Banking system attracts yet more critics…
What do I remember about two days and 600 fast miles in this new Mercedes-Benz S-class coupé? Is it the car’s really rather fetching appearance or the preposterous power of its twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 motor? It is neither. Rather, it’s the fact that if you ask it nicely it will literally bank into the apex of a corner, shortening the springs on the unloaded side of the car to minimise weight transference to the outside rims. It’s a Pendolino train for the road.
Actually I wasn’t a great fan of the technology, because on fast and difficult roads at least it seemed to confuse cambers with curves and the effects were a little hard to predict and somewhat artificial in their action. But as evidence of the level of technology now expected of such cars, it was powerful. It also has cameras that read the road and tell the suspension what to expect, seats with more massage functions than the room service menu in the Bangkok Hilton, heated arm-rests (yes, really) and a level of autonomous drive that means the only reason it won’t drive you from London to Glasgow all by itself is that the law does not allow it. But sit on the motorway with your hands just gently resting on the wheel rather than holding it, and it will genuinely drive itself.
Impressive? Undoubtedly, but I wonder if we’re reaching the stage where all this widgetry is starting to cloud a perhaps more important picture – namely how a sporting £125,000 coupé should drive.
The S63 AMG Coupé – to give it its full name – is an attractively proportioned, exquisitely detailed and fluently executed two-door, short-wheelbase version of the S-class limousine. In earlier iterations it has been called the CL-class. Forget the 577bhp of the V8 motor and instead focus on its 663lb ft of torque: there’s no Porsche, Ferrari or Lamborghini production car on sale that can get close. So even with two tonnes to propel, both the epic scale of the performance and its thrilling nature will make your passengers gasp. And passengers you may have, because despite the two-door body there’s room in here for four six-footers.
Yet despite all those cameras and that oh-so-clever suspension, the coupé is surprisingly easily caught out on difficult roads. The steering is too light and feels rather artificial, while for all their electronic trickery the springs and dampers cannot properly control the body’s vertical movements. Despite such speed and power, this is not a true driver’s car.
But perhaps it’s not fair to expect that from a car based on the S-class, even one wearing the fêted AMG badges of Affalterbach. Set a less challenging task, such as a three-hour motorway cruise, and there will come a time as you listen to the (optional) flawless 24-speaker Burmester audio system and feel the car steering itself home when you might wonder if a better car could be conceived for this job.
And of course there could. It’s called the S63 AMG saloon and is cheaper than this coupé, even in long-wheelbase form with acres of space in the back. The coupé, then, should be seen as an immensely capable GT and not as a sports car, whether it can bank into corners or not.
Engine: 5.5 litres, 8 cylinders, twin-turbocharged
Power: [email protected] rpm
Torque: 663lb [email protected] rpm
Transmission: seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph