If there is one Mercedes-Benz model that is unequivocally synonymous with the brand’s uncompromising slogan, it has to be the S-Class. The luxury four-door saloon has set the benchmark in its segment for the past 45 years and has the numbers to back it up. With four million units sold since its ‘official’ market introduction in 1972, it is the world’s best selling luxury saloon to date.

In a way the S-Class defined its segment and it still does; besides continuous competition from Audi’s A8 and BMW’s 7 Series, many other automakers including Jaguar, Maserati and as of late Tesla, feel compelled to set off their flagship models against the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

That being said, the pizza that represents the segment in which the S-Class operates has never been this heated: everyone wants a slice. Although comfort and performance will still largely determine the success rate in this segment, there is no denying that autonomous driving technology is rapidly growing in importance. BMW vigorously presented their autonomous driving agenda with the introduction of the latest 7 Series and Audi just unveiled their new flagship A8 packed with the latest driver assistance systems last week in Barcelona.

Mercedes-Benz is planning on staying ahead of the herd with the 2018 S-Class Facelift, explaining the implementation of no less than 6,500 new parts during this mid-cycle revamp. Featuring the latest safety and driver assistance systems, the S-Class is ready to prolong its long-time reign as king of the segment.

The S-Class AMG

A leap back in history shows us that the AMG brand has been associated with the S-Class from the very beginning. Back in the day, when AMG was just a small tuning firm started by a few former Mercedes-Benz engineers, it already took an interest in the 300 SEL featuring a 6.3-liter V8 engine. Back then the 300 SEL was the world’s fastest four-door car and inspired AMG to make it even faster. The result was the iconic 300 SEL ‘Rote Sau’, otherwise known as the ‘Red Pig’. Five examples were built, three of which were designated for the track. At the 1971 24 hours of Spa, the Red Pig was the second car to cross the finish line.

Building on the foundation laid out by AMG, Mercedes-Benz introduced the 450 SEL in 1972 featuring a 6.9-liter V8 linked to a 3-speed automatic gearbox, good for 286 horsepower and 549 Nm of torque. Several decades and many incremental improvements later I stand beside the 2018 Mercedes-AMG S 63 4MATIC+. It surely has some big shoes to fill, something it will undoubtedly succeed in doing with the help of AMG’s latest powertrain and racing technology.

New V8 Biturbo engine

Replacing the 5.5-liter V8 biturbo is AMG’s highest specification 4.0-liter V8 biturbo to date, producing 612 hp (450 kW) and 900 Nm peak torque. Two twin-scroll turbochargers placed inside the cylinder banks make for a compact engine design, maximum boost and a faster throttle response. The resulting acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h is impressive, it takes the nearly two-tonne weighing luxury saloon just 3.5 seconds. Top speed is limited at 250 km/h and can be increased to 300 km/h by speccing the AMG driver’s package.

In order to meet restraining emission regulations, the S63’s new V8 biturbo comes with a cylinder deactivation module. When cruising in comfort mode, the cylinder deactivation system will shut down four of the eight cylinders at engine speeds between 1,000 to 3,250 rpm and reduce both fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

AMG Speedshift, 4MATIC+ AWD and AIRMATIC sports suspension

The new V8 biturbo is married to the MCT 9-Speed automatic transmission, calibrated by Mercedes-AMG. Just as in the E63 S it comes with a more responsive wet clutch instead of a torque converter and features extra short shift times. Drivers that are feeling frisky can manually take over using the large aluminum shift paddles behind the steering wheel.

The gearbox diverts power to all four wheels thanks to the 4MATIC+ variable all-wheel drive system. Torque is split variably between the front and rear axle, ensuring optimal traction and higher stability in grim weather conditions. However if you happen to live in the UK or another right-hand drive country, you will have to do with standard rear-wheel drive.

The Mercedes-AMG S 63 is supported by a very versatile suspension setup that combines air suspension with adaptive damping, making the difference between dynamic and comfort driving modes even more perceptible. The driver is free to rely on a preset suspension through the drive select menu or configure it individually. Rigidity comes from a larger stabilizer bar and a firmer subframe at the rear axle that are exclusive to the S 63 4MATIC+.

