2018 Mercedes-AMG S 63 Review: Curbed with Craig Cole

A Magnum-Caliber Merc

Nope, it’s absolutely impossible!

There’s simply no way a car this big and heavy can accelerate with such force. At more than 4,800 pounds (2,180 kg), with an overall length just shy of 207 inches (5,255 mm) the Mercedes-AMG S 63 has more in common with a houseboat than a sports car.

And yet this four-door super sedan can outrun some elite performance machines, tearing through 60 miles an hour in as little as 3.4 seconds. If you’re keeping track, that advertised time makes it faster than the likes of an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 or even Porsche’s 911 R. For those in a real hurry, top speed is electronically limited to 186 miles an hour (300 km/h).

This magnum-caliber Merc is equal parts flagship luxury sedan, muscle car, and physics-defying science experiment. Listen carefully and you can hear the engineers in Stuttgart shouting “Up yours, Newton!” because clearly, they have no regard for his so-called laws of motion.

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A Hand-Built Heart

Delivering merciless-yet-silken acceleration is a handmade 4.0-liter V8, the most potent iteration of this scrumptious AMG engine offered to date. Tuned for S-Class duty, it serves up 603 horsepower and a massive 664 pound-feet of peak torque.

Maximizing output from relatively small displacement, it features a pair of twin-scroll turbochargers nestled in the V. Cramming them in the center of the engine bay rather than hanging a blower off each cylinder head provides several important benefits including reduced exhaust emissions, quicker response times and far better packaging.

Curiously, this engine is under-square, meaning its bore is smaller than the stroke. Generally, this sort of configuration helps produce extra low-speed torque and is more thermally efficient. Despite those relatively long crankshaft throws, it will still spin to 7,000 rpm, giving drivers plenty of revs to play with.

Nein-Speed Automatic

Ensuring the S 63 isn’t a complete gas hog is a phalanx of fuel-saving technologies. Cylinder deactivation shuts half the pots down under light loads while engine stop-start kills combustion when the vehicle isn’t moving to further cut consumption. A small lithium-ion battery replaces a traditional lead-acid unit, while the spare-tire well is made of carbon fiber, both of which save weight. Thanks to plenty of advanced technology this menacing sedan should average around 20 miles per gallon in mixed driving (11.8 l/100 km), a more-than-respectable figure given the wicked speed it offers, though don’t expect that in real-world usage; 12 mpg is about what we got.

Further improving both acceleration and efficiency is an AMG Speedshift nine-speed automatic gearbox, which debuts in the application for 2018. For enhanced performance, it features a wet clutch in lieu of a traditional torque converter, which is lighter and more responsive. Its case is also made of magnesium, further cutting undesirable mass.

Unfortunately, this gearbox isn’t always the smoothest. It can judder a bit while taking off from a stop. Step off also seems soft in normal driving, like the engine and transmission aren’t completing their mechanical handshake quickly enough. Shifts quality isn’t always the smoothest, either.

3… 2… 1… Blast Off!

Providing this AMG land-yacht with seemingly endless traction and stability is a standard high-performance all-wheel-drive system that can shuffle torque around to each wheel like a Vegas Baccarat dealer tossing cards out at a table full of high-rollers.

Newly available in the S 63 is Race Start, a feature that makes it as easy to get to 60 in less than four seconds as it is to drive with two feet. Just have the engine warmed up and the car in either Sport or Sport+ mode, then stand on the brake pedal while burying the accelerator. The instrument cluster will cue you when things are copasetic, and the engine will rev up to an appropriate rpm, then just release the binders and away you go. The automaker advises against using this feature on the street, but in truth, the experience is so straightforward, so absent of frightening drama thanks to the unflappable traction provided by 4Matic there’s little reason not to give it a shot on an empty stretch of dry road. You’ll be dumbfounded how such a large car can accelerate with such ferocity.

