Mercedes’s $163,835 S63 AMG Swaddles With Safety: Review

It must be nice to have an S-Class life. Every passenger who stepped into my $163,835 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG sedan said something along the lines of, “I could get used to this.”

We all could. The interior of the AMG version of the S-Class executive sedan is impossibly posh, lending a “wow” factor brighter than many a Rolls-Royce or Bentley. There’s eye candy everywhere and brazen invitations to run your fingers over fine materials.

Take the meeting point between the front doors and the dashboard. Close the door, and the joint virtually disappears. The hard intersection is softened by a piece of continuous wood or carbon fiber that curves around the juncture, more like the inside corner of a yacht than a car.

Or consider the Burmester AudioSysteme GmbH speaker in the same door, positioned just above the wood trim. Your eye goes to it right away, because it’s not plastic, but metal. If luxury is in the details, this piece says it all. There are a thousand tiny holes radiating through the speaker, arranged in a pleasing, sculptural pattern, a little piece of workmanship both functional and gorgeous.

And since we’re talking about it anyhow, that stereo system is a “High-end 3D Surround System,” according to the car’s Monroney sticker, and it costs $6,400 extra. Steep, but the sound quality really is superlative. It has many custom settings, and while I couldn’t pinpoint the difference between “3D” and surround sound, both sounded great and gave my co-driver and me something to talk about for 20 minutes when we were in stopped traffic.

Perfumed Cabin

The pillows on the back-seat headrests are simply outrageous. The massage functions on the front seats are the best in the business. A number of features, like the infrared “night view” and perfume that is piped into the cabin, are silly and superfluous, but they’ll still impress your friends.

The S-Class has always been a full-size sedan aimed at executives and back-seat glitterati, and the luxury unit of Stuttgart, Germany-based Daimler AG released the latest generation S550 (starting at $94,400) last year. The model range is quickly expanding, with the V-12-equipped S600 ($166,900) and two AMG sedans: the S63 that I tested, which starts at $141,450; and the S65 AMG for $222,000.

There’s also a coupe version on sale this fall and even a possible $1 million S-Class, the Pullman, which would have three rows of seating and armor plating.

Bragging Rights

If I were shopping and price wasn’t a primary consideration, I’d bump up the AMG level and ignore the V-12 versions. The bigger engines deliver power in a more linear way, but they’re really just about bragging rights.

The S63 has a twin-turbocharged, 5.5-liter V-8 with 577 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque, and it reaches 60 miles per hour in less than four seconds. If that isn’t adequate, you should be considering a sports car.

The S63 is also a lot more gratifying to drive than the regular S550, a 449-horsepower sedan more focused on all its new whiz-bang technology than the actual experience behind the wheel. I got out of the S550 after my first drive last year feeling a bit bored.

The best thing about the S63 still isn’t the drive -- the Audi S8 and the Jaguar XJR are a heck of a lot more entertaining. But it’s certainly no bore. AMG is Mercedes’s in-house sports and tuning arm, and it gave the S63 more power and retuned the suspension and steering.

The S63 is also the first AMG S-Class to get all-wheel drive. The system sends 67 percent of the power to the rear wheels, giving a sportier feel.

Driver Assistance

Like the S550, the S63 is available with a host of semiautonomous driving features, courtesy of the $2,800 driver assistance package. When the systems are engaged on the highway, you can actually take your hands off the wheel for as long as 10 seconds at a time, and the car will maintain its position in the lane.

Nifty, but I like having my hands on the wheel. I’m more appreciative of safety features like Pre-Safe Plus with rear-impact protection. Radar sensors detect cars approaching from behind and determine if a rear impact is imminent. The system tightens the seat belts and will engage the brakes upon impact, so your car doesn’t rear-end someone else in a domino effect.

This isn’t all theoretical, either.

One morning I was on the freeway headed home with my family in the S63. Traffic came to a very sudden stop. I braked hard and came to a halt, but my eyes flew to the rearview mirror. Sure enough, another car was bearing down on us.

The good news? That car was another new Mercedes, an E-Class, and I quickly considered whether it had the Pre-Safe system. If it did, the moving car would sense the possible collision and begin braking on its own.

Surprise Stop

The nose suddenly pitched down -- a sign of braking -- and I could clearly see the look of surprise on the young driver’s face. I’m not sure her eyes had even been on the road, or that she’d realized traffic had come to a dead stop.

The car swerved left and then right as she reacted. Her E-Class came to a stop about a foot off my bumper. She looked a bit shaken. I’m fairly sure her Mercedes’s safety functions had interceded and quite possibly averted an accident.

My 2-year-old was in the back seat of our car, so I was thankful indeed.

At my test’s end, I felt that the Mercedes S63’s interior was one of the best places to be while stuck in traffic -- and possibly one of the safest, too.

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG 4Matic at a Glance

Engine: Twin-turbocharged, 5.5-liter V-8 with 577 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic.

Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds.

Gas mileage per gallon: 15 city, 23 highway.

Best features: Gorgeous and comfortable interior; the safety features.

Worst feature: The exterior is rather bland.

(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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