Hang on a tick – didn’t you drive this last week?
No, that was the CL63, the coupe version of the S-class driven here. But I can understand your confusion. Mercedes has just taken the wraps off two of its mighty AMG cars in quick succession. Both big, bold, brisk and terrifically composed. The S63, which arrives here next March with a price tag around the £103,000 mark, is powered by AMG's hand-assembled but now almost ubiquitous 6208cc V8. Which means 525bhp at 6800rpm, 465lb ft at 5200rpm, a 911-beating 0-62mph time of 4.6 seconds and 155mph limited top speed. All wrapped up with some pretty serious AMG hardware.
It looks the business…
Yes, good point. With its lowered suspension, huge 19-inch alloys, vast dustbin-lid brake discs and beefy body kit, there’s a distinct air of body builder about the S63. And this is where the S63 hits its first – although arguably only – real problem. It’s no looker. Yes, yes, it’s mean and muscular and will turn heads. But of grace, proportion and resolution there is little to be seen. Those flared wheelarches and blunt nose may be loved by the Americans and Chinese, but I can’t help feeling that this generation S-class will age ever so quickly compared to its beautifully proportioned predecessor.
Still, bet it goes some?
And how. Like pretty much every Mercedes AMG shoehorns this magical naturally aspirated engine into, the S63 is a stormer. With almost arrogant disregard for its 2070kg kerb weight, the Mercedes rips into slower traffic with all the finesse of a marauding great white into a shoal of blue fin. It just decimates anything this side of a Gallardo with a flicker of disdain and a banshee wail of an exhaust note. And don’t forget the ABC active body control system, which all but eradicates cornering yaw, braking dive and accelerating pitch. This allows the S63 to be pushed really very hard through corners, and yes, you’ll never forget you're whipcracking over five metres of metal along, but it does one hell of a job of disguising its bulk. And those mammoth brakes are like brick walls – brush the left pedal and the S63 sheds chunks of speed with ease, time and time again.
But can it still waft and cosset like an S-class?
Yes. Despite the big wheels, low-profile rubber and tweaked ride, the S63’s suspension can still sponge away almost every intrusion. Road, tyre and wind noise are also well suppressed, leaving those aboard wonderfully insulated from the nasty outside world. Mercedes has, logically thinking, linked the adjustable suspension with the 7G-Tronic gearbox. Select Comfort and the car glides and the transmissions slips unnoticed between gears. In Sport, the ride sharpens and the gear changes are swifter but still pretty smooth. Opt for manual and the ride is rock hard and the shifts are whiplash vicious. Which means most drivers will fiddle with Sport and Manual for two minutes and stick to the default Comfort.
Looks like a nice set of pews in there…
They are. Tick some of the more extravagant options and you can have leather clad seats that can move in any and all directions, complete with extractor fans, heaters, bolsters that know when you are going around a corner with any degree of intent, and a small masseuse on twenty four hour call to rub away your aches and pains. They are the height of decadence but after an hour in their grip you’ll wonder how you can live without them. The rest of the cabin architecture is pretty dull though – that steering wheel is ugly and the luminescent dials are bereft of the vaguest hint of style and look horribly out of date already. That said it all looks and feels incredibly solid and symmetrical, the way a mid-80s Mercedes used to.
There’s no denying the deep-seated appeal of the S63. As a brisk and (relatively) understated means of bulleting from one side of a country or continent to the other in hushed comfort and space, it’s pretty much unbeatable. But for all its pace, comfort and luxury it lacks a certain quality – style. You see, for the money the standard S-class may be the most complete luxury car in the world, but it’s not a very good looking one is it? And no matter how complementary AMG’s visual upgrades are, the S-class is still a disappointingly unresolved piece of design. So the question that you need to ask yourself if you’re thinking of signing on the line is this – do you need the two extra doors? If you do, and you can live with those looks, then go ahead. You’ll be buying an incredibly competent bit of kit. If you don’t, best you get a CL63 instead. It’s far better looking, but more importantly, it’s feels and looks far more special. And in the upper-echelons of this market, that counts for everything.