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The replacement for the CL grand tourer has some big boots to fill, but does it even come close?

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Meet the Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupé, the mid-range version of the S-Class coupé and convertible, and Mercedes’ replacement for the CL, which was the last two-door model to use the firm’s flagship saloon as its basis.

The adoption of the family name seems a little curious when you consider that the rest of the motor industry seems to be renaming closely related cars with unbridled enthusiasm.

The S coupé features Mercedes' Magic Ride Control suspension system, which scans the road ahead and tailors the suspension's responses to suit

In this case, though, the likely reasoning isn’t hard to fathom: despite a 20-year, three-generation run, the CL’s special status still felt like something that needed to be explained to the layman; the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, a certified ‘Sonderklasse’ for six decades, does not.

With the S-Class Coupé and Cabriolet powered by three engines. The entry-level is a 4.7-litre V8 driven through a nine speed automatic gearbox and labelled a Mercedes-Benz S 500, the only version not to take the AMG name. The S 63 is the 5.5-litre V8-powered AMG which produces a teutonic 577bhp, while the S 65 houses a 6.0-litre V12 hiding under its elongated bonnet punching out 621bhp.

Just like its predecessor, the S 63 and S 65 are intended to charge headfirst at the customer base currently keeping Bentley’s bottom line black with Continental GT orders.

They have certainly been given the looks and powerplants for such a task; the question is, does the overall experience live up to them?

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Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupé rear

Mercedes’ experience with big, two-door, four-seat models is extensive. Large coupés were a feature of the ‘Ponton’ series of cars that emerged after World War 2 and for subsequent years in many other formats.

However, the S-Class coupé as a distinct modern breed is probably most conveniently traced to the W126 and the SEC variants that appeared at the end of the 1970s. They reappeared with the W140 but were then siphoned off into the CL badge midway through the 1990s.

As standard, the S 63 comes with 19-inch 10-spoke AMG alloys

The coupé and cabriolet are a little shorter and lower than the standard-wheelbase Mercedes-Benz S-Class saloon, but their smaller dimensions should not be misinterpreted as a lack of presence. These are still a five-metre-long car with a longer wheelbase than a Ferrari FF’s.

Moreover, atop the king-size chassis, Mercedes has placed a quite striking body. The interplay of concave and convex surfaces is a familiar theme of the manufacturer’s current design language.

Here, the classic rear-drive grand tourer proportions of swooping roofline, high beltline and long bonnet underpin the S 63’s big-money elegance. There are also some minor aerodynamic embellishments to distinguish the car as an AMG product, but the truly meaningful additions lie beneath the glitz.

There are no small engines in the S-Class coupé’s and cabriolet's portfolio. Even the cheaper Mercedes-Benz badged S500 gets a 448bhp 4.7-litre V8; in S 63 guise, that becomes a modified version of the CL 63 AMG’s 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8, here making 577bhp and allied to the seven-speed Speedshift MCT automatic transmission. That’s about the same as you got in the most powerful version of its predecessor, although Mercedes says this model’s improved 27.7mpg is class-leading. While the 621bhp Mercedes-AMG S65 powered by a delicious 6.0-litre V12 engine.

The S 63 has also benefited from AMG’s Lightweight Performance strategy, with a 65kg reduction achieved thanks to light forged alloy wheels, a composite braking system and a lithium ion battery. But only without fluids can Mercedes claim to have delivered a sub-two-tonne four-seat coupé and a sub 2.2-tonne four-seat cabriolet.

On our scales, full of fuel and optional kit, the S63 remains a heavyweight at 2140kg. Good, then, that along with uprated AMG suspension, the car gets all manner of chassis wizardry, including an advanced version of Mercedes’ Magic Body Control. No 4Matic all-wheel drive, though. As before, that remains the preserve of left-hand-drive S-Classes.

Mercedes’ Magic Body Control technology will already be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in the S-Class. Like that model, the S 63 incorporates a stereo camera capable of detecting undulations in the road surface ahead. Known as Road Surface Scan, it warns the Active Body Control system — an arrangement of hydraulic cylinders at each strut — of where the wheels are about to be, thus permitting a tailored response to each individual circumstance.

When functioning (which it won’t do in the rain), the optional kit is impressive, but the coupé takes it one step further. It receives an additional function, known as Active Curve Tilting, which uses the same plungers to shift the base point of each strut up and down, in effect leaning the car into corners a bit like a motorcycle. Selected as one of the S 63’s three drive modes, it does this automatically up to an angle of 2.5deg, depending on conditions and speed (it is active from 19 to 112mph).

