The brute power, luxurious roominess and remarkable technology of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG 4Matic make it a superior — albeit expensive — choice among ultra-luxury full-size sedans.
It's big news whenever Mercedes-Benz introduces a new S-Class. This is the automaker's flagship model — the technology showcase, the opportunity for the company to show just what it can do. I had my first taste of the S-Class in Toronto, driving European-spec cars on a brief but impressive jaunt into the Ontario lakes district in late 2013. I declared that one does not so much drive the S-Class as operate it, due to its astonishing level of technological wizardry. But now I've just spent a week in a new 2014 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG — the range-topping high-performance model with an even more powerful engine, unique styling and enhanced athletic abilities. Like the S550, it's received a significant update from its predecessor (compare the 2013 and 2014 S63 AMG here). Can adding a dose of power and flash turn the smooth-operating S550 into a driver's performance car?
Exterior & Styling
The S-Class always sets the styling theme for the rest of the lineup, and the new one is no exception. Its lines are already showing up in the new C-Class and CLA-Class, and likely will continue to proliferate throughout the Mercedes-Benz showroom. This is a good thing, as the S-Class is strikingly beautiful in person. It seems to stretch long and low, with a continuous arc forming a belt line for the car that's sexy without losing the formality the S-Class embodies.
The S63 AMG receives some subtle changes, such as a more aggressive front bumper with bigger air scoops, larger matte-finish wheels, and gloss-black and matte-silver trim all around. The visual changes that turn the S550 into the S63 aren't dramatic — one has to look for the AMG badges, but there's no shortage of them, adorning everything from the wheels to the brakes to the exhaust tips. One can specify matte-finish wheels and paint to give the car a more menacing look, but the overall appearance changes are subtle.
How It Drives
Just like the lesser S550 sedan, the S63 AMG is powered by a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8 engine that produces a massive 577 horsepower and 664 pounds-feet of torque — 41 hp more than last year's model. That power goes through a standard seven-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels. Thanks to a dedicated effort to reduce the S63's weight, the new model is 220 pounds lighter than last year's car, and both performance and fuel economy have improved. Mercedes-Benz says the new S63 AMG can go from zero to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds, topping out at an electronically limited 186 mph. Acceleration is positively explosive; just plant your foot and the huge Benz leaps forward with a muted roar. Too muted, frankly; the one thing missing from the S63 experience is a visceral soundtrack. The car doesn't seem that much louder than its sedate S550 cousin, and it's nothing like the snarling V-8 soundtrack in an SLS AMG coupe, for instance.
It won't matter what the car sounds like for long, as the rapidly approaching horizon will quickly focus your attention on what you're doing — and what you're doing is having a lot of fun. The S63 is a big, cushy luxury car with a highly damped ride that doesn't let many road imperfections into the cabin, with electric power steering that can be adjusted for a more sporty feel by switching from Comfort to Sport mode. The suspension and chassis have already received some sport-oriented changes over the S550, including a different front camber angle, a larger anti-roll bar and a stiffer subframe carrier for the rear axle. Lightweight 20-inch alloy wheels also help with the weight reduction and don't negatively impact ride quality or noise despite their low-profile tires.
The changes result in a big sedan that can dance, although it's not going to be mistaken for a true sports car anytime soon; it's just too big for that. Perhaps the best improvement comes from the brakes — two-piece AMG lightweight units that haul the S63 down from high speed like someone popped a drag chute. Do too many of these rapid stops, and you risk spraining your neck — the brakes are that strong.
Fuel economy is respectable for such a big motor in a heavy car: 15/23/18 mpg city/highway/combined, with my week of aggressive driving netting just less than 19 mpg overall. It's not exactly diesel territory, but it's only marginally worse than its main competitors, including the all-wheel-drive BMW Alpina B7 (16/24/19 mpg) and the Audi S8 (15/26/19 mpg). Cylinder deactivation and a stop-start mode for the engine help keep fuel economy at merely cringe-worthy levels and out of the truly appalling range.
Inside, it's 21st century technology meets traditional wood-and-leather luxury. There's a lot of space in the S63, and Mercedes uses it to good effect, with massive, highly bolstered and padded seats, some of the biggest and most comfortable automotive chairs I've ever parked myself in. They're nearly infinitely adjustable and feature Mercedes-Benz's active contour system, as well as heat, ventilation and several modes of massage.
Your driving position and outward visibility are excellent despite the car's high belt line. The backseats aren't quite as fancy as the fronts, but they're still immensely comfortable and offer plenty of legroom (this is a full-size Mercedes-Benz, after all). You can also specify an executive rear seat package for the backseat that turns it into a personalized lounge for true chauffeured comfort. The point of the S63 AMG, however, is to drive, not be driven.
