Dan Scanlan finds the S65 AMG to be an amazing car – half ultimate flagship and the other half muscle car king. And both halves behave beautifully.

Doing a smoky burnout in a luxury flagship that can cocoon its passengers in massaging heated or cooled seats with a sound system that rivals most homes, seemed sacrilegious. Yet a tap of the right alloy pedal and our ‘15 S65 AMG spun its rear rubber and did a classic muscle car doughnut, then launched to 60-mph only 7/10ths-of-a-second slower than a Corvette Z06!

So what do we make of this flagship, with more power than even the uber-luxurious M-B S600 Maybach? To find out, we fire up the twin-turbo V-12, burn some asphalt, then pull over and sip sodas from the champagne cooler as we watch a DVD from the reclining back seat with foot rest and a cooling breeze on our S.

You can’t see much under the bonnet, just a carbon fiber shield that hides the 6-liter twin turbocharged V-12. This locomotive puts out 621 horsepower and a formidable 738 pound-feet torque at full thrust. Engine builder Steffen Hahn (signature on the engine build plate) must be proud of this one.

The AMG Speedshift Plus 7-Speed dual-clutch transmission has three modes – Controlled Efficiency (C), Sport (S) and Manual (M). The last two shorten shift times and tighten throttle reaction and steering feel, while C backs off on those and engages a start/stop engine function at stop lights to save fuel. 

This chauffeur had fun putting pedal to metal. The S65 immediately hooked up, its 4,969 pounds hitting 60-mph in 4 seconds and 100 mph in 10 seconds, sometimes with subtle wheelspin. No turbo lag – passing was immediate. The exhaust gave a mellow bellow as we sped forward. Yet the car was very quiet at speed. The dual-clutch quickly shifted with muffled “whoomps” from the exhaust at each shift. Even set in C, our 7,000-mile-old Benz never saw more than 17 mpg and had to fill up twice on premium in our week-long test. 

The S65 is big, but tries to be as light as possible with an aluminum hybrid bodyshell which lives on a four-link front axle and multilink independent rear suspension. The Magic Body Control and active damping immediately softens or firms up the air suspension to absorb bumps. A stereo camera reads the bumps ahead, then body control adjusts the suspension in advance to smooth out the disruption.

With “Comfort” mode, the ride was soft yet controlled, still firm enough to mask the car’s size. “Sport” made the car more eager to play in a curve, yet still supple, ironing out bumps with taut suspension control. The car also had a cornering assist system that provides torque vectoring on the inside rear wheel to make the rear end behave better and minimize understeer in a high-speed corner.

This 16.5-foot-long sedan can handle. It wafted around curves with minimal body roll and almost no understeer as its electromechanical AMG speed-sensitive sports steering offered great feel and a stiffer precision in “Sport,” and just enough feedback in “Comfort.” Push hard and adaptive seat bolsters held me in. The car felt neutral in our skid pad, just a hint of understeer if pushed that was controlled by ESP. Power into a corner and the rears slipped a touch, then ESP held them in.

Cornering assist also gave the inside rear just enough to rotate the car more precisely into the turn. Looking over my skidpad shots, the car has almost no body roll as it carves the curves. Turn off ESP and we could get the tail out in the skidpad, leaving some serious rubber in a smoking powerslide. Those 15.4-inch front/14.2-inch rear vented and cross-drilled disc brakes with AMG calipers had precise feel and solid bite, bringing the car down from huge velocities time and time again with no fade and minimal nose dive. 

For safety, a PRE-SAFE system detects pedestrians and starts braking. A lane-keeping system vibrates the steering wheel if you drift across a lane, then nudges the car back. The cruise control maintains speed and distance. And while these are just a step away from driving hands and feet-free, the car will flash a warning if it thinks you are letting it do the driving!

Our Magnetite Black test car looked stealthy and gray, but got a lot of attention as people stopped and stared at the things that make an AMG stand out. The flagship’s 2013 redesign saw its radiator grille wrought larger and more upright, the three twin-bladed chrome bars the AMG touch. Sweeping dual LED strips accent the all-LED headlights – almost 500 LEDs handle interior and exterior lighting. 

