Dan Scanlan finds the S65 AMG to be an amazing car – half ultimate flagship and the other half muscle car king. And both halves behave beautifully.
So what do we make of this flagship, with more power than even the uber-luxurious M-B S600 Maybach? To find out, we fire up the twin-turbo V-12, burn some asphalt, then pull over and sip sodas from the champagne cooler as we watch a DVD from the reclining back seat with foot rest and a cooling breeze on our S.
The AMG Speedshift Plus 7-Speed dual-clutch transmission has three modes - Controlled Efficiency (C), Sport (S) and Manual (M). The last two shorten shift times and tighten throttle reaction and steering feel, while C backs off on those and engages a start/stop engine function at stop lights to save fuel.
The S65 is big, but tries to be as light as possible with an aluminum hybrid bodyshell which lives on a four-link front axle and multilink independent rear suspension. The Magic Body Control and active damping immediately softens or firms up the air suspension to absorb bumps. A stereo camera reads the bumps ahead, then body control adjusts the suspension in advance to smooth out the disruption.
This 16.5-foot-long sedan can handle. It wafted around curves with minimal body roll and almost no understeer as its electromechanical AMG speed-sensitive sports steering offered great feel and a stiffer precision in “Sport,” and just enough feedback in “Comfort.” Push hard and adaptive seat bolsters held me in. The car felt neutral in our skid pad, just a hint of understeer if pushed that was controlled by ESP. Power into a corner and the rears slipped a touch, then ESP held them in.
Cornering assist also gave the inside rear just enough to rotate the car more precisely into the turn. Looking over my skidpad shots, the car has almost no body roll as it carves the curves. Turn off ESP and we could get the tail out in the skidpad, leaving some serious rubber in a smoking powerslide. Those 15.4-inch front/14.2-inch rear vented and cross-drilled disc brakes with AMG calipers had precise feel and solid bite, bringing the car down from huge velocities time and time again with no fade and minimal nose dive.
For safety, a PRE-SAFE system detects pedestrians and starts braking. A lane-keeping system vibrates the steering wheel if you drift across a lane, then nudges the car back. The cruise control maintains speed and distance. And while these are just a step away from driving hands and feet-free, the car will flash a warning if it thinks you are letting it do the driving!
To change a S550 into an S65AMG, the nose gets a deep chrome mesh center intake under that main grille with alloy lower air dam, flanked by chrome-edged side intakes. The high trunk has a subtle spoiler crafted in over an AMG-specific lower alloy bar with twin exhaust tips. A “V12 biturbo” badge on the front fenders catches attention. The chrome lower sill accent visually lowers the car. Within the gentle flared fenders lie slim AMG brushed alloy 5-spokes and shod with P255/40ZR20-inch front/P285/35ZR20-inch rear Continental rubber.
Floating between the leather are two 12.3-inch wide high-resolution color displays. The left is a virtual 220-mph speedometer with a percentage fuel left display – I’d rather have a gauge. The right side is an 8,000-rpm tach with engine temperature. In between, almost any infotainment or comfort functions you want on the trip computer screen. You can tap on Night View Assist PLUS and get an infrared view of people in front of you on a dark road. A head-up display projects vehicle speed, navigation and cruise control distance, gear selection and an upshift bar in manual shift mode.
All of the above are activated via the center console’s COMAND touch-sensitive top and its twist/nudge/tap alloy rotary pushbutton, surrounded by buttons for seat, radio, media, navigation, phone and car settings. The top is a touchpad that lets you use smartphone-like squeeze, tap and slide moves to handle menus. It sometimes didn’t work. We would use voice command, navigation entries spoken in one shot - easy.
Long rear doors open wide onto a veritable palace – twin reclining seats separated by a wide console with compartments for twin folding alloy tables. Another panel hides cooled or heated cup holders, with climate controls nearby. Between the seats is the three-bottle wine cooler with a CD/DVD player. Front and rear seats each have three memory presets. Like the front seats, the rears have side bolsters that inflate in turns to hold you in. Twin screens offer videos, seat control graphics, even the navigation route, all controlled via door-mounted buttons or a very comprehensive remote.
The base S550 starts at $94,400, then our top-line S65 starts at $222,000. Options - $3,700 carbon fiber and piano black interior trim; $1,100 refrigerator; $1,950 executive rear package w/power rear seats, folding tables and heated/cooled cup holders; and a $1,700 gas guzzler tax. With delivery, $231,375.
Words & Photos: Dan Scanlan.
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