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If you are one of those folks with a healthy fascination in big, impressive ships, you’ll be familiar with the spectacular luxury cruise liner Queen Mary 2. Give or take, it’s got 155,000bhp – which is a lot. But, weighing in at 79,000 tonnes, in power-to-weight terms that’s nowhere near as much as this new Mercedes-AMG S63.
Often seen as the luxury cruise liner of the road, the S-Class has had a midlife nip and tuck. In the S63, this has delivered a downsized but more powerful engine: the 604bhp twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 from the E63 S, in place of the 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8. With the S63 weighing in at just over two tonnes, that means a power-to-weight ratio of 300bhp – more than a Lamborghini Countach QV and way more than the QM2. We’ll discuss performance in a moment, but just bear those stats in mind.
What else is new? Well, cylinder deactivation – where four of its eight cylinders can automatically switch off under light loads – means the new 4.0-litre version is more efficient than the old S63. Inside, there’s an infotainment upgrade, with the two 12.3in screens that dominated the dashboard now neatly integrated under one piece of glass, along with a new multifunction steering wheel with touch-sensitive controls.
Further enhancements include the GPS-guided adaptive cruise control. This not only steers for you and accelerates and brakes relative to other traffic, but it will also now slow down to an appropriate speed for upcoming bends, whatever speed you’ve asked the system to maintain.
2017 Mercedes-AMG S63 on the road
To describe the S63 as fast is rather downplaying it. Let’s describe it this way: you’re ensconced in this luxurious cabin, peering out to the horizon. Then, with a quick dab of the accelerator, what seemed to be a very long way away is suddenly whizzing past your starboard side in a blur.
It is utterly incongruous that a car of this size and heft is capable of these speeds. And not simply regarding the S63’s pace, but the way its engine responds. There is some turbo lag, but not a lot, from where it delivers relentless surge until the nine-speed automatic gearbox flicks up another gear. That's something the gearbox does seamlessly, most of the time; on occasion, mainly around town, it does get a little knotted up, sending a jolt through the interior.
That’s because this is AMG’s MCT 'box. It’s basically a standard auto – not a dual-clutch unit – with the torque converter replaced by a clutch pack. This means it’s able to cope with the S63’s monumental 664lb ft of torque without detonating and helps it achieve faster shift times (and super-fast when using the paddles to change gear manually), but you don’t get quite the same smoothness when cruising as you do in a regular S-Class.
But little about the S63 is regular, such as the noise it makes. Luxury limos should sound hushed, right? Well, if you don’t activate the sports exhaust, the S63 is reasonably muted. But press the switch diagrammed with a couple of exhaust tailpipes – this may as well be called the ‘angry switch’ – and this luxury limo sounds quite nettled. In a good way, that is – like a riled-up Hagrid about to lump that beastly Lucius Malfoy.
Riding on big 20in wheels with barely any side profile, the ride is more brittle than a standard S-Class over anything with a sharp edge, but the standard air suspension still extracts the sting out of things 95% of the time. And despite the fatness of the tyres – 255/40s at the front and 285/35s at the rear – somehow road noise at 70mph is well choked, as is wind noise.
What’s perhaps most surprising is that this two-tonne barge handles rather neatly. Okay, there’s quite a lot of body lean in the softest Comfort mode, but flick to Sport or Sport+ and it will turn in keenly and control its heft well. The variable-ratio sports steering is quick at slow speeds to make it nimbler around town, but it clams down at speed, so you can trust its progression and confidence-inspiring weight.
There’s one facet that will either frustrate or delight. The S63 is rear-wheel drive, and all that power and surge going through just two back wheels makes the car pretty lively. So much so that, in the wet, you need to be really tender with the throttle to avoid lighting up those big rear tyres. If you enjoy that kind of challenge, you’ll love it; but if you prefer just to press and go, think about the four-wheel-drive BMW M760i or forthcoming new Audi S8 instead.
2017 Mercedes-AMG S63 interior
Typical S-Class standards of luxury abound, with nearly every surface you care to mention wrapped in soft nappa leather or finished in glinting chrome. It looks fabulous. However, being purely objective, you can bring into question the solidity of some of the fixtures and fittings compared with the latest A8 and 7 Series.
That new one-piece look for the infotainment and instrument panel screens tidies up the dashboard area but, sadly, its functionality remains dubious – at times, there’s a delay of a second or two between pressing a button and the function you want actually materialising.
Yet there’s absolutely no doubt, for luxury travel, front or rear, that the S-Class remains right at the forefront of the class. For a full breakdown of why, including exactly how many acres you have to stretch out in and what the massaging function is like, have a read of our full S-Class review here.
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