Ride Review: Mercedes-Benz S-Class
This is the greatest car ever made.
You may argue otherwise, but consider how much this lofty title was earned by the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It shifted the luxury market when luxury became too grandiose and out of scale. Instead of the fattest car becoming the fattest cat amongst the grand automobiles, there was scale to be considered. Things were scalable by quality, efficiency, and attaining the right size for a luxury car.
That was in 1972 when a new S-Class made its debut in North America. All of the sudden we embraced the Mercedes-Benz as the ultimate gift to the luxury car buyer. Namely, the S-Class was the car to get when you made it to the top.
Over four decades on, a new S-Class debuts. Granted, the flagship had its ups and downs when finding the right combination of excellence. Yet, no one would deny its place in the pantheon of luxury cars. This new model may have taken the S-Class to a new level.
The S-Class may have jumped into a new paradigm. One reserved for more bespoke brands. Perhaps it was time for such a quantum leap.
To frame the new S-Class, it would take a consolidation of the remnants of Maybach to meld into a design that requires certain elements to be the flagship of the line. The grille is more prominent than before, shaped as integral to the entire design. Headlamps that are bold, bright, and beautiful. A side profile that is sweeping with curves and subtle design surfaces. This leads to a rear end that integrates the best of what Daimler AG had to offer in over a century.
In short, the new S-Class is the most beautiful generation in its history. This will elicit arguments—my own offering up the 1970s for comparison. However, I will also put into consideration the most popular S-Class ever: the one from the 1980s. The new S-Class has an ambiance and presence that made that car an icon in the 1980s. Though forward thinking and looking, there is no denying the history the S-Class honors in its current form.
The model being driven here is the S63 AMG. AMGs usually arrive with aggressive details, including grille textures and performance bits. However, if you did not pay attention to the badges and the twenty-inch black alloy wheels, you might think it looks like any other S-Class. Well, yes, but that is what attracts us to the S-Class in the first place: the luxury and presence of the car regardless of what is under the hood.
The same thing could be said with one of the most advanced and bespoke interiors even created for a Mercedes-Benz. For North America, we get a long wheelbase that offers up a spacious cabin both front and back. If the space is not enough, settle into the sports contoured seats inside the AMG model. There are plenty of adjustments to work through from the door controls, as well as from the COMAND screen. Front occupants also get the option of several massage settings, including a hot stone treatment.
Rear passengers are treated to the same sports contoured seating, with a few differences. These seats have power adjustments available from each door, including a recline feature. There is a folding center armrest with storage and duel cup holders. You also get your own skylight and power-operated shades for the rear and door windows for the ultimate in privacy.
The instrument panel is a complete break from history. With two wide screens across the top, circular vents, and an IWC Schaffhausen analog timepiece, there is a mix of old and new amid the bespoke detailing around these features. The screens offer many options for set-up. The instrumentation screen in front of the driver provides excellent readouts for all vehicle functions, trip information, and a night vision screen in-between the speedometer and tachometer.
Toward the center of the car is the COMAND screen. From the large dial on the console, you have control of the audio system, navigation, Bluetooth-connected mobile devices, and other vehicle functions aside from the additional seat adjustments.
If there is one detail around the cabin that will blow you away, it would be the astounding detail from the Burmester audio system’s speakers. On the A-pillars, speakers come out when the audio system is played. There are also speakers in the headliner; just a part of a 13-speaker system emitting surround and 3-D sound. This is one the best audio setups in any automobile today.
Once you are settled into the S63, you are in for a surprise. Before you find out what is under the hood, drive it for a bit. It simply feels smooth, elegant and poised. What if you found out there is a hand-built, 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V8 under that hood? The buttery-smooth AMG engine puts out 577 horsepower with 664 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent through a seven-speed multi-clutch gearbox (called AMG Speedshift) that includes an ECO setting, along with a Sport mode to make full use of those 577 horses. The final drive is through Mercedes-Benz’s 4Matic all-wheel drive system. This is an unsurpassed driveline befitting a top shelf flagship sedan.
Though it is an AMG model, the ride and handling mix is nothing short of excellent. The ride is not too firm or soft, just absolutely perfect. You go through the curves flat—no lean or roll present. One could switch the suspension set-up from Comfort to Sport for a firmer driving experience. You will find the S63 as taut, lithe, and poised even at the firmer setting. One cannot ignore the lovely set of Continental Z-rated tires shod on twenty-inch black forged ten-spoke alloy wheels. They provide fine grip when you need it.
Being a big car, another huge surprise is the steering system. The best way to describe it would be perfect. The on-center feel is excellent, with the right amount of weight on the turns. Though the turning radius is a bit on the big side, the feel through these maneuvers is superb. Brakes are strong and do stop short for a car of its size. The brakes have an excellent feel and offer balanced stops in both normal and panic situations.
Though this is such a lovely car, there is one down side: fuel economy. The S63 averaged 17.0MPG, which was actually expected.
If you are exploring the S-Class, your starting point is the S550 with its 449-horsepower twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8. That starts off at $93,325. If the S63 AMG tickles your fancy, be prepared to spend a lot of money. The sticker on this S63 tester came out to $163,835. New for 2015 are a pair of V12 models: the S600 and the S65 AMG, the latter putting out 621 horsepower.
Greatness is the one word that pops up when the S63 was driven. It is the kind of greatness that attracts surprised eyes near and afar. The S-Class has always been a car that commanded attention, embodied presence, and offered the ultimate in functional elegance. As much as I deeply honor the history of this car, this new model is perhaps the greatest S-Class of them all.
To make this point further, you have to compare the advanced technology, design excellence, and astute presence of this S-Class with other flagship sedans. No matter the price point, high or low, the new S-Class achieved something some cars only recently achieved for their brightest moment: absolute excellence.
In making this conclusion, one thing happened while driving this car. One does not jump into this car and drive off. You have to respect it, to be gentle with it at first. Then, it gets used to you and vice versa. This is the magic of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It knows how much I cost, as I certainly do. Once you get through the nuances of COMAND and how gentle this 577-horsepower monster truly is, the S63 AMG becomes friendlier and more enjoyable to drive. I felt relaxed every time I got behind the wheel of it—only a few cars could say that in recent times.
With that said, I can say with utter confidence that this is currently the greatest car in the world.