Sumptuous speed from a limousine that’s remarkably light on its feet
Engine: 5.5 litres, 8 cylinders, turbocharged
Power: 585bhp 5500rpm
Torque: 663Ib ft @ 2650rpm
Transmission: seven-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 27.9mpg CO 237g/km
Ever since BMW introduced the 535i back in, I think, 1981, I have loved high-performance saloons. The idea of a four-door family car that was the very picture of innocence but which was also able to keep up with Porsches and oversteer at the twitch of a toe was at the time all very appealing to the teenage me. And it still is.
But I’ve never felt the same about those few high-performance limousines I’ve encountered over the years. While a family saloon has to be an all-rounder, a long-wheelbase luxury saloon must be anything but. Imagine what Ferraris would be like if they suddenly had also to be good off-road, or how a track-tuned Defender would feel in the forest. Turning a limousine into a sporting car is no different and by rights the result should be disastrous.
With its new S63 AMG, however, Mercedes has somehow dodged this bullet. As those who read my review of the standard S-class will know, the company’s new flagship is the finest mass-produced luxury car the world has ever known, at least if you view it objectively in terms of things that matter to these cars such as space, ride and refinement. How could adding the imperative that it must also accelerate like a supercar and provide commensurate handling do anything other than ruin the formula?
In fact, the S63 loses remarkably little comfort despite its fatter tyres and stiffer springs. Thanks in part at least to cameras that read the road and tell the suspension what’s approaching, the ride quality remains fabulous. But when you boot James out of the driver’s seat and take control yourself, you’ll find yourself controlling a car so fast that the only reason it doesn’t hit 60mph in less than 4sec is because it lacks the traction to do it.
It’s even fun to drive: it steers accurately, corners flat and fast and will even adjust its line a little according to throttle setting if you so choose.
You can of course point to its bewildering catalogue of technologies in partial explanation of these abilities, but there’s actually a far simpler explanation. You’d not be surprised to read that a BMW M5 was a fun car to drive, yet this vast, long-wheelbase barge of a Mercedes is just 25kg heavier, an insignificant impedance among cars like this. It looks huge, but it’s actually quite light and in the driving experience, it shows.
All of which leaves those with the requisite £119,565 with something of a problem: to drive, or be driven?
And that’s a nice problem to have.
Road test miscellany, June 1982
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