Materials are all top-notch, with upgrades to the wood, leather, plastic and metal finishes in this latest generation S-Class that return the big Benz to its former status as a true top-tier luxury car. A dozen leather colors and patterns are available, with six wood and carbon-fiber trim options. The optional designo wood veneer in my test car was especially captivating. It took me a moment of staring to realize why I was gazing at it, only to realize it was because it changed depth along the dash from the doors to the center console, getting a darker stain as it approached the center of the car. It's beautifully done and feels expensive. The only questionable style element of the interior was the metal grilles on the Burmester speakers, resembling as they did a shower drain. It smelled a little like a shower in there too — a fruity, soapy smell that I determined was coming from the optional fragrance canister in the glove box, which was linked into the cabin air purifier. You can choose from one of four "moods" to set the olfactory ambiance of your S-Class (or presumably use your favorite cologne to make it smell like Sex Panther or whatever other musk captures your fancy). The system can be switched off if you'd prefer your car to smell like a new Mercedes-Benz (generally my preference).
Ergonomics & Electronics
The most noticeable feature of the S63's interior was the totally electronic dashboard. There are no gauges at all in the S-Class, just two massive screens stretching across the driver's field of vision — blank at first, but firing up with high-definition clarity once the keyless ignition button is pushed. Simulated gauges behind the steering wheel can be lightly reconfigured with an AMG setting to display additional vehicle metrics, but given the totally electronic nature of the display systems, it's surprising that it isn't more customizable. An easy-to-use rotary controller on the center console is surrounded by buttons for major systems. It's within easy reach, and after a few days of familiarization you won't have to take your eyes off the road to find the button you want. Another row of buttons, controlling functions like climate control, are arranged in a single narrow band on the dash. The overall look is clean and uncluttered, but it may take awhile to learn.
Mercedes-Benz' top-level Comand multimedia system is present, featuring navigation, voice controls, apps, a concierge service and more. An optional Splitview monitor even lets the front-seat passenger watch a DVD on the central display screen while preventing the driver from seeing it. All the vehicle's systems and the central display can be controlled by a handheld remote control similar to a TV remote, usable from any seat in the car.
Cargo & Storage
The S-Class may be a big car, but most of the space seems to have gone to passengers, as trunk space isn't exactly copious. The S63 AMG offers up 16.3 cubic feet of luggage room in the trunk (the rear seats do not fold down), which is not as big as the BMW B7 Alpina's 17.7 cubic feet but is considerably larger than the Audi S8's 13.2 cubic feet. To put this size into context, a Chevrolet Impala has 18.8 cubic feet of trunk space while a Volkswagen Jetta has 15.5 cubic feet.
The new S-Class has not yet been crash-tested. Like all new Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the S63 and all S-Class models have a lengthy list of both passive and active safety features that range from mundane to astonishing, meant to protect both the car's occupants and pedestrians who might encounter it on the street. The typical things are here, such as airbags and stability control, but so are some amazing features — like a night vision system with pedestrian detection that recognizes both two- and four-footed friends and outlines them in a red box on the night vision display. The S-Class' adaptive LED headlights also have the ability to selectively flash in the face of an oncoming detected pedestrian's — and only flash in their face — as the car approaches them, to warn them of the oncoming S63. The feature makes things like available lane departure warning, forward collision alert, automatic braking, adaptive cruise control with steering assist, lane keep assist and the host of other available systems seem almost mundane. Check out a list of the S63 AMG's safety features here.
Value in Its Class
All this technology does not come cheap. The regular S550 is already nearly a $100,000 car in the U.S., and stepping up to the S63 AMG 4Matic will cost you $140,425 including destination. My car had a few options, as well, including Night View Assist for $2,260, 10-spoke forged AMG wheels for $1,700, the designo exclusive trim package for $950, special wood trim for $800, the Splitview monitor for $710, the Warmth and Comfort Package for $2,600, a surround view camera for $900, the cabin air purification system with fragrance canister for $350, and the electronics-laden Driver Assistance Package for $2,800. Total cost including destination came to $153,495, which isn't terribly far from Bentley Flying Spur territory. Option an S63 up to your specs here.
The Bentley is still a bit more pricey than this, however, and might be a better competitor for the $167,825 V-12-powered Mercedes S600 sedan. The S63's two primary competitors are also German. The top BMW 7 Series is the B7 Alpina, featuring its own turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 engine that comes up a little short in the horsepower department — 540 hp to the Benz's 577 hp. Their starting prices are close, however, with the B7 starting at $132,225 with all-wheel drive (rear-wheel-drive and long-wheelbase versions are also available). The other option is the Audi S8, a sporting version of the A8 front-wheel-drive sedan. With standard quattro all-wheel drive, it sports the smallest engine of the three — a 520-hp, twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8. It's the smallest and least-expensive car here, too, with a starting sticker of $113,395. You can compare all three competitors here.