However, Mercedes insists the system is not about achieving higher cornering speeds. Instead, it says, the objective is greater comfort, by reducing the effects of lateral force on occupants.


Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupé interior

The comfort, opulence and technical sophistication of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupé’s cabin are all outstanding. It’s a low car, but the relatively high-set driver’s seat makes sliding in easier than you’d expect.

Reaching back for your seatbelt can be a stretch in a long-doored 2+2, but it’s easy here thanks to a belt and ‘belt butler’ so well integrated into each B-pillar that they seem to come from nowhere.

The LCD dials look good to begin with, but I'm convinced tired eyes have an easier time picking out a real-world needle

In front of you is a purposeful-looking heated steering wheel with tactile leather grips, and behind it sits double-width instrumentation and multimedia LCD screens that stretch to the left way beyond the centreline of the car and, after dark, seem to float above the panel behind thanks to LED backlighting.

The materials aren’t quite at Bentley’s level, but they’re as close as anything. The high-contrast metallic trim of the air vents and door pulls looks fabulous – more fabulous, in a few places, than they feel.

Second-row cabin space is as generous as you’ll find in any two-door coupé, and it needs to be. Even larger adults won’t struggle to get comfy. The boot is generous, too.

All the cabin lacks – ironically, given how many surfaces (seats, armrests, wheel) are heated – is a bit of warmth. Profuse technology can be overwhelming and doesn’t on its own create the sense of occasion that grand tourers like this need.

Rolls-Royce and Bentley know how to make their latest gadgetry discreet and their cabins as inviting as they are rich. In the S 63 there are a few too many button consoles, a shade too much complication and perhaps a dedication to comfort, convenience and sophistication for its own sake, at the expense of distinguishing charm.

As for standard equipment the S 63 gets 19in alloy wheels, an aggressive bodykit, an AMG-tuned sports exhaust, adaptive sports suspension, a panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and AMG-specific sports seats, while there is also Mercedes' wide 12.3in Comand infotainment system complete with sat nav, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, DVD player and DAB radio. 

Opt for the range-topping S 65, and not only do you get that monstrous V12 under the bonnet, but also 20in alloy wheels, a beefier bodykit, a Nappa leather upholstery, a surround sound Burmester audio system and adaptive LED headlights made up with 47 Swarovski crystals.

The standard audio set-up on the S 63 is a Burmester surround sound system, but our test car came with the optional kit, also by Burmester, which ups the ante to 24 speakers and 1520 watts.

It works through the same FrontBass bulkhead resonance chambers as found in the S-class saloon and SL roadster and sounds incredible, with low frequencies in particular reproduced very clearly at high volume.

The 12.3in central multimedia screen is filled entirely by the map when navigation is selected but is divided two-thirds to one-third in other modes — and it’s big enough that even the lesser section doesn’t look too small. With a TV tuner equipped, the front passenger can watch while the driver sees a separate image thanks to prism-based Splitview functionality.

Inputs can be made via the rotary controller, the neighbouring touchpad or via voice control. While the touchpad works better than those on some rivals, the easiest way to navigate menus is using the main rotor, while voice control works brilliantly for sat-nav programming.


Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupé side profile

The engine builders at Mercedes-AMG will soon be making only three power units: the 2.0-litre turbo four-pot from the A 45, the 4.0-litre turbo V8 from the new Mercedes-AMG GT and the 6.0-litre V12 from the S 65.

The 5.5-litre V8 in this car is living on borrowed time, yet it suits the S 63 so well that you could imagine it finding a home in the car for years to come.

The all-aluminium V8 produces 577bhp and 664lb ft

The V8’s creamy balance blends with enough aural character to let you know you’re driving a performance car, but with a lot more torque and mass-defying oomph than its noise level ever conveys.

On a damp day, it propelled this 2.1-tonne luxury grand tourer to 100mph in less than 10 seconds. That’s more than a second quicker than the last W12-engined Bentley Continental we figured and nearly two seconds quicker than the Aston Martin Rapide S. So there’s no need to question the wisdom of accepting eight cylinders when you could have 12 for the same money elsewhere.

Perfectly consistent mid-range performance is the S 63’s strongest virtue. Pulling from 40-60mph in fourth at matter-of-fact crank speeds takes just 3.0sec; in the same gear, getting from 90-110mph takes just a couple of tenths longer. Aston Martin’s just-replaced six-speed Rapide S is no less than 30 percent less flexible – and the new eight-speed version can’t be much closer.

The wonder of such mid-range muscularity is that it filters into every brush of the throttle pedal. The S 63 never feels its mass, while the torque delivery is such that the transmission’s shift strategy can be blissfully laissez-faire. The performance is there the instant you want it – partnered by outstanding wind and road noise suppression.

