Congratulations, you’ve done well. The merger went through without a hitch, the market responded favourably with a boost in share price and there’s a fat bonus waiting at the end of the financial year.
Time to reward yourself by splashing out on a new high-performance luxury coupe, something to take you from the mansion to the boardroom in cosseting luxury, yet blast you to the airport in double-quick time when you’re running late for that flight.
There’s plenty of choice in this segment, though the field narrows surprisingly fast. Aston Martin’s DB9 and Maserati’s Gran Turismo are both laden with character, but neither is exactly cutting-edge in terms of technology or performance. Porsche’s 911 Turbo? Ticks both boxes objectively, but that silhouette is just a little too familiar these days.
Which leaves the two contenders now before you. Representing England is the Bentley Continental GT, while singing Deutschland über alles is the new Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupe. A technological tour de force, the two-door S-Class makes a strong impression before it’s even turned a wheel. After the somewhat ungainly CL, the S-Class Coupe is a strong return to form for Mercedes-Benz design.
The only dud angle is from directly behind, where it looks tall and narrow, but in general – particularly in profile or from front-three-quarter – it looks sensational. The only indication of its size is the fact that the 20-inch rims look like 17s.
Its visual impact is increased by our test car’s paintwork – almost black in low light, it explodes into a Wizard of Oz-like emerald green in direct sun, though trying to capture it on camera almost gives photographer Nathan Jacobs a nervous breakdown.
The Bentley, on the other hand, triggers a full meltdown. Clearly specced by Darth Vader to match his wardrobe, our ‘triple black’ Continental GT absorbs all possible light, though its obsidian hue doesn’t stop it attracting plenty of attention – it seems the Bentley badge still has ample pulling power. The Continental GT range is just that these days, with four models stretching from the base V8 to the Speed with its mighty 467kW 6.0-litre twin-turbo W12.
For reasons of price and engine parity we have chosen the V8 S, the second rung on the Continental ladder. On paper, the Audi-derived 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 might look like a poor relation compared to its 12-cylindered siblings, but on the road it proves anything but.
With 389kW and 680Nm, the ‘S’ offers 16kW and 20Nm more than the base V8, though it’s 23kW and 20Nm down on what the same engine produces in the Audi RS6. It does, however, make every single one of those kilowatts and newton metres count.
In deference to the Bentley’s age (we picked it up with just 680km on the clock) it completes just one full-throttle acceleration run, but one is all it needs. Loading the engine against the brakes, the revs rise to an impressive 3000rpm, which is enough to slingshot almost 2.3 tonnes worth of Continental off the line with ferocious force.
It feels like the front wheels spin slightly through first gear, but it doesn’t stop the big Bentley reeling off 0-100km/h in just 4.3sec (0.2sec faster than claimed) and hauling through the quarter mile in 12.33sec @ 187.92km/h.
But while the speed is impressive, it’s the engine’s character that is most appealing. Throttle response is sharp, and while it’s hardly lacking in low-end urge, the top-end ferocity above 5000rpm means there’s real reward to be had by revving it out.
Do so and the signature ‘figure-of-eight’ exhausts emit a raucous snarl, like the V8 has had a big night on the G&Ts and is battling a bad hangover. Allied to ZF’s superb eight-speed auto, it’s a powertrain that perfectly suits the Continental and really makes you question why you’d spend extra on the W12.
The twin-turbo V8 in the Merc might be identical in configuration to the Bentley, but the two are polar opposites when it comes to personality. Whereas the Continental’s engine thrives on revs, AMG’s 5.5-litre engine is all about torque; its 430kW are produced at a relatively low 5500rpm, backed by a monumental 900Nm on tap from 2250rpm.
Far more acoustically restrained than the Bentley, the AMG transports you down the road with never-ending thrust, like you’re being propelled by the hairy hand of god.
Its overtaking punch is outrageous and can make the Bentley feel a little flat-footed, though it’s unable to match its English rival on the drag strip. The 285mm-wide rear Continentals put up a hell of a fight, but the S63 Coupe is ultimately traction-limited in the first two gears, clocking 0-100km/h in 4.5sec before making up time over the rest of the quarter, crossing the line in 12.55sec at a whopping 191.61km/h – 3.69km/h quicker than the Bentley.
