With 612 horsepower and 900Nm torque at your disposal in the new 2018 Mercedes-AMG S63, the most impressive feature is a little metal button on the left spoke of the steering wheel, that takes it all away from you.
Touch it, and the car assumes control. It goes, it stops, it accelerates and slows, reads road signs, pedestrians, adjusts speed rolling into towns, changes lanes, overtakes… The car, overtakes! And if you put the chassis from Comfort into Sport mode, it brakes nervously late for sweeping corners. Bring willpower.
Oh, and Dh640,000.
I’m not on an empty airfield surrounded by bubble wrap either. This is the real world with real traffic and real people. And not just any people, Swiss people, in Switzerland, that won’t let you into their house unless you take your shoes off, and where you’re not allowed to wash your car on a Sunday, or hang your laundry out to dry, or mow the lawn. You can imagine the sticklers’ shock and outrage seeing a nut in an S63 with no hands on the wheel.
The S-Class features Level 2 autonomous capability and more gadgets than are actually legal in most markets around the world. On the autonomous move, as per German law, the car starts beeping after a while and handing control back to the human driver but these are just regulatory trivialities. As always, technology is ahead of the lawmakers.
Way ahead. We already crossed over into Germany…
On the autobahn the 2018 S63 will drive itself up to 200kph, tested and confirmed, with Mercedes’ latest Distronic cruise control system keeping distance using a combination of cameras, radar and satellite data to see the road 250 metres ahead. You need only interfere when you want to change lanes and pass a slower car, merely flicking the indicator to initiate the move.
We could stay on this autonomous topic for the remainder of this test drive — the technology is incredibly accessible. Within minutes I was too deep in a political debate with my colleague from another magazine to mind the car. I don’t get the big trust issue — for me it was easy to hand control away to a computer when the computer does a better job of motoring along smoothly than I do.
In an S-Class this stuff makes even more sense with deeply cushioned seats and luxury all around you and a quiet interior that isolates you from life’s responsibilities. I found the driverless features to work so well, that the only issue I can think of is an inappropriate level of nonchalance. I’m not sure if anyone should be this relaxed wielding a 612-horsepower, two-tonne cruise missile.
To take back control all you have to do is reach out for any of the controls, a pedal or the wheel, and fate is in your hands again. And suddenly it’s responsibility I’m not so comfortable with — a lot of car, a lot of money, and a poorly insured journalist… Where’s that little metal button again?
I really do love this Level 2 autonomous stuff. The new 4.0-litre twin turbocharged V8 — the most powerful iteration of this AMG engine yet, more powerful than even Affalterbach’s ‘Ring-running AMG GT R supercar — is appealing enough too. It replaces the old 5.5-litre with the standard combo of more power and improved economy. This thing will do zero to 100kph in 3.5 seconds with all-corner traction off the line and utterly brutal acceleration pretty much unhinged, all the way to its top speed. If the headrests weren’t this plushly cushioned I’d be hurting right now.
Back on hilly, twisty Swiss roads, the big Merc is defiant. Corners and hairpins don’t uncover any ugly truths, just amazement at this much car straddling so little tarmac, at speeds that would probably be irresponsible in a C63 let alone an S63 two sizes up. I love me a super saloon, but this is indulgence on an almost anti-social level. Bunkered in leather and wood and mood lighting and scented air conditioning, I feel almost irresponsible motoring around Europe in this sensitive time of uncertainty and class tension. Almost.
I don’t get the big trust issue — for me it was easy to hand control away to a computer when the computer does a better job of motoring along smoothly than I do.
Then you put foot and 900Nm of torque whooshes you away from all the glares. The thing about the 99 per cent is they’ve never driven an S63…
Really want to stick it to the proletariat? Wait for the V12-engined S65 due in the Middle East this November. Otherwise the V8-engined cars — S 450, S 560 and AMG S63 — are already available.
If you absolutely do not require the flagship model just for the sake of it, the S63 with its extra 27 horsepower over predecessor model is good enough — it rides as supply as a hovercraft and if it wasn’t for the low spoiler you feel you could ramp any speed bump at any speed.
The steering is light and subdued — you don’t have to anticipate anything. Driving this car fast is a kind of instinctive reflex. The system is electro mechanical and asks for no exertion. In Comfort mode, which is really the mode, the S63 quells engine noise, smoothens the gear changes (now a nine-speed instead of the old seven-speed) and lightens up the steering effort further. Increasingly it’s apparent this car aims to strip you of responsibilities, and considering what a monumental chore driving in traffic can be, the 2018 S63 is likely a better mood enhancer than anything Pfizer can offer.
Magic Body Control (the trick road-reader) means that comfort is never compromised — unlike satellite navigation-guided systems, the Merc’s is real-time using cameras and sensors. Today the road might be smooth, but tomorrow, a cement truck may have passed by and dripped cement blotches all over the surface. Now it’s a bumpy mess. The satellites don’t know that but the S-Class does.
Inside, the car looks like one of those ice bars with diffused light everywhere. I just can’t imagine many rich people’s mansions with purple LEDs running the length of the roof gutter. It looks of the moment, which means it’ll date horribly. Think about the early digital dashboards in Eighties’ cars and how laughable they look now. But hey, a total of 24.6in of screen is the way to a holographic future, I guess…
I had to drop the car off at the Zurich airport and couldn’t think why anyone would pick a plane over this thing. If there’s an ocean in the way I’d understand, but otherwise the S63 is always the better option.
The only criticism I have — apart from the Hefneresque interior — is the AMG Track Pace App. Why would you take an all-wheel drive limo that drives itself better than you can to a race track? It’s even worse than Stuttgart’s laughable misconception of its own SUVs — you know, the ones Mercedes insists on launching on top of mountains even though people will barely climb a kerb in one of them things.
Other than that, the new S63 is probably the best car in the world. So I can only leave you with a famous industry quote, slightly amended for regional sensitivities: “If you can find a better car, ya’ani, buy it.”