WHAT IS IT
It’s ostensibly a Mercedes-Benz S-Class limo shorn of a couple of doors. That much isn’t too difficult to get a handle on, but the Coupe takes on a more raffish, less business-formal persona. It weighs in against some formidable rivals, but it has developed into a wholly credible contender.
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Mercedes invited us to drive the GLC 63S hot SUV and had a couple of pre-production S-Class coupes lurking in the back lot. It seemed an opportunity too tempting to turn down, so instead of sitting down to lunch with a pot and a parma, we had a pedal in both the S560 and S63 AMG versions.
Aston Martin DB11; Bentley Continental GT; BMW 8 Series; Maserati GranTurismo; Porsche Panamera
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Although S-Class Coupe buyers aren’t notably price averse, less in this instance is more. Yes, you could easily spend $600K on an S65 AMG V12 with options, but the $315K entry-level S560 is as sweet a package as you’d ever really need and with its price reduction now looks the most competitive big Benz coupe for decades.
Read next: 2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S review
PLUS: Styling; equipment; ride; relaxed cadence; presence; huge boot
MINUS: Badge equity at this price point; some interior quality issues; colour sensitivity; token rear seat space
THE WHEELS REVIEW
WHEN was the last time that Mercedes-Benz sold a real head-turner of a big coupe? This C217-series car, launched in 2015, was gem that needed a little polishing. Its predecessor, the C216 coupe (2007-2014) was blandly handsome, while the Peter Arcadipane-styled ‘peanut-light’ C215 coupe (1999-2006) always seemed to have an imbalance between its tank-like superstructure and its delicate glasshouse.
Prior to that was the porcine W140-generation CL coupe (1992-1998), so the answer to this question may well be 1991, when the last of the delightful Bruno Sacco-styled W126 SEC coupes finally rolled off the lines. This car was sketched in 1977, so it’s been four decades since we’ve been treated to a coupe flagship from Stuttgart that had the presence and force of personality to stand out as something other than an S-Class sedan with less.
While that may seem a harsh assessment, it’s one that’s borne out by sales. The SEC sold 12,343 units per year of production. The C215 shifted barely half that figure; just 6854 units per annum. Mercedes now sells 2.3 million cars per year, whereas back in 1991, the company sold 560,000 cars. You might expect the latest coupe to enjoy a fourfold increase over the sales of the old SEC, but interest in the S-Class Coupe has comparatively withered, with demand currently standing at around 9000 cars per year. Despite the AMG division going from strength to strength, it seems that big luxury coupes have fallen from favour.
It’s possible to make the case that Mercedes-Benz’s latest S-Class Coupe is therefore fighting an intriguing rearguard action. Yes, you can still buy a model fitted with the mighty 6.0-litre V12 engine for $508,900 but that’s going to sell in vanishingly tiny numbers, despite the undoubted attraction of 463kW and 1000Nm.
We got the chance to drive a couple of rather more relevant versions, both powered by the now-familiar 4.0-litre V8 ‘hot-vee’ powerplant. The S560 Coupe is good for 345kW/700Nm and retails at $314,900, while the S63 AMG Coupe boosts that engine to 450kW/900Nm and will set you back $370,500.
The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that those prices are significantly cheaper than before. The S63 is $44K cheaper than its 5.5-litre predecessor, and 20kW more powerful to boot, while the S560 is $11K more affordable and 10kW punchier than the old 4.7-litre S500 Coupe. That’s more than a good start.
The S560 and the S63 look quite different, largely due to the fact that the latter now gets the vertically-slatted Panamericana grille that’s fitted to other 63-badged AMG products across the range. Your mileage may vary on quite how elegantly this works with the sleek S-Class Coupe shape. It certainly doesn’t want for visual impact now, the S560 looking almost low-key in comparison.
It’s usually a smart idea to jump into the least powerful car first and then work up, but availability was such that I found myself parked in the S63 AMG for the first drive. It’s debatable whether the cabin feels different enough at this price point, when you can buy something like an Aston Martin DB11 or, for just a little more, a Bentley Continental GT that gives a genuinely bespoke impression. It’s hard to fault the amount of gear on offer though. What’s not quite so cut and dried is exactly what the S63 AMG is trying to be.
AMG has found favour in many markets by making their wares as loud and angry as possible, a remit that doesn’t really fit with that of an elegant large coupe.
The S63 AMG wears fairly focused Continental ContiSportContact 5P rubber, 255/40 ZR20 up front and 285/35 ZR20 boots at the back and even with the air suspension set into Comfort, there’s a fair degree of tyre roar transmitted through the fuselage.
The 5.0m long and 1.9m wide body doesn’t exactly shrink around you on a twisty road, but it does a reasonably job of concealing its bulk in the sportier modes.
It feels seriously rapid, the nine-speed transmission plugging you into that prodigious torque. Take control and rev it hard and there’s a flintiness right at the upper registers as it nears its 7000rpm redline, but for the most part, it can sound distant and potent rather than spine-tingling, AMG subtly turning down the artillery sound effects on the overrun.
The AMG Speedshift MCT nine-speed transmission is a big step forward from the old seven-speed unit, helping the S63 to 100km/h in 4.2s.
One of the most interesting features on this vehicle was our first taste of Mercedes’ new cruise control system. Active Intelligent Drive allows you to set the cruise control to a certain speed, but rather than blindly attempt to maintain that speed through corners and junctions, the system relies on mapping software to judge the right speed for corners and slow to a standstill at intersections.
It’s still in its early phase of development, and it’s a little weird to begin with. Whereas a human driver would slow for a corner, then accelerate through it as the view up the road opened, the system seems to come into corners quickly and then decelerate through them. It’s a little disconcerting at first, but it seems to work. I did experience the car braking to near standstill because the mapping couldn’t tell it that I had right of way as I passed a side road, so the system is only as good as the mapping data it receives.
The S63 also gets the AMG Driver’s Package, which lifts the governed top speed to a vaguely academic (in this market at least) 300km/h, an AMG performance steering wheel, illuminated floor sills, 20-inch AMG forged wheels, a high-performance composite braking system with red brake calipers and a sports exhaust.
Jump into the S560 after the S63 and it feels a more relaxed thing, despite the fact that against the clock it’s barely any slower, registering 4.6s for the sprint to 100km/h.
The more malleable suspension tune makes more sense for a GT car, although there were still some quality issues on these pre-production cars that would need addressing, such as rattling door speakers and seat belts.
Read next: 2019 Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe review
The Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres also feel a little more relaxed in their ride than the Continentals, although there’s still a bit too much road noise evident. With the S560, you get what you’re given as far as suspension tune goes, although it seems well-judged. Our car was finished in white which robbed the shape of a lot of its tension, especially in the flanks, so darker is most certainly the way to go to bring out the shape and detail of this intricate and elegant shape.
The Multicontour seats with inflating and deflating chambers are a delight and the new steering wheel’s ergonomics work well. The three-spoke tiller is no great beauty, but it marshals the cruise control functions, in particular, very effectively. The S-Class Coupe is packed with safety features, many of which are well beyond the obvious. Take Pre-Safe sound for instance. This cranks the stereo to play white noise at 80 decibels when it senses you’re about to have a prang, reducing potential ear drum damage from crash noise.
Of the two cars, the S560 seems to for the remit for an elegant, rapid, relaxed GT car a bit better. The S63, while impressive in its own right, just seems to be a little too fighty for the GT brief but not angry enough to convince as a ball-tearing sports coupe.
Should you be in possession of somewhere north of three hundred grand and need a supercoupe with intelligence and elegance, it’s hard to better the S560. Its blend of driver focus and technology is one that its rivals can’t equal.
Yes, you can buy something more exclusive and it’s possible to buy something that delivers more on twisty roads, but for covering distance in style and comfort, the latest S Class Coupe could be the best of its ilk.
Model: Mercedes-Benz S560 Coupe
Engine: 3982cc, V8, dohc, 32v, turbocharged
Max Power: 345kW @ 5500 to 6250rpm
Max Torque: 700Nm @ 1750 to 4500rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 4.6 sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 8.5L/100km (European combined cycle)
On sale: Now