Benchmark Quality

S-Class has set the standard for cabin quality in the luxury segment and the S 63 continues to push the bar even higher. Build quality is painstaking and the materials employed are nothing short of magnificent. The gorgeous perforated leather is slathered across the chairs, dash, and doors like gold leaf on the ceiling of a cathedral; the metal tweeter grilles with the optional Burmester sound system twist outward in an electronic ballet rivaling Tchaikovsky’s own Swan Lake.

Go crazy with options and you can treat your rear-seat passengers to world-class amenities like massaging buckets; a two-screen entertainment system; as well as heated door-panel and center-console armrests. Yes, our test car had all those goodies and many more.

Legroom in steerage is plentiful, with the optional reclining buckets making this car a killer road-trip machine. The optional center-console refrigerator is a welcome touch as well, even if it significantly reduces trunk space.

Back up front, the S-Class’ COMAND infotainment system has also been enhanced. A pair of 12.3-inch screens is mounted behind one glass panel for a seamless look.

But perhaps the bigger news is the addition of two touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel spokes. They let you easily swipe through different menus in the instrument cluster or even control the entire multimedia system. This helps make a complicated system just a little easier to operate, though the click wheel, touchpad or voice commands are still options as well.

The sheer amount of technology offered in this car is mind-bending. You could spend hours scrolling through one menu after another, changing the balance of the seat heaters, choosing one of 64 different colors for the ambient lighting system, adjusting the how the gauges are displayed. The breadth and depth of the features on offer is challenging to grasp.

And that’s part of the reason why this vehicle has such a princely price tag. The car starts at an astonishing $148,495, including $995 in delivery fees. Tack on Designo interior trim, Nappa leather, the AMG Exterior Night Package, 20-forged wheels, a pricey range of options packages benefitting rear-seat passengers and much, MUCH more and our tester checked out at $192,395. Though even optioned up as such it’s a relative bargain compared to the range-topping S 65, which starts at more than 230 grand and is slower, rear-drive only and makes do with “just” a seven-speed transmission.

One potential downside to this car’s dense features content and/or quality construction is connectivity. In testing, it behaved almost like a rolling Faraday cage, magically blocking cellular service, particularly when the signal was at less than full-strength. Curiously, I had to roll the windows down on more than one occasion to complete a phone call or access 4G/LTE data, an issue I’ve never faced before in-vehicle testing. Perhaps the S-Class really is built like a tank.

The Drive

As mentioned, acceleration is EFFORTLESS. The S 63 is down to boogie anytime, at any speed, in any gear. Just nail the accelerator pedal and hold on tight. But even in normal driving, there’s tons of torque so you don’t have to wind the engine out to get decent performance; it’s just as flexible as it is powerful.

Helping tailor the car’s performance to your mood, four different drive modes are offered: Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual. Naturally, the last one allows you tweak various vehicle setting to your liking, which let me leave the suspension in Comfort mode and put pretty much everything else in Sport, for more engagement with an appropriately smooth ride.

Much appreciated are discrete controls for the variable exhaust system, suspension and three-stage ESP, the latter of which can be shut completely off, though it does temporarily reengage during heavy braking to help save your bacon. As you’d expect, I liked leaving the exhaust uncorked to maximize burbles and pops, of which there are plenty.

Given its performance pedigree, this car handles remarkably well for something with the footprint of a garbage truck. S 63s feature an extra dose of front-wheel camber, a bigger stabilizer bar, and more rigid subframe mounts at the rear to help tighten things up.

A high-performance AMG air-suspension system is standard. Electronically controlled damping technology helps it respond to road conditions, quelling body roll, pitch, and dive for an ever-stable ride. This S-Class remains remarkably poised in every driving situation.

The Verdict: 2018 Mercedes-AMG S 63 Review

Storming down an Autobahn at triple-digit speed, taking your spouse out for a night at the opera, heading on a cross-country drive, the S 63 can do it all while offering borderline-obscene comfort and enough engagement to keep driving enthusiasts interested. Thanks to its broad range of capabilities this roadgoing missile is breaking all the rules.

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