With this much grunt, gear selection is almost academic, which is perhaps just as well, as AMG’s wet-clutch auto isn’t the slickest transmission around. Both up and downshifts occasionally thump through and the odd stumble at low speed feels out of character in a car such as this. Thankfully, when left to its own devices in Sport mode, it does an exceptional job of choosing the right gear for any given situation.
This comes in handy on a twisty road, as the AMG’s insane acceleration means plenty of concentration is required to pick an appropriate braking point. Thankfully, the monster AMG high-performance composite brakes (390mm front/360mm rear) handle the task of repeatedly stopping 1995kg from high speed with ease.
On-the-limit handling might not have topped the S63 Coupe’s design brief but, put simply, it possesses a freakish level of dynamic ability for something so big and heavy. Certain allowances must be made for its size, but you quickly learn it can be thrown around like a car 300kg lighter.
The steering feels slightly artificial just off-centre, but the variable-ratio rack provides great turn-in response. Really commit hard and there is gentle understeer, but in general front-end grip is tenacious. Traction is equally strong; in fact, the amount of throttle you can apply on corner-exit is staggering, with real provocation needed to break the rear end free.
With the ESP set to ‘Sport’ (it can’t be deactivated completely), it allows quite a lot of slip, so you have to be on the case when the tail does slide, as there’s a lot of momentum to catch. It also has an alarming appetite for tyres when driven quickly, the Continental ContiSportContacts quickly wilting under the strain.
At this point a quick mention of the S63 Coupe’s ‘Dynamic Curve’ function seems appropriate. Much has been made of the car’s ability to ‘lean’ into corners like a motorcyclist, but in our experience the system offers little practical benefit.
It’s supposed to negate the effects of cornering forces on occupants, but snapper Jacobs notices little difference from the passenger side of the car, and from the driver’s seat the steering becomes hyper-sensitive and nervous.
Unusual suspension systems aside, the S63 is a tough act to follow, and, to be blunt, the Continental can’t. On any twisty road you care to name, the Mercedes is likely to walk away from the Bentley – in the dry, at least.
By any normal standard, however, the V8 S is still an extremely capable car, albeit one that needs a certain type of road to give its best. Being even bigger and heavier than the Mercedes with a hefty front weight bias (57.5 per cent front; 42.5 per cent rear), the Continental isn’t fond of tight, twisty roads.
Managing understeer is your only option, and despite carbon-ceramic rotors the size of manhole covers, the brakes struggle to consistently slow the car.
As the road opens out, however, its behaviour improves markedly. The linear-rate steering feels more natural than the AMG’s, though some – such as fellow tester Adam Davis – may find it too light to inspire confidence. Like the AMG, it’s much more agile than its size and weight would suggest, with the way it responds to mid-corner throttle and brake inputs bringing to mind an oversized hot hatch.
As you’d expect, all-wheel drive provides great traction, though it’s not particularly difficult to find the limits of the Bentley’s tyre grip, which can result in slight power understeer exiting slow corners.
In general, and perhaps unsurprisingly, faster and more flowing roads suit the Continental GT much better. And it’s on these kind of roads, rather than twisting mountain passes, that these high-performance coupes are designed to excel.
With double-glazed windows and enough sound deadening to muffle an AC/DC concert, both are as quiet as Tutankhamun’s tomb, though the Bentley in particular does an exceptional job of stifling wind noise.
Unfortunately, its ride is not quite so serene, with small bumps a constant irritation, even with the four-way adjustable dampers set to their softest setting. Huge 21-inch wheels and low-profile tyres with a recommended pressure of 45psi are surely no help in this regard.
This is only in comparison to the S63, though. In isolation the Bentley rides well, but the Merc’s trick Magic Body Control system, which uses stereo cameras to scan the road ahead and prepare the suspension for upcoming bumps, offers a spooky level of absorption.
It doesn’t quite offer the same magic carpet ride as the non-AMG S-Class sedan, but the slightly firmer set-up feels perfectly in tune with the two-door’s more sporting aspirations – even with the dampers set to Sport, it’s extremely comfortable.
