Mercedes S65 Designo

S-Class’s ‘king of bling’ model proves it has substance to match its style

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

While the credit crunch has changed many things, it hasn’t dulled the S-Class’s options list. Nor has it stopped Merc thinking up new ways for its buyers to customise their cars. The S65 is truly impressive: a celebration of all that’s possible when imagination, not budget, is the sole limiting factor.

OK, so a single swallow doesn’t make a summer. But if forecasting a return to good times is your thing, you will be buoyed by the UK arrival of Mercedes’ limited-edition S65 AMG designo.

Its very existence should be to financial experts what crows nesting high in trees is to old wives: a good sign that the climate is heating up. With an on-the-road price of £170,990, it’s about the most expensive Mercedes S-Class money can buy – but can it really justify its megabucks price tag?

In a word, yes. From the back seat, there’s no better way to look like the chairman of an FTSE 100 listed company. From the front, you can indulge your dreams of challenging Michael Schumacher lap-for-lap around a Formula One circuit. Few cars can match this model’s amazing blend of straight-line pace and spot-on refinement. At full throttle it will momentarily spin its wheels in first, second and third gears of the five-speed box. Its 612bhp and 1,000Nm of torque propel the car from 0-62mph in only 4.4 seconds, despite weighing a hefty 2,700kg.

Top speed is limited to 155mph – but the digital speedo reads right the way around to a fearsome 220mph. We have few doubts that, free of its leash, the S65 would have no problem getting close to the benchmark 200mph.

With three valves per cylinder, the S65’s 5.9-litre V12 twin-turbo isn’t quite cutting-edge technology – yet what it lacks in space-age design, it more than makes up for with class. Press the alloy starter button and the unit bursts noisily into life before settling to a near silent idle. From the wheel, the change of exhaust note as you accelerate through the rev range is audible, but not invasive. Full-throttle charges through the box might generate plenty of speed, but the S-Class never appears ruffled. And despite the fact that the car’s underpinnings are now some five years old, it still seems remarkably good to drive.

AMG-badged, 20-inch alloy wheels offer plenty of grip, and the hydraulically assisted power-steering provides accuracy and feel in equal measure. Composite brakes give fade-free performance – even under heavy use.

The transmission swaps cogs smoothly and efficiently, while fuel economy is not as poor as the performance would lead you to expect. We squeezed 14mpg out of a tank – not far off the combined claim of 19.5mpg. But while the driving experience is impressive, it’s the AMG designo’s optional extras which really steal the show.

Pride of place has to go to the 18-carat gold designo badging between the rear seats – part of a £10,000 option that includes a leather roof lining and quilted hide door trims. It might sound a little over the top, but the results are beautiful. The quality of the workmanship is first-rate.

Predictably, standard kit levels are also very high. There is intelligent cruise control, satellite navigation, parking guidance and more. So much more, in fact, that we could fill these two pages with the details.

Of course, we won’t. After all, what more would it tell you about a car that celebrates excess in such a measured, refined fashion?

Rival: Bentley Conti Flying Spur Supersports Bentley ticks all the same boxes as the S65 – huge performance, road presence, individuality, rarity – but can’t match the Merc’s chassis or cutting-edge technology.

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