Savage acceleration wouldn’t do for a devoted grand tourer, but the fact remains that GTs don’t come much quicker. Furthermore, a standard-bearing car on outright performance has no right being so refined.


Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupé cornering

Being in Mercedes-Benz S-Class territory requires more qualifications here than anywhere else. Even as an AMG performance machine, the S 63 is more dedicated to comfort and ease of use than almost anything else you’re likely to spend £130,000 on.

Mercedes’ Active Curve Tilting system illustrates this perfectly. Few manufacturers could develop an active suspension system that allowed a car to begin leaning into a bend ahead before you’ve even turned the steering wheel; fewer still would be at pains to point out that the system’s purpose isn’t to enhance lateral grip or handling manners, but simply to make life a bit more comfortable for cabin occupants.

The S 63 is competent and safe but not brilliant when hurried

The S 63’s steering wheel is light in your hands and flatly refuses to get heavy even under extreme loads.

There’s no serious shortage of grip, traction, balance or directional response, but the chassis and steering are tuned to act more as filters than conductors of forces from the tyres’ contact patches. Nuanced steering feedback and rear axle feel are casualties of that approach, while straight-line stability and resistance to bump steer benefit.

That it produces balanced grip in sufficient quantity to set a lap time around MIRA faster than its rivals not only from Crewe but also from the smaller end of Gaydon earns it much credit.

Driving the S 63 at that pace isn’t something it feels made to do, though, and you’ll take little pleasure from it. It’s no sports car, and the differences between one of those and a big, comfy coupé become clear as you approach and eventually exceed the car’s grip levels, which happens without knowing much about it.

The car’s ultimate security, controllability and composure are as good as they need to be but no better. The S 63 doesn’t communicate its limits clearly enough to make driving it hard an enjoyable act. It’s curiously easy, though, and that’s how it should be in this case.

So we won’t knock the S 63 for not being something it wasn’t intended to be: a genuinely sporting super-coupé. Our main criticism is that the Magic Ride Control system doesn’t do quite as good a job of keeping the car comfortable at faster cross-country pace as it does elsewhere.

The chassis copes well with longer-wave hollows and crests and does very well on motorways, but there isn’t the responsiveness or operating bandwidth to make the car float with the same calm above typical British B-roads when you tackle them with enthusiasm.

Vertical body control gets slightly choppy and bump absorption deteriorates a bit beyond the kind of proportion you’d expect of a more conventional, natural-feeling passive spring and damper set-up. The ‘Magic’ works, in other words, but only up to a point.


Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupé

Anything with an Mercedes-Benz S-Class badge will be expensive; combine it with an AMG designation and you’re looking at a big-ticket item. As such, the S 63 tested here cost £149,165 after options.

That prices it similarly to the Aston DB9 and Bentley Continental GT V8 S and makes it substantially cheaper than a Ferrari FF. Only the latter could compete with the S 63’s usability – but that doesn’t take running costs into account.

The S 63 is a far cry from the residual savagery big Benzes used to suffer. It even beats the Bentley Continental GT

Even with its new V8, the Bentley is slightly slower, thirstier and less efficient than the S 63, although it does have four-wheel drive and a better soundtrack.

However, the S 63’s biggest rivals will most likely be from within its own stable. For £30k less, the S500 offers a subtler alternative, or, if money is no object, the S 65, with its 621bhp V12, should prove to be even more exclusiveIn any instance, be wary of ticking the options boxes. 

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4 star Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupé

Daimler is betting big on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class brand. At one end of Mercedes’ new super-luxury sub-division is the Mercedes-Maybach S 600; at the other end is the S 63 coupé.

People will come to this car expecting the last word in luxury and refinement. The same people will expect outstanding AMG performance. They won’t be disappointed on either count. They’ll doubtless approve of the cultured, elegant styling, too.

The Mercedes is a serious option, if not the most immediately charismatic one. Highly practical, though

All in, that’s probably 80 percent of what a GT like this ought to offer, covered crushingly well.

If this car had been another Mercedes CL, or had a new identity all of its own, you wonder if Mercedes might have been able to mix more eccentric charm into the cabin, or to aim for a more sporting chassis compromise to better engage the drivers who currently look to Aston Martin or Ferrari.

As things stand, it’s only for an absence of warmth and true driver engagement that we’ll mark the S 63 down. Such things matter much less in an S 350 limousine, but in a GT, they’re key.

For now, it's the Bentley Continental GT V8 S that still commands the highest accolade in this class. It's been given a new lease of life by its splendid V8 and, although it's a heavyweight, it's worth every extra kilo.

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Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe 2014-2021 First drives