2018 Mercedes-AMG S65 Review: The Irrational Monster
– New York, New York
The Mercedes-AMG S65 doesn’t appear to make a lot of sense on paper: it costs $82,500 more than the S63 sedan, yet is 0.7 second slower to 60 miles per hour, and the two models’ top speeds are identical – and both cars offer all the same options and features. There’s no clear, on-paper advantage to the S65. The car’s enduring appeal is, however, exactly down to its irrationality.
“There’s always going to be a customer that wants a 12-cylinder,” explains Nick Martin, AMG Product Manager at Mercedes-Benz. “They buy the ultimate in performance because that’s who they are.”
One of the few cars in the world still offered with a V12 engine, the S65 remains something special in part because it is so different. Mercedes hasn’t messed with that formula; this is the only S-Class powertrain that is completely unchanged for the 2018 model year. After all, Martin says customers buy it not for logical reasons but because this is the “best” car available in a dealership: “The S65 exists because there’s no S75.”
Epic power. The horsepower figure of 621 is mighty impressive, but the biturbocharged 6.0-liter engine really stands out because it dishes up an incredible 738 pound-feet of torque from just 2,300 rpm. At any speed in any gear, the engine pulls with reckless abandon; there’s enough grunt to pass anyone, at any time, in just seconds. And, as the S65 is available only with rear-wheel drive, it’ll light up the 20-inch rubber on command.
AMG-specific interior design. This is first and foremost a luxury vehicle, but the AMG team does a great job spicing up the S65’s interior for performance duty. There’s a unique steering wheel with a flat bottom and enlarged shift paddles, as well as unique displays for the digital instrument cluster, to help connote the car’s sporty intentions.
Clever curve control chassis. The three modes for the S65’s suspension comprise Comfort, Sport, and Curve. The latter activates a function that tilts the car by up to 2.65 degrees in cornering to reduce the g-forces felt by occupants. It works well, giving the impression of flatter handling in a similar manner to active anti-roll systems in other new luxury cars. Curve tilting is only available on rear-wheel-drive cars; a hydraulic pressure tank needed for the suspension tilting interferes with the positioning of the prop shaft on 4Matic models.
Clunky transmission. The S65 is the only refreshed S-Class to stick with a seven-speed transmission, and the gearbox’s age is evident with every shift. (Of course, this gearbox is the only one able to handle the V12’s massive torque output.) It clunks and lurches on downshifts, especially in city driving. Because the transmission starts off in second gear unless you use Sport+ mode, the wet start-up clutch slips forever off the line. It’s a stark contrast to the ultra-slick nine-speed transmission in other S-Class sedans.
Needs an open autobahn. Mercedes officials admit on the sidelines of the S-Class drive that the S65’s big advantage comes in its home market on the autobahn, where the 12-cylinder brute easily walks away from the 603-hp S63 at triple-digit speeds. That’s great if you’ve got the room to exercise this car’s might, but less than useful in a country with 70-mph speed limits.
Hugely expensive. If you’re in the market for the S65, well, the sticker price is irrelevant to your interests. But the $229,500 starting price is way costlier than either of the Mercedes-Maybach sedans, and more than several full-on supercars. And that’s before options: this test car lists for $241,295.
Photos: Michael Shaffer / Mercedes-Benz