• Aug 7, 2008

2008 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG – Click above for high-res gallery

There was a time when what we might call super-sedans were largely the province of a dedicated cadre of aftermarket tuners. Companies like Brabus, Alpina and, of course, AMG would generally start with mid-sized German sedans and transform them into something truly special. AMG in particular came to the forefront in 1987 after two decades of building special Mercs when they unleashed the Hammer. They had been building cars for two decades already, but the Hammer took things to a new level by installing a 5.6L V8 from the 560SEC coupe modified with twin-cam four valve heads into the mid-size 300E sedan. With that car, AMG set off an arms race that continues to this day. The tuners are still out there but AMG was eventually brought in from the cold when it was bought by Mercedes-Benz. Today AMG produces high performance versions of almost all Mercedes models and standing near the pinnacle of the lineup is the S63 sedan. Find out what the AMG S63 is like to live with after the jump.



Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

The S63 is not quite the ultimate S-Class from Mercedes. That crown falls to the twin-turbo V12 S65. The S63 is instead powered by AMG's bespoke 6.2L naturally aspirated V8. AMG designed and built this exclusive V8 that is installed across the range of AMG badged models. Unlike previous AMG engines, this one shares no parts with standard Mercedes engines. In the S63 it generates 518 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque, enough to propel the 17-foot long, 4665-lb S63 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and achieve an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. Opting for the $7,000 performance package adds a 20-inch wheel/tire package, a limited slip differential and a reprogrammed speed limiter set to 186 mph. You might be asking yourself, what possible good is that extra 31 mph in the United States where there is nowhere to legally use it? A very reasonable question that we'll return to a little later.



While super sedans are more elevated than ever, the effect on their performance is seeing diminishing returns as manufacturers try to outdo themselves with technological wizardry. This is where the S63 truly shines. Unfortunately, in some respects it is also its downfall. There are almost no features available on any high end car anywhere in the world that you won't find on the S63 and there are also gimmicks in this car that can't be found anywhere else. We don't use the word gimmick lightly here. While there are useful features like adaptive cruise control, others are absolutely superfluous. Top of the list here is the Drive-Dynamic front seats, which surprised when taking the S63 around our first corner. As the car builds cornering force, the seat bolsters begin to grope your sides. As you turn left the right side bolsters push inward, presumably to hold you in place. Turn right and the opposite side moves. This is a feature that adds weight and complexity to the car without adding useful functionality.



Another problem with all the gimmickry is that it requires controls. If all of these features had physical controls, the entire inner surface of the car would be covered with buttons and knobs. As its German counterparts have done, Mercedes has a control knob-based system with access to these features buried in a menu structure on the center mounted screen. Many of the adjustments for the seats are in the graphical menu system. The Drive-Dynamic function, which is standard on the front seats and available as an option with the 2-seat rear configuration, can be adjusted in intensity or turned off. A massage function within the seats can also be controlled here. All manner of controls are embedded somewhere in there. Fortunately, there are three memory positions available. Aside from all the electro-mechanical wizardry, the seats themselves are comfortable and don't need the fancy stuff embedded in their foam.



More technology is buried in the instrument cluster. While the tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges are physical dials, the center of the cluster where the speedometer sits is an LCD. When the sun drops below the horizon, a button on the left side of the dash becomes effective to activate the night vision assist. This system uses an infra-red sensor to detect what's well beyond the reach of the headlights. When active, the speedometer shrinks to a horizontal bar across the bottom of the screen. Above that the infra-red image is displayed. Night vision systems are not a new idea, with Cadillac having introduced a similar system in 2000 that failed more because of its cost than its functionality.



The idea of reducing the array of physical controls in a car by integrating them into a multi-functional interface is probably a good idea. Unfortunately to date no one has done a particularly good job of making such a system easily navigable by the driver. While the Mercedes setup is better than the current BMW iDrive (we haven't tried the new 2009 version yet), it still has plenty of room for improvement. Perhaps the only real answer to the problem is to reduce the number of functions available to the driver.



Beyond the groping seats and seemingly endless variety of controls, there is the actual driving experience. The S-Class is a big machine and in AMG S63 form it moves surprisingly briskly. The 518 hp is fed to the rear wheels via a 7-speed automatic gearbox. Mercedes uses a column-mounted shift stalk that operates in a similar manner to recent BMWs, though it's nothing more than an electronic switch. Tapping it upward engages Reverse, down brings Drive, and returning to Park requires pushing the button on the end of the stalk. Manual control of the gear selection process is provided by the now typical pair of paddles on the back side of the steering wheel.

While the S63 provides some nominal degree of manual control, the bottom line is that this is not really a driver's car. The electro-mechanical wizardry ends up filtering the interaction between the vehicle and the road. There's virtually no indication through the steering wheel of the degree of the forces between the front wheels and the pavement. The Active Body Control damping system means that S63 exhibits essentially no body roll as you go around corners, and the torso-groping seats give a strangely artificial kind of feedback about the overall cornering force that the car is generating. Even the growl of the engine is thoroughly muted by all the insulation and dual pane side glass. The transmission shifts are smooth and seamless, but even with the stability control "turned off" the computer systems retain an excessive degree of control over the experience.