To change a S550 into an S65AMG, the nose gets a deep chrome mesh center intake under that main grille with alloy lower air dam, flanked by chrome-edged side intakes. The high trunk has a subtle spoiler crafted in over an AMG-specific lower alloy bar with twin exhaust tips. A “V12 biturbo” badge on the front fenders catches attention. The chrome lower sill accent visually lowers the car. Within the gentle flared fenders lie slim AMG brushed alloy 5-spokes and shod with P255/40ZR20-inch front/P285/35ZR20-inch rear Continental rubber.

Many who looked inside our S65 AMG said it was like a luxurious home – one said it was roomer than their home!
 The dashboard face is done in a diamond-patterned perforated brown leather with intricate dual stitching. Deep weave carbon fiber sweeps through the centerline, with a Swiss-made IWC Schaffhausen clock with carbon-fiber face.

Floating between the leather are two 12.3-inch wide high-resolution color displays. The left is a virtual 220-mph speedometer with a percentage fuel left display – I’d rather have a gauge. The right side is an 8,000-rpm tach with engine temperature. In between, almost any infotainment or comfort functions you want on the trip computer screen. You can tap on Night View Assist PLUS and get an infrared view of people in front of you on a dark road. A head-up display projects vehicle speed, navigation and cruise control distance, gear selection and an upshift bar in manual shift mode.

 The right display is the “everything else” screen. Display a- huge satellite navigation screen or owner’s manual. You can show front seat heat/ventilation/massage and side bolster support features, or CDs with cover art plus all radio and media, telephone functions. The climate control has “active perfuming,” its scent bottle clipping into an illuminated slot in the glove compartment. Seven colors can be called up on accent lighting on the door-mounted tweeters, dashboard screens, center console and doors.

All of the above are activated via the center console’s COMAND touch-sensitive top and its twist/nudge/tap alloy rotary pushbutton, surrounded by buttons for seat, radio, media, navigation, phone and car settings. The top is a touchpad that lets you use smartphone-like squeeze, tap and slide moves to handle menus. It sometimes didn’t work. We would use voice command, navigation entries spoken in one shot – easy.

The front seats had stitched and embossed Nappa leather with superb comfort and support. Embossed atop the center armrest is the ornate AMG seal honoring its headquarters town of Affalterbach. Under a center gloss black panel was a six-disc CD changer and twin cup holders under a rubberized floor that blocked the CD slot when used. That CD and the AM-FM-SiriusXM-MP3 and Bluetooth audio is heard through a Burmester High-End 3D-Surround Sound system with 24 speakers all over, even on the headliner, done in artfully perforated aluminum. The door-mounted tweeters twirled out as the car fired up with a snarling burp from its exhaust. Take it from me – full volume ROCKS your world without distortion.

Long rear doors open wide onto a veritable palace – twin reclining seats separated by a wide console with compartments for twin folding alloy tables. Another panel hides cooled or heated cup holders, with climate controls nearby. Between the seats is the three-bottle wine cooler with a CD/DVD player. Front and rear seats each have three memory presets. Like the front seats, the rears have side bolsters that inflate in turns to hold you in. Twin screens offer videos, seat control graphics, even the navigation route, all controlled via door-mounted buttons or a very comprehensive remote. 

The seat behind the driver gets a 37-degree recline and heat, ventilation and massage. But the best seat is behind the front passenger – a full 43.5-degree recliner with extending leg support. It’s truly comfortable, with soft suede pillows on the head restraint. As for the trunk, waving a foot under the rear bumper activated the power opener. But don’t look for a lot of room since the wine cooler and a big subwoofer take up luggage space.

The base S550 starts at $94,400, then our top-line S65 starts at $222,000. Options – $3,700 carbon fiber and piano black interior trim; $1,100 refrigerator; $1,950 executive rear package w/power rear seats, folding tables and heated/cooled cup holders; and a $1,700 gas guzzler tax. With delivery, $231,375.

Words & Photos: Dan Scanlan.

For more information about the latest luxury-performance vehicles from Mercedes-Benz, please visit  http://www.mbusa.com/mercedes/index