2014 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG First Test
Affalterbach Works its Magic Yet Again
For years, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been the standard for opulence, technology, and performance in the luxo-barge segment, and the bar is always set pretty high. So whenever AMG unleashes a new S63 variant, you can expect all that and more. The 2014 S63 AMG is no exception.
I should begin by saying our tester rang up at nearly $160,000, and for that kind of money I would expect nothing less than a rolling palace with warp drive capability. But the S63 AMG goes above and beyond the expected in terms of refinement and performance. Let's talk about the latter first. For 2014, the S63 AMG gets a version of the familiar M157 twin-turbo 5.5-liter V-8 found tuned to 577 hp and a whopping 664 lb-ft of torque. That represents a bump of 14 hp and 74 lb-ft over the previous S63. Helping to manage all that extra torque is standard 4Matic all-wheel drive, as all S63 AMG models sold in the U.S. are higher-spec S-Models by default. Those enhancements proved their worth in testing.
The S63 AMG scooted its 4914-pound bulk to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds -- beating Mercedes' estimate of 3.9 seconds and crushing the time of the last S63 we tested, a 2012 model that posted a 4.3-second result. That's a full second faster than the 2014 S550 4Matic, which isn't surprising given the S63's 122-hp, 144-lb-ft advantage. The 2014 S63 also completed the quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds at 115.5 mph, besting its rear-drive predecessor by 0.4 seconds and more than a whole second quicker than the S550 4Matic. The lighter, less powerful 2014 Jaguar XJR matched the AMG in the quarter, but was a tenth slower to 60 mph. Compared to the 7 Series-based BMW Alpina B7, the S63 was 0.6 seconds faster to 60 mph and half a second faster in the quarter. But the monstrously fast Audi S8, with its twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 claimed to produce 520 hp and 481 lb-ft, is still the one to beat in terms of outright speed, posting a 3.5-second 0-60 time and 11.8-second quarter.
The S63 AMG matched or beat the competition in almost every other performance measurement. Braking from 60-0 mph occurs in 100 feet, a foot more than the XJR but 4 feet and 7 feet less than the B7 and S8, respectively. The AMG's max lateral acceleration was par for the course at 0.91 g on average, matching the XJR and just barely edging out the S8's 0.90 g, and the B7's 0.89 g. A figure-eight time of 25.0 seconds at 0.79 g average puts the S63 right on the pace of the S8, which completed the course in 25.1 seconds at 0.79 g. The Jag is slightly quicker at 24.8 seconds at 0.79 g, while the BMW is nearly a second slower at 25.9 seconds and 0.75 g on average. Naturally, everything has improved since the last rear-drive S63 we tested, which stopped from 60-0 mph in 116 feet, held 0.89 g on the skidpad, and completed the figure-eight in 26.0 seconds at 0.73 g.
But what can't be expressed through numbers is how smoothly the all-wheel-drive S63 AMG carried out these tasks. You might expect flinging a nearly 5000-pound luxury car around a handling course to feel somewhat nautical, but the experience got only raves from the testing crew. The car's AMG-tuned, 4Matic-specific adaptive air suspension can take a good chunk of the credit, as it continuously adjusts damping to reduce body roll. Also helping are stiffer bushings and a larger rear stabilizer bar compared to the standard S-Class. The adaptive suspension features two selectable modes, including "Sport," which stiffens the dampers and tightens the steering (or more accurately, increases effort). That steering can feel a bit numb at times, but not nearly as disconnected as you'd expect a flagship luxury sedan -- even a sporty variant -- to feel. In "Comfort" mode, the S63 makes use of the front-mounted stereo camera also found on the standard S-Class, which can scan the road ahead and tell the suspension how to compensate for bumps and other rough surfaces. The result is a glass-smooth ride that has no equal even in the world of ultra-luxe sedans. Though its time was fast, the S63 couldn't easily be coaxed into a slide on the figure-eight. This can be chalked up to the all-wheel drive as well as the stability control system, which didn't seem to be fully defeatable.
