EngineTwin-Turbo 6.0L V12
Power621 HP / 738 LB-FT
0-60 Time4.0 Seconds
Top Speed186 MPH
Curb Weight4,839 LBS
MPG13 City / 21 HWY
As Tested Price$252,765
We've been following the headlines about progress on a new lunar lander and the SpaceX Mars Colonial Transporter, but we recently discovered that we've already got both of them in the S65 AMG Coupe. This isn't a car, it's a rocket ship. And it's not perfect, but it is spectacular.
Starting with the way it looks. When Mercedes unveiled the concept at the 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show, I wasn't impressed. In fact, I told the Mercedes PR person, "It's fine, but the rear end doesn't do anything for me."
And today? I'll have the crow, please, with lots of ketchup. When the test car you see here arrived, my loins tumbled and my knees developed a slight tremble. By the following week I was posing thought experiments like, "What's hotter: me in this car, or nothing else ever?"
It's big – just eight inches shorter than the S-Class sedan and only an inch narrower. It's an inch longer than the Porsche Panamera and four inches wider, but just 0.3-inches taller than that slinking sport sedan. Its size and segment seem to have freed the designers' pens, and we think it's the best and most unapologetic expression of the brand's current language. We'd normally vote "nay" to a face full of chrome, but the coupe has the width to spread the polished elements around, and the top-to-bottom three-dimensionality indeed earns the adjective "jewel-like." A button on the center console lifts the entire car to protect those jewels when needed.
The profile doesn't give up on the rising, sculpted wedge we've known for years – the one we used to love on the SL-Class. And again, the 16.6-foot expanse of sheet metal gives those opposing swage lines an unhurried opportunity to carve the body. The sidelong swell is enhanced by the carbon-fiber rocker panel laid into the concavity along the bottom, as well as those hips over the rear wheels. Speaking of which, the polished, 20-inch forged rollers are spot on. The bluff backside is sculpted just enough to keep it interesting, from the decklid spoiler to the horizontals across the bumper and carbon diffuser. Mostly, though, it seems to say to anyone behind, "Please. Don't even..." The package is so arresting that a man driving a Lamborghini Aventador roadster caught up to me in traffic to ask questions. The first word he said? "Wow."
I do have two gripes about the exterior. The tailpipe finishers aren't connected to the actual tailpipes, a trend I can't wait to see the end of. Call it persnickety, but for about $231,000, I want every detail attended to (everyone does it, though, including Rolls-Royce). There's also no button on the trunk to open the trunk – from the outside you have to use the key or wave your foot under the bumper. I used the key because the foot trick worked exactly once in a whole week. A man in a parking lot fruitlessly waving his loafers under a car that costs a quarter of a million? Can you say, "Um, hello, LAPD?"
The cabin, drenched in cross-stitched saddle brown leather with diamond patterns in the seats, is even better than outside – or as one friend told me, "This is nicer than my apartment." Thanks to the integration allowed by the two giant TFT screens, the 10-footer view of the cockpit is high on luxury and minimalism. Get in and look closely, though, and one realizes the coupe should come with a saddle-brown, leather-wrapped clipboard to perform pre-flight checks; every one of those polished accents is a gaggle of buttons. There are more buttons, in black, on either side of the steering wheel and on the roof console. Yet somehow Mercedes left out an "Off" button for the climate control, that act required flipping through screens, pushing and levering the COMAND knob. There must be an Easter Egg in there somewhere for making that simpler, but we couldn't find it.
Power comes from a 6.0-liter, twin-turbo V12 that's launchpad-ready with 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque. Peak torque doesn't arrive until 2,300 rpm, but the shift mapping in Controlled Efficiency means you rarely get outside the rev band from 1,000 to 1,500 rpm. There's no lack of power, but roll-off from a stop is relaxed; the 7G-Tronic automatic transmission always starts in second gear unless you put the car in Sport or Manual, and the engine is laid back about spooling up unless you command it otherwise. The stop/start mechanism is similarly unhurried – take your foot off the brake and the engine turns over as if you're starting it for the first time, then you can pull off. At least now, though, start/stop doesn't shake the whole car on restart like it does in less-refined applications.
