It's possible there's no better machine for annihilating hundreds of miles of rain-soaked Bavarian Autobahn than the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG. This German cruise missile, built from the 2014 Mercedes S-Class sedan, is injected with enough Affalterbach-sourced muscle — 128 additional horsepower, standard all-wheel drive, 4,800 pounds of road-crushing mass — to make left-lane dawdlers rethink their meandering ways.
And yes, even on the Autobahn, they dawdle.
Here's the routine: achieve sufficient speed that the rooster tail of spray erupting from the S63's tail gives it the appearance of an unlimited hydroplane. Then ignore standing water, wind and errant Fiat Doblos. And never, ever, lift.
You see in Germany, and especially here on unlimited stretches of the Autobahn, the S-Class commands respect. And when its three-pointed star arrives rapidly in their mirrors, the meandering masses scatter like roaches.
The Best Car in the World?
This, then, is the big dog. The silverback. So bold is the company about the S-Class' competence that Daimler chairman Dieter Zetsche twice called it the best car in the world at this year's Frankfurt auto show.
We spent two days in Germany and Austria finding out why. And on these roads, in these conditions, it's quickly made clear. A good bit of the S63's confidence is a result of its 4Matic all-wheel drive. Every 2014 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG coming to the U.S. gets this option in conjunction with the longer 124.6-inch wheelbase. And it's here, where the brute charges with utter indifference though standing water at triple-digit speeds, that the choice is clearly a good one. But that's hardly the only place it pays off.
Enter the Autobahn on a typically short, winding ramp, which today is wet, and confidence to enter the curve quickly and put your foot down early is abundant. There's stubbornness to the big sedan's grip that's always asking for more throttle.
577 Horsepower From the Big Motor
Well, OK, it's not really the big motor. That honor will go to the 6.0-liter V12-powered S65, which will debut later this year. But, for its part, the S63's 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V8 pulls no punches. Packing 577 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque, it represents a substantial gain over the base S550's 449 hp and 516 lb-ft.
The engine is mated to a seven-speed multiclutch automatic transmission shared with the SL63 and E63. In this application there's a power take-off from the output shaft that drives the front prop shaft and differential.
The paddle-shifted gearbox will hold revs in manual mode...not that many owners will need to do such a thing. Its steering feels somewhat synthetic, offering little sense of what's going on at the front tires. No reasonable person will take seriously the prospect of hammering a back road in the S-Class anyway: even the AMG-enhanced versions.
Sure, given its size and weight, its handling is respectable. But it's not rewarding. The car is massive: 17.3 feet long and 6.3 feet wide, and those dimensions largely preclude the confidence needed to genuinely attack corners.
It matters little. Because on modest bends and straight roads, there are few cars that match the S63's combination of confidence, speed and tranquility. Especially in the rain.
Still Comfortable in Sport Mode
Toggle from Comfort and Sport mode and you'll notice sharper throttle response coupled with more immediacy to shifts. In Sport the transmission lingers in lower gears longer, which provides more immediate response. The exhaust becomes more pronounced as well. In other words, it's a change that adjusts the car's character in a meaningful way.
Switch again to Manual mode and you've got full control of the gearbox coupled with the other changes. Here the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG differentiates itself from many large luxury-performance sedans by remaining in the selected gear regardless of vehicle or engine speed.
All S63s are air sprung and utilize a spring rate 100 percent higher than the S550. Dampers are adjustable and offer two settings: Sport and Comfort. But to be honest, there's little about the S63 that's disagreeable. The S-Class is a master of comfort and you'll sacrifice little of it in this AMG version.
Two Reasons for the All-Wheel Drive
The decision to give every S63 all-wheel drive is two-fold according to Rob Moran, Mercedes-Benz director of communications. First, there's a high concentration of AMG customers in states where the all-weather benefits are undeniable. Second, there's no cost to performance.
In fact, Mercedes claims the all-wheel-drive version of the car is quicker to 60 than the rear-drive version, which isn't sold in the U.S. And that time, claims Benz, is a staggering 3.9 seconds, though we think that might be marginally optimistic.
That this all-wheel-drive S63 manages to be up to 220 pounds lighter than the outgoing rear-drive version is a step in the right direction. The biggest bit of flab was shaved by replacing the previous car's lead-acid main battery and dry-cell backup battery with a single lithium-ion unit, cutting almost 45 pounds.
A carbon-fiber spare tire recess saves an additional 9 pounds or so. Word is this is a supplier test more than an actual weight-saving measure, which means we'll likely see more significant carbon bits on future AMG models.
Optional carbon-ceramic brake rotors (16.5 inches up front) further reduce weight. Pricing on them is yet to be announced, but it's safe to figure they'll be at least $10,000. Two optional 20-inch forged alloy wheels are available, but the standard 19-inch wheels are cast on U.S. cars.
You'll Know It's an AMG by These Details
Though its interior remains largely unchanged from the S550 in layout, details make the difference with AMG models and they're here in spades. One of those details is obvious every time you sit down. AMG-developed seats offer more lateral support than those in the S550, yet still live up to the expected standard. They offer all manner of luxury including optional heating, ventilation and massage. Leather interior trim is available in four colors.
LED lighting with seven color choices as well as an HVAC system capable of filtering, ionizing and perfuming the interior remains. The same 12.3-inch TFT display is used in the instrument cluster to show vitals but with an AMG-specific font and a silver/red presentation. Another 12.3-inch screen in the center of the dash displays navigation, audio, climate and other functions.
The backseats are equally luxurious. Four packages, including everything from tables to four-zone climate control to rear-seat video screens, are available for those who don't always prefer to drive. The Rear Seat package adds a footrest on the passenger side rear seat and allows the front seat to move forward an additional 3 inches.
Does Things the More Expensive Bentley Can't
It's a bit of a self-contradiction, the S63. Adding performance to a massive executive sedan is no doubt at odds with the car's very ethos. Still, they sell. Marco Witzel, AMG's engineering department project leader, probably clarified this car's character best. "It is the best compromise between the smooth, quiet luxury of the standard S-Class and the AMG mission to provide a car with power, drivability and sound."
That the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG is among the world's most capable, fast and luxurious sedans is certain. And after a few days of charging through rivers on the Autobahn, we've got every confidence the S63 can handle the Pacific Coast Highway through Newport Beach.
What's more, when it goes on sale in November starting at $140,475, it will be significantly more capable in inclement weather and $500 less costly than the car it replaces. That's also about $75,000 less than the soon-to-be updated 2013 Bentley Continental Flying Spur: a car that won't scatter left lane dawdlers nearly as effectively. At least not in Germany.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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