Across the globe, there are now some two-dozen vehicles in Mercedes’ flagship S-Class family. With a wide breadth of AMG, convertible, diesel and other variations available, the entire family is being refreshed for 2019 from grille to tailpipe. And while each offers its own particular expression of Teutonic luxury, it is the breathtaking S65 Coupe that is without question the most elegant, stately and powerful of the bunch. To experience what has evolved in the V12-powered missile, we drove from Beverly Hills to Santa Barbara, California, allowing the famed Pacific Coast Highway to illuminate the AMG’s many secrets.
I don’t know how the masterminds at Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart do it, but there’s something decidedly mystical about their S-Class stable of flagship vehicles. Slip inside the newly refreshed S-Class Coupe, for instance, and the first thing that strikes you is the aroma. The inimitable scent of money, of crisp, freshly minted $100 bills. Hard to articulate, but somehow the redolent fragrance of U.S. currency permeates not only the cabin of the S-Class, but its entire experience. Sure, it could be one of the four perfumes the built-in Atomiser in the S-Class finely spritzes into the air like Chanel No. 5, but we checked the option list and “Federal Reserve Mood” is not one of the options.
Press the Start button on the dash and the 6.0-liter biturbo V12 woofs! to life, then slows to breathe with a low rumble. We exit the cobbled driveway of the Waldorf Astoria and point the S65’s long hood towards the ocean, zooming down the palm tree-lined asphalt of Santa Monica Boulevard with vigor and Long, seemingly endless intoxicating pulls of torque. Technically the power is not endless of course, but the hand-built V12’s 621-hp sure feels like it is.
The PCH could quite possibly be the exact road AMG engineers dreamed of when sprinkling their S65 Coupe with pixie dust. Sure, there’s the explosive power of the 6.0-liter V12’s peak 738 lb–ft. of torque, available at only 2,300 rpms, which fires the Coupe from standstill to 60 mph in only 4 seconds flat. Although it’s nice to know it’s there, you’ll most likely never even flirt with the 186-mph top speed. But what makes the S65 so pleasurable to drive is AMG’s Active Ride Control, available exclusively in the S65 Coupe. Using stereo cameras to continuously scan the asphalt ahead for bumps, potholes and other banes of a smooth driving experience, ARC then combines the suspension’s active springs with continuously adjustable dampers to roll over pocks without feeling even a niggle. Activate the “Curve” program — active between 10 mph and 110 mph — and those very same adjustable dampers will tilt the S65 towards the inside of a corner, significantly reducing your perceived lateral tug and pull. With ARC and this Curve function, the S65 morphs into an intercontinental ballistic missile that cushions its hosts like an overprotective mother.
While ARC may be the S65’s boldest performance innovation, the most salient overall advancement bequeathed to the S-Class family in this mid-cycle refresh is undoubtedly Mercedes’ new “double widescreen” cabin interior. Dubbed for the twin 12.3-inch TFT displays positioned side-by-side under bonded glass, the digital centerpiece takes over more than half of the dash’s horizontal space. Consider the tech a Roger Federer-like riposte to Audi’s highly regarded “Virtual Cockpit”, but given its size alone — more than two feet wide across the top of the dash — it might be even more impressive. A new three-spoke steering wheel has also been introduced whose buttons can operate basically anything and everything telematics and entertainment based. In the Arms Race of infotainment technology, the advantage is currently in Mercedes’ court until further notice.
Of course, that says nothing of the opulent cabin appointments the S-Class already boasted, like supple Nappa leather, embossed AMG emblems on the armrest and seatbacks, the gorgeous stitching throughout, the IWC chronograph tucked into the dash — all world class. There are now three more wood trims available, including a layered option dubbed Magnolia Flowing Lines.
Other cosmetic changes for 2019: the new AMG Panamericana grille, a reshaped fascia with larger dual air vents, a three-dimensional front splitter and new side skirts. In back an updated rear bumper, diffuser and S65-exclusive twin tailpipes frame new OLED taillamps with 66 diodes — the first ever OLED lights on any Mercedes product. Four different 20” wheel options are available, but the 16-spoke options with ceramic mirror polishing and twisting spindles catch the California sun better than the rest.
We briefly drove the droptop S65 Cabrio as well, and while there are multiverse joys of driving open air in Southern California, hair ruffling in the warm breeze, in the S-Class family the Coupe is undoubtedly the apex model. This car, after all, is all about optics, and something is hopelessly lost when that roof is chopped off. The inchoate beauty of a two-door over a four elevates it over the sedan as well: that gorgeous, windswept roofline lends the S65 a sense of high speed even when stopped to take in the honeyed sunset.
The S65 Coupe is Mercedes most stately design, and second only perhaps to the GT in jaw-dropping beauty. And now that they’ve updated the interior, and AMG engineers have elevated its driving experience, you’d be hard-pressed to find a statelier GT.
THE S63 OPTION
While the S65 Coupe is undoubtedly the most regal of the S-Class family (oh the chills from hearing that V12 roar, and drinking in its Pacific-sized currents of torque!), it is not the most dynamic. Despite a smaller displacement engine and four less cylinders, the S63 Coupe — powered by a 4.0-liter biturbo V8 also hand built by AMG — shaves more than a half-second from the S65’s 0-60 click, making the sprint in just 3.4 seconds.
It also demonstrates better footwork. Once we hit the hills over Santa Barbara, another aspect of the AMG S63 Coupe’s refresh came to the fore: on a series of unexpected corners the 4MATIC PLUS’ full torque vectoring — with power being moved from left to right, and toggled from the front to rear axle — showed just how nimble and well handling this expansive vehicle can be. Throw in the double widescreen interior and a new 9-speed multi-clutch transmission, and the S63 Coupe is almost a new generation unto itself. “Normally we don’t put these many changes into a facelift,” AMG’s Tobias Hartmann told me. “In my opinion it’s a real new car.”