 4WD system, the S63 AMG can now be driven with almost the same verve and ambition as the SL63 AMG. To push out the handling and roadholding envelope even further, we developed an uprated front axle, variable-rate sports steering and a choice of two different chassis settings.’
Watching the keen driver put this saloon-on-steroids through its paces is a real eye-opener. Turn-in is immediate, linear and positive; grip and control astound even on broken up tarmac; ESP Sport permits small sidesteps but never a dangerous deviation from the chosen line; the handling is nicely balanced up to a point where steering and throttle start sharing the reins; the carbon-ceramic brakes let you peep a couple of car lengths past the apex without punishing you for your curiosity; the manual shift programme coordinates the intake choir, the soloists who blip the throttle, and the vocal counter-tenors in the exhaust orchestra.
Priced at just under €165,000 (£140,200), in Germany the S63 AMG 4Matic is actually less expensive than the model it replaces. True, an Audi S8 is only 0.2sec slower off the mark and about £60,000 more affordable overall, but at 479lb ft against 664lb ft, it simply cannot match the grunt of the big-bore V8. Its packaging is also is much more constrained, and the ride quality lacks the progressive compliance of the Big Bad Benz.
The BMW M6 Gran Coupe and the Panamera Turbo S are not near as spacious and comfortable as the S63 AMG either, so you probably have to look at the new Bentley Flying Spur, the Maserati Quattroporte V8 or the upcoming Jaguar XJR for alternative inspiration. Better still, check out the ultimate S-class AMG is preparing for a mid-2014 introduction. Again badged S65 AMG, the new cream-of-the-crop saloon is powered by a tweaked V12 engine which produces 635bhp and 737lb ft, more than enough to make the widest rear tyres scream for mercy.