Let's get our biggest and only substantial complaint out of the way right here: the inconceivably unrefined carbon ceramic brakes. An $8,950 option, not only were they grabby and nearly impossible to modulate at urban speeds, they howled and moaned when operated with anything other than featherweight or heavyweight pressure on the brake pedal. Every single time I had to come to a stop it sounded like I was driving That Shady White Van that can't legally be parked within 500 feet of a school zone. There were only three ways to stop it: take a whole block to come to a stop; hit the brakes hard at the last minute; or run the car hard and get the brakes hot, then enjoy 10 or 15 minutes of quiet deceleration. Sticking with the standard high-performance composite stoppers is the best option.
Outside of that, the V12 kraken is stellar. From standstill to 60 miles per hour you will beat the Bentley Continental GT V8 S and tie the W12 GT Speed, outrun any Porsche 911 below the Turbo, smoke any Jaguar F-Type, and get pipped – but only just – by the Audi R8 V10 Plus. Would you beat any of them to the top of an ess-filled canyon road? No, but we wager you'd keep it game with the Bentleys and you'd surprise absolutely all of them.
The S65 AMG's sport suspension with Magic Body Control is truth in advertising. It kept 2.5 tons of hedonism thoroughly in check up and down every twisted Malibu stretch we tried, and the system comes outfitted with a dynamic curve setting that tilts the car up to 2.65 degrees into a corner, solely to alleviate some lateral forces on occupants. In Sport, with elevated revs producing a geyser of force, acceleration is instant. The 255-section rubber in front and 285-section out back held on for sticky grip, and I could wield the mammoth hammer with vigor through all points of a turn. Keep pushing and I could begin to feel the coupe's various handling aids working to maintain the chosen line. Those nannies won't get intrusive until you got imbecilic, and even then you mostly sidestepped any sensation of driving a vehicle that's 800 pounds heavier than a 2015 Ford F-150 4x2.
If anything, the coupe's ability to parry with physics took the most getting used to; it builds speed so quickly and is so even-keeled that I'd approach a corner and realize, "Oh, I didn't mean to be going that fast." Thankfully, this is where those carbon-ceramic brakes shine. I wouldn't complain about even more aggressive shifting and even weightier steering in Sport, and more exhaust note allowed into the cabin, but that could be straying too far from the mission of a 5,000-pound GT. And the A-pillar and outside mirror are huge.
Around town, the Road Surface Scan suspension proves it's no gimmick – I'd pass a familiar stretch and think, "There used to be a bump there." And it's still there, but outside of sharp-edge holes or speed bumps profiled like cinderblocks, or the few times it seemed to be playing catch-up, the predictive setup swallowed imperfections quite well.
For road trips, the S65 AMG Coupe operates at Threat Level: ICBM, delivering locomotive creaminess at any speed and splendor that doesn't isolate you from the rest of the planet. I'm a card-carrying Anglo-luxury-phile, but sometimes you want to stay in touch with the Earth and driving sensations during midnight runs to Nogales.
Plus, there are all of the safety doodads you expect from Mercedes, a variable and perfectly simple heads-up display, the Magic Sky Control roof that keeps the sun out and the airiness in (even though I wish it opened), adaptive cruise control that is one of God's own blessings in Los Angeles traffic, and infrared vision that automatically pops on at night if it detects people or animals by the side of the road. It's too bad those detent-less door hinges mean you can't keep the wide (and heavy) portals open or closed when the car is parked on a grade. But hey, if I just spent $250,000 on a car... that's what footmen are for!
I'm arguably more impressed with the S65 AMG Coupe than I am with the AMG GT S. The compact coupe is an exquisite implement, but there was never any doubt that it would be. The colossal coupe is not only exquisite, it goes, and for the 95 percent of the time that you're not trying to prove it's The Mountain That Rides, it's like driving an immaculately appointed penthouse. That parks itself.
So again I say, fly me to the moon. Even halfway will do. My rocket ship has arrived.