Taking a big luxury sedan — in this case, the Mercedes S-Class — and rendering it into a sporting variant is always a massive challenge that cannot be overcome by horsepower alone. Sure, you can mask mass with power on the straights, but making it turn with any degree of grace requires industrial strength finesse in the engineering. Fortunately, Mercedes has made managing heavy metal something of an art, a prowess shown off brilliantly in the new AMG S63 Coupe and Cabriolet.
I tested the new cars recently in the hills around Santa Barbara, California, where the twists are as tight as the loops of the sailor’s knots on the nearby yachts. That setting alone shows the confidence Mercedes has in its newest AMGs, given the ease with which an outsized car can be outmatched by a tight hairpin taken too lustily. But the cars made quick work of the twists, requiring neither head-rolling thrusts nor feverish braking to manage the challenge with haste.
In part, this is due to the sophisticated suspension that keeps the weight and balance of the cars in check. The new machines are built on the recently revised S-Class, with its seemingly infinitely — and immediately — tunable air suspension. AMG’s variant includes AMG Ride Control+, which allows preset damping in a variety of settings that work with enhanced stabilizers and chassis mounts to improve the cars’ agility, and a body control system that tilts the vehicle into the turn to minimize lateral forces. Translation: it stays nice and flat so your passengers won’t want to puke. This held true even for the convertible, which can be sometimes compromised in the absence of the structural roof hardware.
Engine: 4.0L twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 9-speed; 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive
Torque: 664 lb-ft
0-60: 3.4 seconds
Price: coupe: $167,700; cabriolet: $179,500
And yeah, it’s got some power, too. Both AMG variants come with 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V8s that replace the previous, larger 5.5-liter V8, yet which still produce 26 more horses than their bigger predecessors. You have 603 hp on tap in these beasts, plus 664 lb-ft of torque to launch you out of those turns once the suspension helps glide you through them. In fact, it’ll get you to 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds from a standstill, which is staggeringly quick for a car like this. The transmission is a new nine-speed Speedshift, feeding power to the all-wheel-drive 4MATIC+ powertrain. Its short shift times and brisk multiple downshifts — courtesy of a double-clutching function that replaces the torque converter — allowed the car to keep up with my power needs so well that I rarely felt the urge to reach for the paddles. That’s really saying something, given that even in most dual-clutch sports cars I still feel compelled to take over shifting if the car’s not reading my mind well enough. In this case, ripping around the California hills, it kept pace brilliantly and was always ready to lay down the power.
The other challenge with converting a big sedan to a two-door, sportier something rests, of course, in the looks department. In adapting the coupe and cabrio S-Class versions to AMG-spec models, the company introduced a variety of distinctions. The Panamericana radiator grille is the most obvious, with its chromed vertical slats, and the front bumper is said to resemble a “hovering jet wing” — which proved as good an excuse as any to stop by an F4 Phantom display outside Naval Air Station Point Mugu for a quick photo shoot. Said bumper is bookended by two large air inlets, equally fighter-jet like in appearance if not precisely function. Forged light-alloy wheels come in a standard 19 inches for both cars, and out back there’s a rear bumper with a diffuser insert and OLED taillamps, which curve nicely to the body shape.
The AMG carries over all the tech goodies you’ll find in the normal S-Class, including the advanced semi-autonomous functionality that allows for full highway driving management as well as speed control while entering turns, hills, or even roundabouts. In a car like this, when you instinctively want to do all the driving, that’s nevertheless a nice bonus, particularly in the heinous LA traffic that greeted us after descending from the Santa Barbara hills. It was a tough transition, but at least we could check out a bit and revel in the memories of our recent drive in one of the most powerful, comfortable, and capable sporting machines you can buy.