2015 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG
This is a different world. Mercedes PR reps informed me that the average buyer of the S63 AMG Coupe makes over $500,000 annually, and owns four cars. I don't make that kind of money, and I own one cheap car with a really screwed up passenger-side door. For now, however, I'm in this other world where I'm living large in Rhode Island on a constant stream of lobster and truffle fries with a brand-new, launch-edition Mercedes-Benz grand tourer at my disposal. It's good to be the king.
I started off my examination of the car by walking around it and then simply sitting in it for about half-an-hour, sheltering from the cold winds coming in off the sea. What makes this noteworthy is that I was doing this walking and sitting with the ever-enthusiastic Gorden Wagener, Mercedes-Benz head of global design. We talked a lot about the car in question, and made fun of a few of the less fortunate-looking vehicles to drive by.
Wagener has been designing Benzes for five years, but his designs have only started to hit the market in the past year or so, so this new style of Mercedes that we're seeing with the CLA, the C, the S, the AMG GT, and the S Coupe, is his baby. His philosophy is that the designer needs to start with proportions, and then work up from there. Then, he simplifies. "If you like it, remove a line. If you still like it, remove another line." The result, in this case, is a car that's proportioned in such a way that it looks small and sleek from the outside, yet feels spacious on the inside, and eschews the over-the-top surfacing that Bangle begat in favor of a more modern cleanliness. Wagener says that this design language is inspired by Bauhaus and the other major Germanic art movements of the last century. I say that the result is a car that, like many classic Benzes, will still look good even when today's trends have been wrung out and discarded.
The front of the car is characterized by the expected AMG grille, an A-line front splitter, the Swarovski crystal headlights, and the two "power bulges" that harken back to the 300SL. This is aggressive and attractive, but front fascias are the easy part. The brilliance of this design is the C-Pillar, which is where a lot of cars suddenly fall short. The rear fenders are wide and bulky, giving the S Coupe a much more sporty stance than the massive sedan upon which it's based, and the greenhouse area narrows and swoops down dramatically over those hips. All of this is done without any creases or even sharp turns in the sheet metal, and it gives the car a simultaneous sense of majesty and speed. You need to pet this car to fully understand its shape.
On the inside sits a pair of exquisitely comfortable, deeply contoured thrones and a pair of rear pseudo-seats that are standard for this segment. You could put small children or unwelcome guests back there. The driver and driver's sexy companion, on the other hand, are going to be extremely comfortable in seats that adjust every possible way. They're heated and cooled, have five massage functions (including "hot stone massage"), and inflate bladders in the side bolsters when cornering to hold the occupants in their proper places. Better still, everything you can touch, including the things you can see, is covered in leather, wood, or brushed aluminum. The low-mounted airbags and two-tier dashboard, with its recessed veneer and screen section, also gives the S Coupe an airy feel. It's a great place to spend a few hours.
Yes, the most striking aspects of this car are the design, but a beautiful car that drives like an E-350 is still a piece of crap, and that's why it was driven through three states (it's not hard to find the state line in RI), along some of the most shockingly picturesque roads I've ever encountered.
It's an AMG, so I'll start with the engine, which is built by one lovably anal-retentive German mechanic and signed as proof of such. The powerplant in the S63 is a twin-turbo, 5.5L V8 making 577 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque. 67% of that is sent to the rear wheels, while the other 33% are whisked away to spin the front wheels by the standard 4Matic system. In the past, I would have cried "sacrilege" after being told that an AMG Benz was equipped solely with all-wheel-drive, but the fact that the S Coupe always sends 67% to the rear means that it still feels like a rear driven car, it just magically gets more power to the pavement than two tires can by themselves. 60 miles per hour happens in only 3.9 seconds, and seriously criminal speeds are very close behind. There's even enough torque to kick the tail out a little bit, despite the AWD system.
When cruising, it flows nicely from corner to corner, and if you leave the various lane-keeping, steering assist, distronic, etc., etc., etc., engages, it basically drives itself. But when an opportunity to finally pass the row of vans ahead presents itself, everything changes. That V8 roars and the vans are naught but specks in the rear window, while the corner ahead is approaching uncomfortably quickly. Four massive carbon ceramic brakes (an $8,950 option) can bring 4,678 lbs of Germanic fury to a manageable speed with ease, however, and the AMG suspension keeps all that Benz planted firmly to the road.
The AWD makes it easier to drive than its RWD predecessors, but it doesn't get rid of the fun. It's not as terrifying as the last batch of AMGs, but it is still happy to play, if the driver wants to. For the actual buyers of the S63, not the horde of internet commenters hooning cheap Fox bodies and whining journalists, this is a much, much better balance of pragmatic and crazy. The crazy isn't gone, it's just placed conveniently in a box for when the driver calls upon it.
We didn't get a chance to drive the car on a closed course, but it's something I'd really like to do. It's too heavy to really be a true track monster, but I'd wager that a good driver could still set some fantastically quick lap times. It might be heavy, but it has more than enough power. The ability of the brakes and suspension are far, far beyond what you can do on a public road without becoming a felon. I hope I get to track this car some day.
There's one more aspect of this car that really deserves some ink, and that's the speaker system. The Burmester 3D sound is spectacular, and it had damn well better be, as it's a $6,400 upgrade. That's right, this car has a stereo upgrade that costs as much as a 2006 Mazda3. It's worth it. I've listened to a ton of different branded sound systems in cars, from Bowers and Wilkins to Beats by Dre, and this is, hands down, better than all of them. I listened to everything from hip-hop to Tchaikovsky, and with my eyes closed I could fool myself into thinking I was at a concert. These are the only speakers that have ever done that for me. They are so genuinely spectacular that I have this message for the well-to-do musical artists of the world: If this isn't your next car, you made the wrong choice.
It's hard to explain just how good this car is, but I think there's an anecdote that will get the message across. During the entire event, which had a number of Mercedes staff and about a dozen journalists in attendance, nobody once mentioned the BMW M6 or the Maserati GranTurismo. When people were talking about competitors, they were talking about the Bentley Continental GT and the Rolls-Royce Wraith. Journalists, including myself, were saying they would rather have the Benz than either the Flying B or the Royce, and PR reps were saying that Bentley owners were gushing over how much more they liked the S Coupe at Pebble Beach than their own cars. The Mercedes is like a clean, modern, and technologically advanced alternative to both of those grand tourers that costs much, much less money and is much, much less ostentatious.