Combine this mechanical comfort with one of the finest interiors available in a production car, and the S63 Coupe is an incredibly relaxing way to travel, like a first-class lounge on wheels. It takes the already-exceptional S-Class sedan interior, then adds greater design flair and bespoke touches like the AMG logo embossed on the centre console lid and thin strips of LEDs littered throughout the cabin that bathe the interior in a beautiful blue glow at night.
If feels expensive which, with an as-tested price of $427,100, it undoubtedly is. That money does buy a full array of the latest active safety technology, though it’s debatable how much benefit these gadgets provide to anyone that actually pays attention while driving.
The lane-keeping assist, for example, rams on the brakes and jerks the car back to the centre of lane should you so much as stray towards a white line at the road’s edge. Annoying, and immediately turned off.
The Bentley approaches luxury from a very different angle. In terms of technology, it’s a PlayStation 2 to the S63’s PlayStation 4. Its only concession to active safety technology is adaptive cruise control, and while most Bentley owners are unlikely to be aware their car shares an infotainment system with a VW Passat, something a little more bespoke should be the standard at this price point.
Where the Bentley wins points is its beautiful craftmanship. The distinctive dash, shaped to mimic the Bentley ‘wings’, is like no other car, and the materials used are second-to-none.
Soak in the details, such as the diamond-quilted leather, retro gauges and the key sticking out from the dash like an old fighter plane, and the outdated sat-nav suddenly doesn’t seem so important. It does come at a price, though, with a hefty helping of options lifting our test V8 S to $509,000 on-road.
Both of these cars are extremely capable and desirable coupes, and which is ‘better’ is undoubtedly going to be down to the individual preferences of each buyer, as these cars are likely to be bought for what the owner wants to portray about themselves as much as what each car is capable of.
Objectively, the S63 Coupe is the superior machine. It’s faster in the real world, handles better, is more comfortable, better equipped and, when typical options are taken into account, cheaper, too. But it’s a machine you would likely love because of what it can do, and the way it makes your life seem that much more relaxed.
The Bentley, on the other hand, is a car you’d love for the way it makes you feel. The noise it makes, the way it performs, and its lavish, infinitely customisable interior make it a personal statement and loaded with feel-good factor. The Mercedes wins this comparison, but either one is well worth spending that bonus on.
|MERC-AMG S63 COUPE||BENTLEY CONTI GT V8 S|
|Body||2-door, 4-seat coupe||2-door, 4-seat coupe|
|Engine||5461cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo||3993cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo|
|Bore/stroke||98.0 x 90.5mm||84.5 x 89.0mm|
|Power||430kW @ 5500rpm||389kW @ 6000rpm|
|Torque||900Nm @ 2250-3750rpm||680Nm @ 1700rpm|
|Transmission||7-speed wet-clutch auto||8-speed automatic|
|Suspension||multi-links, air springs, adaptive dampers, torsion bar (f/r)||four-link, air springs, anti-roll bar (f); multi-links, air springs, anti-roll bar (r)|
|Tracks||1610/1616mm (f/r)||1664/1655mm (f/r)|
|Steering||electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion||electrically-assisted rack-and-pinion|
|Brakes||390mm ventilated/drilled discs, 6-piston calipers (f); 360mm ventilated/drilled discs, 4-piston calipers (r)||420mm ventilated/drilled carbon ceramic discs, 8-piston calipers (f); 356mm ventilated/drilled carbon ceramaic discs, single-piston floating calipers (r)|
|Wheels||20 x 8.5-inch (f); 20 x 9.5-inch (r)||21 x 9.5-inch (f/r)|
|Tyres||255/45 ZR20 101Y (f); 285/35 R20 (r); Contintental ContiSport Contact||275/35 ZR21 (f/r) Pirelli P-Zero|
|Price as tested||$427,100||$509,000 (including on roads)|
|Positives||Incredibly fast, amazing interior, handles brilliantly, ride comfort||Thumping engine, special interior, people know it’s expensive|
|Negatives||A bit ‘sensible’, technology overload, not much really||Unsettled ride, nose-heavy handling, outdated interior tech|
|Star Rating||4.5 stars||4 stars|