That Mercedes-AMG charges $230,495 for the twelve-cylinder S65 sedan isn’t beside the point. It isthe point. It is the most money you can spend on an S-class sedan (the Mercedes-Maybach Pullman limousine excluded). This AMG model costs $30,800 more than even the Maybach-badged S650 using the same V-12 engine and $82,000 more than the eight-cylinder Mercedes-AMG S63. To a select few, considering either of those bargain S-class sedans represents unacceptably small thinking. It is for them that AMG builds the S65.
Let the Measuring Contest begin
The S65’s station at the head of the S-class family has been safe for years, and not even a conspicuous lack of major changes for the 2018 model year threatens that. Every other S-class this year is updated with new six- and eight-cylinder engines, a new nine-speed automatic transmission, improved driver-assistance systems, and slightly massaged headlights, taillights, and bumpers. Only the safety tech and cosmetic changes trickle up to the S65.
Helping the sedan evade mechanical enhancement is its defining feature, a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V-12 engine that remains too torquey for the carmaker’s 4Matic all-wheel-drive system and its newer transmissions. In AMG guise, the twelve belts out a mighty 621 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque, which apparently can be handled only by good old-fashioned rear-wheel drive and an aging seven-speed automatic transmission.
Thus, the S65’s power paradoxically contributes to it being a little less quick in our acceleration tests relative to the less potent S63 sedan. Doing without the V-8 model’s all-wheel-drive traction and launch-control system, the S65 trails the S63 to 60 mph by 0.7 second and by a similar margin to every 10-mph increment beyond that. Still, sending 5053 pounds of metal, leather, and ego to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds with only two driven wheels is impressive, like watching an engorged platypus complete an American Ninja Warrior course.
There’s something appealingly hedonistic in the notion that you pay more for an S-class that’s slower than the S63. Or one can focus on the delightfully aristocratic way in which the S65 takes a beat to lean back on its hind tires, turbos spooling up, before it draws you back in your seat against a tide of inexorable, locomotive-like thrust. The high-strung S63 slams forward violently when accelerating with haste, although once underway the two AMGs are equally quick, with each posting identical 30-to-50-mph and 50-to-70-mph passing times (2.5 and 3.1 seconds, respectively).
Rocketing around isn’t even necessary to impress bystanders with an S65. Just park it and let the engine’s authoritative warble hint at your net worth. Instead of the S63’s dual-mode exhaust, the S65 has a single, always-on loud setting that barks each time you pull away from a stop and the V-12 clears its throat. The chat is kept genteel inside the well-insulated cabin, although you’re always keenly aware that the engine is, in fact, running—a feedback loop that reminds you this is an AMG performance variant.
Relax, You’re a Millionaire
A fleeting delay permeates the S65’s other moves, too. While we wouldn’t characterize it as slop, there’s some initial squishy, soft resistance when pressing the brake pedal to actuate our test car’s $8950 carbon-ceramic binders, which helps to suppress any grabbiness or overeager responses. The fade-resistant rotors also hauled the S65 to a stop from 70 mph in 156 feet, three feet shorter than the S63.
Steer the Mercedes off the straight and narrow and it gently leans onto its outside tires before taking a set. The wisp of slack in the S65’s controls gives the driver the impression of guiding more heft and substance over the road than an S63 driver commands. Nothing this side of a Bentley or a Rolls-Royce moves with such dignity, although it is merely clever tuning: The S63 handles with greater precision yet weighs 10 pounds more and situates a slightly greater percentage of its mass over its front axle. This S65 generated a sports-car-like 0.94 g of grip on our skidpad, a negligible 0.01-g improvement on the V-8 model’s performance.
Nearly as unnecessary as that capability is the standard Magic Body Control with the carmaker’s Curve function, which uses actuators to tilt the S65’s body about 2.5 degrees toward the inside of a turn. Provided that the sensation of watching the three-pointed-star hood ornament dip in the same direction you’re steering doesn’t make you ill, we suppose it lessens occupants’ leaning through corners. But so, too, do the front seats’ dynamic bolsters, which inflate in opposition to cornering forces to steady bodies in the cabin. In the interest of thoroughness, we tested whether the seats might inflate the inner bolster during a turn with the Curve function activated to oppose your motorcycle lean toward the curve, but no.
Pay no mind to the interior being largely shared with lesser S-classes. Mercedes designs even the base, $90,895 S450’s interior to be a cut so high above that it stands up in this S65 that costs more than twice as much. Four years after the current S-class went on sale, its cabin still stuns; the S65’s only upgrades—a new steering wheel and a fully glassed-in pair of 12.3-inch displays—are shared with all other 2018 S-class models.
One bugaboo that might matter only to megalomaniacs centers on the pair of rear-seat remote controls for the displays mounted to each front headrest, which are powered by normal AAA batteries. So, what, we’d need to drive to Best Buy—or pay someone to—and purchase disposable batteries every so often? Where is the wireless charging pad and built-in lithium-ion power source, Mercedes?
The psychologically fragile might do better than Mercedes did optioning our test car, which fell well short of $250,000. Because when commoners ask “how much is that?” in Best Buy parking lots while you’re refilling your rear-seat-remote batteries, answering “$240,795” invites follow-up queries. It’s best to lean on the terse braggadocio of “a quarter of a million dollars,” pretentiously enunciating every syllable, and retreat quickly to your 621-hp vault and its massaging seats. Mercedes offers plenty of big-ticket options beyond those on our test car ($800 Designo piano-black interior trim, $8950 carbon-ceramic brakes, and a $550 heated windshield) to make up the rhetorical gap.
Not to melt the S65 down to too small a gold nugget, but it lives to be summarized in succinct, braggart utterances: It leans its body into turns for your comfort, it has the most powerful engine in the S-class family, and it is the most expensive S-class sedan. For those who appreciate that so superlative a vehicle comes in a wrapper more subtle than those of the Bentley Flying Spur and the Rolls-Royce Ghost, it’s perfect.