Mercedes S63 AMG review
Mercedes S63 AMG is performance flagship of all-new S-Class range. It's powerful but has a high price
The Mercedes S-Class sits at the pinnacle of the brand's incredibly expansive range, and the hardcore AMG versions are designed to add an extra dose of dynamic ability and searing performance into what is already the most complete executive saloon on sale.
AMG has a long history of working its magic on big Mercedes saloons. Its first race car was a 300 SEL powered by a 6.8-litre V8. Nicknamed the Red Pig due to its paint colour and appetite for fuel and tyres, it finished second in the 1971 Spa 24 Hours. It proved to be the template for big Benz saloons with powerful V8 engines that continues today with the new S63 AMG.
In the UK the S63 will make up a very small fraction of total sales, which is why it's only available in rear-wheel drive form, with the extended wheelbase for maximum possible legroom.
European buyers have the option of a new 4MATIC four-wheel drive version but this gets a different suspension system to cope with the added bulk and weight of the system. This version of the S-Class also gets bespoke styling tweaks and lightweight upgrades that make it 100kgs lighter than the previous version.
A twin-turbo V12 S-Class with even more power and torque was revealed at the Los Angeles and Tokyo Motor shows, and will sit at the very top of the Mercedes range when it goes on sale in 2014, badged as the S65 AMG. A coupe version of the S-Class is also in the works, with an S63 model likely to follow, which should be significantly lighter and more agile than the stretched two-tonne saloon.
Our choice: Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG long wheelbase
Engines, performance and drive
It’s still the world’s most comfortable and refined luxury saloon, but the new S-Class is also more engaging to drive than ever.
Unsurprisingly, AMG’s engineers haven’t squandered this accomplished starting point – in fact, whether you’re driving slowly or cruising on the motorway, it’s easy to forget exactly how much power the S63 has.
It rides just as well as a S350 CDI, and has a similarly whisper-quiet interior. However, don’t be fooled by the refinement – with 577bhp and a huge 900Nm of torque, the S63 delivers pulverising performance. It covers 0-60mph in a mere 4.4 seconds, while the huge wave of torque on offer means in-gear response is effortless.
On the road, the combination of a hushed cabin and quick-revving V8 allows the S63 to mask its speed better than nearly any other car – especially as the engine has a surprisingly subdued exhaust note. That said, there’s a nice growl at start-up.
The biggest surprise is the way the S-Class copes on twisty tarmac, though. In spite of its size and two-tonne-plus kerbweight, it corners flat with little fuss, and has great turn-in and lots of grip. The Jaguar XJR is a bit sharper, but the S63’s steering is more naturally weighted and just as precise.
Overall, the S63 lacks the tamed muscle car edge of smaller AMG models, yet it’s an incredible all-rounder that adds serious pace without sacrificing the things that make the standard S-Class great.
Mercedes fits the special 'Magic Body Control' system as standard too - it scans the road ahead for bumps and prepares the suspension for a pillowy smooth ride. In the S63 it's modified and doesn't work when the car is in Sport mode, but for a super saloon the S63 is far more comfortable than the likes of the Jaguar XJR and Audi S8. Refinement is superb as well with barely a whisper of wind or road noise even at very high cruising speeds.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Apart from the eye-watering asking price, the S63 will also be a seriously expensive proposition as an everyday driver. It does get start/stop as standard and the gearbox has a setting called 'controlled efficiency' which selects the gears with economy in mind, starting the car in second gear to save fuel. Yet despite these features, and several lightweight add ons the S-Class still only manages 27mpg combined and emits 237g/km of CO2.
The six-figure S63 is more expensive than the rival Jaguar XJR, plus it’s a pricier company car choice – a higher-band earner will pay £16,614 a year in tax.
Depreciation will be the biggest concern for private buyers. With predicted residuals of 45.4 per cent, you’re likely to lose £65,282 over three years – that’s more than the list price of a new S350 SE. However, the Jaguar’s residuals are even worse.
Group 50 insurance will mean high premiums, while a tax disc is £475. At least fixed-price servicing of £48 per month makes maintenance easy to budget for.
Interior, design and technology
The best fast luxury saloons effortlessly blend grace with pace. Over-the-top spoilers and stickers would look out of place on an S-Class, and the S63 strikes just the right balance.
With different front and rear bumper lips, chrome-plated twin-exhaust trims and discreet V8 BiTurbo badges, it takes a more delicate approach than other AMG models. Still, the chrome window line and sill follower perfectly frame the classy saloon’s proportions.
As with other S-Class models, the front grille is topped by the famous free-standing three-pointed star and flanked by swept-back headlamps. Meanwhile, the sweeping roofline, all-LED lighting and neat tail help the big Mercedes look bang up-to-date.
It’s when you step inside that the S-Class really looks and feels like one of the best cars in the world. The inviting and beautifully built cabin is dominated by two vast 12.3-inch screens: one for the speedo, rev counter and trip computer, the other for the navigation. There’s also a two-spoke multifunction wheel and nicely damped silver-finish switches.
As you’d expect, the fit, finish and material quality are sensational, while the S63 gets an IWC clock, AMG door sills and pedals, plus fantastic sports seats. Atmospheric lighting provides a selection of seven colours, from racy red to relaxing ice blue.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for a standard kit list that reflects the six-figure price, although there’s still plenty of potential for expensive personalisation.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Thanks to its stretched wheelbase, the S63 AMG is almost 5.3 metres in length, which is about the same as the new Range Rover.
As you’d expect, there’s no shortage of space in the S-Class, particularly in the long-wheelbase model. There’s plenty of headroom too, and the boot is large at 510 litres - easily enough room for two or three large suitcases. However that size does also make it feel a bit unwieldy around town - the sheer size making some narrow side streets and parking spots a real squeeze.
Clever 360-degree cameras and sensors help deal with the size though, and labour saving features like the DISTRONIC PLUS adaptive cruise control and night-vision camera all make the S63 a relaxing car to drive over very long distances.
Rear passenger comfort is pretty much unparralled, but be warned, as the reclining 'Executive' seat package that contributes to this high level of comfort is an expensive cost option, even on the flagship AMG.
Reliability and Safety
With a long tradition of quality and durability, the S-Class promises to be reliable. Better still, Mercedes finished an excellent fifth in our Driver Power 2013 owner satisfaction survey, while its dealers were ranked in 12th place overall.
But it’s the car’s safety systems that really impress. While Euro NCAP hasn’t crash-tested the new model yet, its predecessor was one of the safest models on the road, and this latest one will be better still. The suitably extensive kit list includes eight airbags, stability control, Collision Prevention Assist, Crosswind Assist and the Attention Assist tiredness monitor.
The S63 also gets the Driver Assistance pack as standard. It combines blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control with Active Lane Keep Assist and Steer Assist. The former steers the car back into lane if it senses you’re drifting across the white lines, while the latter steers automatically if cruise control is engaged – although you must keep your hands on the wheel.