Driven in SA: Mercedes S-Class Coupé
By Dave Abrahams
Cape Town - First and foremost, the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupé is an S-Class.
It has superlative Magic Ride suspension, an opulent interior, intelligence that shames some people I know, and a combination of power, poise and presence matched only by Jon Voight's daughter.
It is also a genuine coupé with just two long, elegant doors and the superbly clean profile that comes with that layout.
The front treatment is unmistakeably S-Class, bold and broad with a big three-pointed star front and centre, and very strong horizontals. Its most distinctive features are the optional LED headlights, each with 47 Swarovski crystals in the shape of a quizzical eyebrow over the projectors, 17 faceted crystals making up the daytime running lights and 30 round 'cabochon' crystals for the indicator.
From the rear, however, the new Coupé has a more rounded boot treatment and a dramatic roofline. While it lacks the purity of line of the Audi RS5, its purposeful sweep defies comparison with four-door wannabes.
At 5027mm long on a 2945mm wheelbase, 1899mm wide and 1411mm high it is 89mm shorter and 85mm lower than the sedan, but it's still a big, imposing car; you never lose the feeling that you are in command of a serious piece of machinery - but that does not mean it isn't fast, even on the Western Cape's tightest, twistiest mountain passes.
AMG LEADS THE WAY
The 'standard' S500, with 4663cc biturbo V8 rated at 335kW and 700Nm and all-new 9G -Tronic transmission, wasn't available in time for last week's SA launch in the Cape (we were told it was expected on showroom floors in April 2015) so the assembled motoring media had to make do with Affalterbach's big guns - the S63 and S65 AMG versions.
I first drove the S63 with 5.5 litre biturbo V8 and Speedshift MCT seven-speed sports transmission, rated in this application for 430kW at 5500 revs and 900Nm from 2250-3750rpm.
Sinking into the sumptuously leather-trimmed, deeply supportive sports seats, I got my first surprise in the car park at the start venue. As I turned sharply right, at little more than walking pace, the left bolster of the seat back moved sharply inwards to support my ribcage.
It takes a little getting used to, but it's oddly reassuring when tackling the twisties, without making you overconfident, and actually helps you to get a feel of what is going on between tyre and tarmac.
Then you put foot and, with scarcely an instant's pause to spool up the blowers, the Affalterbach Sledgehammer kicks you in the small of your back. It's loud (especially in Sport mode, where we left it all day), a little raucous when pushed hard and absolutely, undeniably addictive.
Mercedes-Benz says the S63 will hit 100km/h from a standstill in a shade over four seconds - which, for any car weighing in at 2070kg, is impressive.
The next surprise came when we chased a rival manufacturer's product through a series of tight corners - the S63 and S65 have a new feature called Magic Body Control (it will also be optional on the S500, when it eventually arrives) that leans the whole car into a corner like a motorcycle or skier.
It's not noticeable inside the car, other than a feeling of poise and balance akin to dropping into a perfectly banked turn on a racetrack, but becomes very visible when you're behind a car that doesn't have it!
But by far the most impressive facet of the S63 Coupe was its road-holding; big as it is, it steers with razor-sharp accuracy and holds its line like a government minister in denial - and it's acceleration out of corners is breathtaking.
It's supercar quick, with absolutely no drama, not a trace of over or under-steer up to indecently high levels of lateral G. The only place where you are going to be able to explore this car's limits is on the track; that is also the only arena where it would be less than insane to try.
Nevertheless, every silver lining has a cloud, and in this case it's thirst; pushed hard, the S63 averaged a wallet-whacking 19.1 litres per 100km.
For the return journey, we settled into the equally cosseting embrace of the range-topping S65. As in the S63, the cabin is almost indecently luxurious, with all the gizmotronics that make the S-Class sedan so special, from 3D top view to head-up display, touchpad infotainment control, hot stone massage seats and a choice of concert-quality Burmester sound systems.
Even the two individual rear seats are far more welcoming than the usual 'plus two' you'd expect from a two-door car, no matter how luxurious.
The six-litre biturbo V12 is rated for 463kW and 1000Nm, and is theoretically capable of launching from 0-100km/h in 4.1 seconds; top speed, as with the S63, is limited to 250km/h.
It runs turbine-smooth all the way to the redline at 6000rpm but, even in Sport mode with the 7G-Tronic transmission set to Manual, it seems to lack the raw urge of the V8; it simply doesn't feel as punchy.
A vague feeling that the transmission was also less energetic became certainty when I hit the paddle for an urgent downshift into a downhill corner and it kept me waiting for a heart-stopping eternity before finally condescending to select a lower gear, way after the apex.
That evening I asked AMG product manager for South Africa Marcel Perez why the two transmissions were so different. He explained that experience had shown S63 owners were far more likely to take their cars on to the track, so the shift pattern of its Speedshift MCT seven-speed sports transmission was calibrated for instant response, whereas the software of the S65's Speedshift Plus 7G-Tronic was set up to change gears with consummate smoothness, even if that meant keeping the driver waiting a moment for butter-smooth shifting.
If you're looking for silky-smooth Grand Touring, the S65 AMG Coupé is the pinnacle of the Mercedes-Benz range; if what you want is ultimate luxury combined with astonishing powertrain and chassis dynamics, the S63 is the more engaging drive.
If all you're after is a prestigious luxury two-door with every bell and whistle you can think of and quite a few that you can't, look no further than the S500.
The S500 and S63 AMG Coupés will also be available for a limited period at launch with a special Edition 1 package, at an extra cost of R175 000 and R120 000 respectively.
S500 Coupé - R1 913 000
S500 Edition 1 - R2 088 000
S63 AMG Coupé - R2 499 100
S63 AMG Edition 1 - R2 619 100
S65 AMG Coupé - R3 070 700
Prices include a six-year or 100 000km maintenance plan.