Design

The 2018 model certainly did not change as much on the outside as it did under its skin. A few minor cosmetic changes are worth mentioning; these include the redesigned multi-beam LED headlights, more expressive front apron with jet wing and larger air intakes. A long the side new skirts bring the S63 visually lower to the ground and at the rear the 2018 model received a new diffuser insert that nicely contains the dual-pipe exhaust tips on both sides. The taillights received a modest makeover as well, now featuring the same type of ‘stardust’ taillights as the E-Class.

Although this remains unconfirmed by Mercedes-Benz, I couldn’t help but notice the clever thought behind the light design of the new S-Class. Certainly the S-Class has become tougher to distinguish from its siblings over the past few years, especially from the rear. Now the S-Class features three LED lighting stripes at the front and three light surfaces at the rear, the E-Class has two stripes at the front and two surfaces at the rear, and the C-Class features a single LED stripe at the front and a different lighting module at the rear; coincidence?

Anyway, true fanatics will be able to distinguish the S-Class from its siblings regardless of the lights. Its proportions are intriguing, especially at the front the S 63 looks like a real powerhouse thanks to the muscular hood and big chrome grille. A tiny smear on its otherwise flawless design may be the radar and camera unit at the heart of the grille, which certainly looks not as elegant as the shining star on top. To be fair, the designers were probably left with few options given the extent of technology the new S 63 incorporates.

Interior

In terms of interior space the S-Class was in for a modest update given the minor revolution that took place in the interior of the latest E-Class. Although it is a performance car, the interior designers stuck to the luxury ambience and nature of the S-Class. Power sports seats with memory function, Nappa leather and AMG badging in the front and rear backrests are standard.

Get into the driver’s seat and you will notice the steering wheel was updated as well. Not only the lower edge is now straight, the designers have also shaved something off the sides. So far I have received mixed opinions about the new steering wheel, personally I have not yet decided. Although it does appear smaller, I did not notice a significant change in feel and grip. This steering wheel also comes with the touch pads first introduced in the E-Class, and a range of other buttons and functionality that took some time getting used to.

Personally I took a liking into how everything was organized in the E-Class. Sophisticated, easy to understand and a separate handle for the drive pilot and cruise control on the left side of the steering wheel. The steering wheel in the S-Class does not have this handle and instead features an array of buttons on the steering wheel, something I am personally not quite fond of. Having such functionality not aligned in different models is a missed opportunity, especially given the fact it would not visually change anything to the car’s interior.

However I was glad to see that the large 31.2 dual TFT screen did make its way over to the S-Class’ updated interior. Glazed by a fine looking panel, the digital cockpit and infotainment screen are the modern-day eye candy you want. The instrument layout is fully customizable using the touch pads on the steering wheel as well as control knob in the mid-console. Once switched on, the infotainment system gives driver and passengers access to an unparalleled cluster of options including 64 different colors of ambient lighting, different screen designs, 3D navigation, seat massage, a car perfume regulator and the exclusive concierge service.

From September 2017 Mercedes-Benz will launch their ‘ENERGIZING comfort’ program as another luxurious option. The concept entails wellness while driving, letting the driver and passengers choose from six different programs that link various on-board comfort systems including climate control, seat- heating, ventilation and massage, ambient lighting and musical atmosphere. The programs include freshness, joy, vitality, warmth, comfort and training. All programs run for 10 minutes and are guided by suitable lighting, intensity of the car fragrance, massage and music.

Driving assistance and technology

Mercedes-Benz presented the 2017 E-Class as the most intelligent saloon on the market at the time, but managed to raise the bar even further with the S-Class facelift. A million kilometers of fully autonomous driving is what it took to bring all this technology to the market, so we were told by one of its developers.