The S63 has more power than most people will ever need, and it certainly had enough for my purposes of tooling around L.A. Taking off from a stop is pretty uneventful, as traction control puts a stop to any antics that could get you cited for "gross display of horsepower," but once you're going you're really going. I've never used the word "effortless" so many times in the span of one week. Just a stab of the accelerator is all it takes to achieve extra-legal speeds. Just as power is ample, the standard AMG steel brakes are also more than enough for most mere mortals, though carbon-ceramic brakes measuring 16.5 inches in the front -- the largest production ceramic rotors in the world -- are available if you want bragging rights. Although the hefty Benz has no problem coming to a stop, I felt an uncharacteristic vibration that seemed to come from the driveline upon deceleration. One other editor also noticed the roughness, but neither of us could pinpoint the source.
If you can afford an S63, conserving fuel probably isn't among your chief concerns. But if you do want to stretch your fill-ups to the max -- or simply want to spare the environment a few grams of CO2 every now and then -- the standard start-stop feature works pretty well. If it weren't for the growl from the AMG's quad-tipped exhaust, you'd probably barely notice the engine kicking back on. For those who prefer to hear the hand-built twin-turbo V-8's sweet music all day, every day, start-stop can be switched off.
The first thing you notice when you step inside the S63 is that it feels very much like its S550 sibling. The additions from Affalterbach are subtle -- nothing is in your face. Inside, the S63 is an S-Class first, and an AMG second. That said, the touches that are unique to the S63 are well executed. Accents like the AMG crest embossed on the leather center armrest, IWC-designed analog clock with milled metal hands and bezel, and unique instrument cluster featuring the "V8 Biturbo" logo all serve as pleasant reminders that you're driving something even more special than the guy next door with his S550. The S63 gets AMG sport seats with a hot stone massage function, which feels great on colder days. During the early days of May when Southern California was starting to warm up, however, I wished you could turn off the heat. Our tester had the $800 Designo Brown Sunburst Myrtle Wood trim option, along with the $950 Executive Trim package, which added even more class to the interior. It also had the $6400 Burmester 3D audio system, which pumps out crystal-clear sound, but more importantly adds ring radiator tweeters that twirl magnificently out of the door panels in order to find the optimal acoustic position -- and delight first-time passengers. Everything just feels high-quality. From the Alcantara headliner to the COMAND control knob that operates the bright, clear, and spectacularly wide central display, the S63's interior just makes you want to touch every surface of the cabin.
Speaking of the S-Class' double-wide screen, virtually every one of the car's functions is customizable through the infotainment system. Everything from ambient interior light color and intensity to massage program and seat support to air system fragrance (our car came with the $350 Air Balance package with ionizer and perfumer) can be adjusted easily using the COMAND knob. It took awhile to become familiar with the system's many menus, but after a few days it was easy to navigate. Driving the S63 AMG has its rewards, but arguably the best seats in the house are behind the driver. A $2600 Warmth and Comfort package granted our tester heated and ventilated rear seats, a heated center armrest, and the cushiest headrests I've ever experienced. They might as well call it the "have a nice nap" package. And being that this is an S-Class, rear legroom is more than adequate.
With its starting price of $140,425, the S63 is out of reach for most -- and our car's as-tested price of $159,895 puts it even farther into the realm of fantasy. That also places it more than $40,000 above the base price of an S550 4Matic. But if you want a very fast S-Class, you probably won't be disappointed after paying that premium. And compared to a Bentley Flying Spur or Rolls-Royce Ghost, that's a relative bargain -- especially considering that the new S63 can run circles around both those luxury heavyweights. The S63 AMG may not be the very last word in excess, but it's one that carries enough prestige to fit right in at the country club -- and get you there quickly and in plenty of style. AMG's latest take on the Mercedes S-Class has improved the breed, and will ensure that the car remains the standard in its class for years to come.
|2014 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$159,895|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||5.5L/577-hp/664-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4914 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||208.1 x 80.0 x 59.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.1 sec @ 115.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||100 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.91 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.0 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||15/23/18 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||225/147 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.09 lb/mile|