For 63 years Mercedes’ Sonderklasse has been living up to its name, translated from German to Special Class. S-Class is enough, to typify a concept of ultimate luxury on wheels, or at least an expectation of it. The name carries weight, but also a responsibility – with this car Mercedes-Benz can never falter. Influence trickles down from the top of Stuttgart’s range of some 50 cars, and as the halo model in Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG, and Mercedes-Maybach levels of spend, the S-Class must carry the image of an entire brand.
Since 1954 some four million have been sold, and every time there’s a new one the world expects a raised bar. With the automotive industry’s traditional seven-year life cycles, Mercedes-Benz also handily times its S-Class launches to just precede rival models from Audi and BMW.
For the mid-life update of the latest W222 generation S-Class Mercedes-Benz changed up to 6,500 parts, introduced two new petrol engines to the line-up and fiddled around with the badging designations.
Inspired by the GT R supercar the AMG S-Class models (There is also a V12-engined S 65 with and 1,000Nm of torque starting from AED870,000) adopt a specific front grille design Mercedes calls the ‘jet wing’, with a three-louvre grille and LED headlamps.
There are bigger air intakes on the sides, and the front-splitter works to reduce lift. Seen from the side the S 63 gets chrome door sill inserts to bring it closer to the road visually, and at the back a rear diffuser dominates with AMG specific tailpipes. The V12 model comes with 20-inch wheels, but the S 63 AMG 4Matic we tested came fitted with standard forged 19-inch wheels.
The bigger design changes took place inside the 2018 S-Class, with a host of new switchgear and materials and impeccable finishing throughout, with great attention to the tactile feedback of the various knobs, buttons and metal toggles. This is the opposite of where Audi went with its new fourth-generation A8 rival, focussing on minimalism and touchscreens to rid the interior of buttons in the name of simple elegance. Mercedes embraced the physical experience consumers are still accustomed to. The familiarity of a climate control switch or a volume knob is hard to beat.
With a rainbow of lights and colour displays everywhere the S-Class interior seems a bit busy, especially wrapped in pieces by diamond-stitched leather, open-pore wood, satin metal, carbon fibre, and piano black all over. It’s a lot to take in, and even after a day’s driving around Lake Zurich in Switzerland and into Germany’s Black Forest, we weren’t familiar with half the car’s functions and controls.
This is still one of the best cabins we’ve ever sat in, and although it overwhelms with the level of tech at your disposal it’s hard not to sit there going, “Nice…” at everything you touch.
Mercedes-Benz responded to expectations by cramming the S-Class full of gadgets. Mood lighting, massaging seats, roof speakers, dual moonroof, that’s all well and fine… There’s also a latest-generation Distronic cruise control system that is basically as near as you can legally get to autonomous driving at the moment – all it takes is the push of one button (on the left spoke of the new multifunctional steering wheel) for the car to drive itself.
It works with a combination of sensors, radars and cameras, to read road signs and maintain the speed limit and distance to other vehicles, and thanks to satellite navigation maps the car recognizes which corners are coming up and slows accordingly. It works inconceivably well, and you can even command autonomous overtakes of other vehicles on the highway just by indicating. This amazing tech works for short period of time, at a time, simply because hands-off-the-wheel autonomous driving isn’t legal yet in most markets (Germany has just drafted one of the first driverless laws in the world, but the rest of the world needs to catch up).
The old 5.5-litre V8 lingered on in the S 63 but now the engine has made way for the newer 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 that’s smaller while being more powerful (by about 26 horsepower) and more efficient. It is basically the engine out of AMG’s GT supercar, just wet-sumped instead of dry-sumped. A nine-speed automatic transmission driving all four wheels also replaces the outgoing seven-speed. With 612 horsepower and a colossal 900Nm of torque speed is never more than a toe-twitch away. This massive, two-and-some-tonne limousine is laughably fast – 3.5 seconds from 0-100kph is supercar territory.
More impressive than that however, is how well such a huge vehicle handles tight Alpine roads, without any intimidation from its width and weight. The steering is precise and light and requires little movement from your hands, and the brakes are stupendously effective even when you’re plummeting into downhill hairpins. Of course you are constantly aware that you’re in an S-Class and not an AMG GT, but it’s hard to not be impressed by the limo’s breadth of ability nonetheless. We reckon it’s just as fulfilling, performance-wise, as its smaller and more focused E 63 cousin, and certainly the most impressive S-Class of all time when it comes to outright speed and handling ability. The thing even has launch control, and air suspension that can tilt into corners to lower body roll and improve comfort. And all the time you’re flying along, you’re sat there sunk in a giant leather throne wondering if anything rides as well as this.
The 2018 Mercedes -AMG S63 4Matic earns enormous respect for its breadth of abilities, even if you happen to be put off by the looks, or the glitzy interior with all those disco lights, or whatever. The S-Class is the original uber-luxury saloon and it sure lives up to that reputation with the latest model, a car that besides offering stupendous levels of performance can also park itself, automatically brake for pedestrians whether they’re on marked crossings or jaywalking, and brake down to a complete stop in emergency situations, or even avoid cross-traffic cars coming at you from the side. It’s a tech fest that seems relevant to the car’s buyer demographic in markets such as China and the GCC where owners are in their Twenties and Thirties, as well as appealing to the traditional customers in Europe and Stateside who are in their Fifties or older with its first-class levels of comfort and isolation.