We were already provided the opportunity to test all the tech on the new S-Class earlier this year, which includes highlights such as the semi-autonomous drive pilot, ECO assist that recognizes traffic signs and uses live traffic data, automatic lane change, fully autonomous park pilot, automatic speed reduction for curves, traffic situations and general speed limits based on navigation and live traffic data, and much more! For the full overview, make sure to visit our earlier article.

On the road

Almost nothing compares to a loud cold start in the morning. At the push of a button the fierce V8 biturbo of the S 63 4MATIC+ roared to life, overwhelming the cheerfully tweeting birds. Navigation set, valves open, we were ready to make our way to the countryside and put the 2018 Mercedes-AMG S 63 4MATIC+ through its paces. An empty on-ramp leading onto the highway presented a graceful first opportunity to have a firm stab at the throttle – a menacing experience. Compared to its predecessor and the 2017 Mercedes-AMG E 63 S the kickback and force of acceleration is exceptional.

The S 63 shifts through its gears like it is nothing and makes sure the other road users can count along. The end of each gear is greeted by a loud bang and brings about an instant smile, which is exactly how it should be. I cannot say it often enough, but sound, emotion and engagement is something the engineers at Mercedes-AMG have absolutely nailed.

At higher speeds the S 63 is just as stable and confidence-enabling as it has always been. It aggressively devours the asphalt like a yacht cutting through the most challenging of seas, everything moves out of its way at the first sight of its imposing front apron. During a dynamic journey through the countryside the S 63 made me forget all about the luxury options and driver assistance systems and was genuinely engaging and fun to drive.

Although the weather was not ideal, the wet roads formed no match for the all-wheel drive system of the S 63. The traction was impeccable, apart from a single moment of mild understeer and a hard straight-line braking maneuver that noticeably had the wheels searching for grip. The significant weight of the luxury coach played a role here too; including two passengers and some luggage it tips the scales at well-over 2 tonnes.

Feedback from the new wheel is fine, but not overwhelming. It almost feels a little overpowered, making it harder to feel the road and calculate the vehicle’s boundaries. However the four-wheel steering certainly makes the S 63 more agile and direct, making it possible to sharply lean into curves despite the size and weight of the car.

After a thrilling morning full of adrenaline it was time to experiment with the new ENERGIZING comfort program. Instantly after having started one of the programs – I believe it was vitality – some funky music filled the interior space and the seat massage kicked in. Although I get the idea of breaking through the boundaries of luxurious options and wanting to offer something new, I am still trying to grasp the added value of this specific addition. Personally I’d much rather determine my own seat massaging program and music.

I also tried out some of the semi-autonomous technologies the car has to offer, although much of it is already familiar to me. One of the coolest additions is when you are driving on a country road and flip the indicator for the upcoming turn, the car already knows and automatically slows down. The automatic speed reduction according to actual speed limits is comforting too, there are still too many systems out there that do not take this into account – I am looking at you Tesla – and make you feel like you can sit back while in fact you might be collecting speed tickets on the way.

Pricing, competition and conclusion

Starting from €160,293 in Germany the Mercedes-AMG S 63 4MATIC+ is certainly not the cheapest in its segment, provided that for the V8 model there is no real direct competitor offering similar performance. BMW’s 760Li xDrive starts from €166,300 but comes with a twin-turbo V12. The S 65 with V12 biturbo will certainly be priced higher, starting from €235,000 previously. The Audi S8 Plus comes closer to the ballpark, currently priced from €145,000 in Germany. However, the S8 Plus is almost two years old and has significantly fewer features. As of now we are still anticipating the pricing for the recently revealed 2019 Audi A8.

Is €160,293 plus options a fair deal for the 2018 Mercedes-AMG S 63 4MATIC+? I absolutely think it is a fair price for the performance car that still sets the benchmark in its class. Considering the update in autonomous driving technologies and power, refreshed interior and stylish changes to the exterior, this generation S-Class is ready to take on the competition for another three to four years. The new S 63 managed to raise the bar even further in the luxury performance segment and it seems unlikely it will be kicked off its throne anytime soon.

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