With over 500 hp on tap, you would think it possible to do a nice burnout in the S63. Such activity is clearly considered to be immature and unseemly by German engineers and the best that can be achieved is a chirp before the electrons intervene. It's more like playing a driving video game where any feedback you get is simulated. One thing that definitely isn't simulated is the heat generated by the engine. Standing next to the S63 with the engine idling, you can feel the waves of heat emanating from within.



So if this isn't a car for drivers, who is it for? The S63 may not be for anyone in this country. Its handsome looks aren't distinct enough to set it apart from much cheaper standard issue S-Class sedans and its high speed cruising ability can't be legally utilized on U.S. roads. Those who want to be driven and stand out will more likely opt for a Bentley Flying Spur or Rolls-Royce Phantom. Those who want more of a driving experience are also more likely to opt for a Bentley Continental or something smaller like an RS6, M5 or E63.



No, this car is for wealthy European executives who need to get from Stuttgart to Hamburg in a hurry but don't want the hassle of an airport or train station. Even at $143,000 the S63 is less expensive than a private jet but the rear compartment is cavernous enough that it's probably more comfortable than anything smaller than a G5 or Challenger. The S63 and all of its technology is really just a prime example that just because we can do something, it doesn't necessarily mean that we should.



Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 34 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      "probably more comfortable than anything smaller than a G5 or Challenger"

      Did you mean G8 and Charger? G5 and Challenger aren't exactly known for their backseat space.
        • 6 Years Ago
        He's talking about the Gulfstream V (G5) and Challenger series private jets
        • 6 Years Ago
        Ooh, Gotcha. It didn't seem exactly clear what he was referring to.
        • 6 Years Ago
        LOL those are private aircraft... Gulfstream makes the G5, The Challenger is produced by Bombardier. G5s are in the lexicon because of song lyrics from various artists (Jay-Z, Missy, 50 Cent, and Aaron Carter for instance) that boast the singers/rappers success is such that they can now afford private jets.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'd like to know what they think of this in comparison to the S8 they reviewed about a year ago.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Maserati quatroporte is a good alternative
      • 6 Years Ago
      Having seen several of these machines in and around San Francisco and Chicago, I think theres another potential buyer you missed: The Mercedes fan looking to assert his/her status. Much like the S65, and S600 this is a pricey car that shouts to other Benz drivers "I have the most, so HA!"

      These are people that aren't drivers, and aren't savvy enough to brand shop. They simply want a Mercedes and equate price with "the best." Not convinced? A friend of mine in San Francisco is just such a person. His parents are extremely wealthy, and fairly car ignorant. He's not much of a car guy, but loves Mercedes. When ive pointed out AMGs and the like he says he will buy one next (he currently owns a C230 and an ML430) once he gets his inheritance. When asked why that instead of the alternatives his response is "because its the best Benz."

      All the road testing and design discussions in the world won't change his mind. He's stubborn, car ignorant, and rich.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Be sure to congratulate him on owning two of the slowest and worst handling Mercedes products out there.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Actually I wouldn't argue with your assessment. There never has been a correlation between being discerning about cars and having enough money to afford them.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Like the soccer moms driving around in AMG cars and going under the speed limit?
      • 6 Years Ago
      I shouldn't like this car, but I do. They're awesome.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Autobahns (derestricted, of course) rule, wish more countries would set up these, especially since inattentive drivers @ 56mph is more dangerous than flatout drivers staring at the road ahead and paying full attention (or so I read somewhere)
        • 6 Years Ago
        Drivers going flat out pay attention? Not trying to diss anyone since I drive fast myself, but I've seen countless soccer moms and pathetic teens drive at way above the speed limit while talking on their cellphones, applying some makeup and having their daily fix of full fat burgers.
      • 6 Years Ago
      And here I thought a "mers" was a man purse!!!!
      • 6 Years Ago
      man i love those wheels
      • 6 Years Ago
      Absolutely one of the best built vehicles on the road today blending performance and luxury in one. Unfortunately the written or Video review does not do this car any justice, then again what do I expect reading a review from a blog.

      btw show some class and not treat this car like a 20k camaro and do stupid "brake stands"/burn outs.

      • 6 Years Ago
      Go to any hot rod or vintage car show and ask what a Merc is and I guarantee not a single person will mention the three pointed star.

      I'd never heard a Mercedes called a Merc before autoblog, and never heard a Mercury called anything but a Merc. I guess it a scene thing.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Obviously you've never 'stepped' foot inside an English classroom.

        Not that I have anything to prove to you but I've lived in three different countries (four, starting next month), speak four languages and yes, no one knows that because Mercury was only sold in North America and the Middle East.

        Pička.
      • 6 Years Ago
      The Euros call Benzes "Mercs," and have done so for a long time. I know what you're saying, don't get me wrong. Believe me, they don't mix it up.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Believe me, they don't mix it up.

        Because 99,9% of Europeans have never heard of a "Mercury"
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