2015 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe Pros
- Built to a vision, not a price
- Oh, that sound
2015 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe Cons
- AMG could stand some differentiation
- A plug-in hybrid would be fantastic
On paper, the new Mercedes Benz S550 4 Matic Coupe and the AMG S63 4 Matic Coupe seem pretty far apart. The S550 carries a base price of $120,825, including destination, and is equipped with 449 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. The S63 is a full $41,000 higher in price, 128 more horsepower, and an extra 148 lb-ft of torque. The numbers, however, are a very small fraction of the total differences between the two models.
The S-Class coupe is replacing the CL. Just as this was being written, Mercedes announced a complete revamp of its naming structure that is more focused on defining core structure model lines and a bit more descriptive. Regardless of the name, the flagship status is obvious from the size and presence on the road, even if the new styling looks as if it takes up less of the road. The styling language for the S-Coupe originated in 2009 with the Vision GT Concept under the leadership of Gordon Wagener, Mercedes' head of design. He explains, "Luxury changes, it is the most rare thing, but also the most desirable at the time."
The simplicity of design started in the 1920s with the Bauhaus movement, but how that is translated onto the S-Coupe is what makes it modern. "The beauty is in the purity," Gordon explains. "Designers love simplicity. Everything starts in the proportions. You can't camouflage bad proportions with good design." With that in mind, the coupe is elegant and balanced at every angle. The design is cohesive, and you don't get different emotions when changing angles. The S550 and S63 are differentiated by front and rear bumpers, the AMG having a more aggressive look.
Gordon isn't stuck on just the artistic side of the design. "In an increasingly digital world, analog becomes desirable and luxurious." For the better part of automotive history, the headlight was a necessary evil for designers. At first they were a fixed round shape that had to be hung on the car. They were later integrated and not long after, started to be shaped. It has only been in recent years, mostly due to technology, that the inside of the headlight has become a design element. "Headlights are where we cut open the body to show the tech inside." The headlight has become the crystal back that reveals the movement on a fine watch. There are now teams dedicated to light design, something that would shock car designers from just 20 years ago.
Differences between the S550 and the S63's interiors are minimally different as well. The S63 sports a flat-bottomed, thicker-rimmed AMG steering wheel. The interior design is roomy but enveloping; you never feel as if you need more space. The seats are large and soft, with a range of adjustments that has to make just about any sized person comfortable. Many German designers still believe the best interiors are functional, comfortable, but most importantly, not distracting. Mercedes was that way for many years, but things are changing. "As cars become more autonomous, the car becomes more a living space," according to Gordon. Again, luxury isn't just about the amount of equipment inside the car, but how you interact with it.
During the conversation, when Gordon pauses to think, he rolls, flips, and slides his iPhone 6 in his hands. He references it several times to explain design concepts. The iPhone embodies good design. "Sex appeal has natural attraction, but universal appeal has timelessness."
As everything becomes more digital in cars, the S-Coupe has large video displays inlaid in the dash where you normally find gauges, things like air vents become eye candy, and switches are the new tactile treats. Adjusting the air vents in the S-Coupe returns a slightly damped click. It feels expensive. The switches and buttons all offer the same smooth and slow resistance. These things may not matter to most car shoppers, they just want to switch on the radio, but a car like this is incomplete without those touches. In the end, let's be honest, it is the smallest of details that feel of unwavering attention. That's what commands the extra price.
On the road, the cars are all about the details as well. As mentioned before, both cars are very similar mechanically, yet feel very different. It's obvious that countless hours have been spent calibrating them exactly to someone's vision of the car. The S550 drives down the road exuding luxury. It feels larger and heavier than the AMG, although it isn't. The steering in the S550 is slower and requires more lock for the same radius turn. The S550's suspension is firm and transmits road information without ever being harsh. The 4.7L twin-turbo V-8 rumbles along inside the car and you can feel it. There is still a mechanical connection to the car. I am actually a bit surprised by it. Everything I hear and feel, I know Mercedes as the ability to filter or tune out—they've done it in other cars.
The S63 is the next stage in this experiential tuning. The 5.5L twin-turbo V-8 changes from the Coupe's rumble to a roar. You feel it in your gut either from inside the car or out. It fires up with a crackle and "vruuump." The sound alone tells you this is going to be a different experience from the S550. The throttle is more sensitive, which makes the car more excitable. Where the S550 takes high-speed cruising in long, effortless strides, the S63 wants to eat up the road and the other cars on it. It isn't a sports car in any way, but something like a large, powerful yacht. There is more feedback from the road—again it isn't harsh and you would never confuse the ride with an SLS, but you know what the massive tires are rolling over. The S550's seven-speed traditional torque convertor automatic changes gears with a soft push against your back. The S63 is equipped with AMG's seven-speed, wet, multi-plate, single-clutch, automatic transmission. It snatches gears quickly, but never bangs them. It has a unique sensation compared to all the dual-clutch gearboxes out there; it falls somewhere between those and a traditional auto.
Like the gear changes, steering is now more direct and precise. The steering rack is quicker and the front suspension has more negative camber. The rear subframe is also mounted on stiffer bushings; all of this adds up to a more responsive chassis. The S63 still feels large on twisting back roads, but it feels more eager to get down them.
In Sport Mode, I can see where some customers of a six-figure luxury coupe might find it a little unsettling. This car has the ability to feel a bit serious. On larger mountain roads filled with big sweepers, the S63 has the ability to run with some other pretty serious competition, and I suspect many S-Coupe buyers have no interest in that.
There are probably a fair number of our readers wondering if this car has any relevance to them at all. The S-Class, in any form, has always been one of the benchmarks in the automotive world. This latest coupe is no exception. From the styling to the technology, everything you see here will trickle down into cars at all price ranges. Perhaps more applicable is the theory behind these cars. As already stated, Mercedes could have made both of these cars quieter, smoother, and ultimately more disconnected. The fact that a powerhouse like Mercedes sees the value in keeping the mechanical soul alive inside cars is encouraging for everyone. Designers of less expensive, less technologically advanced cars strive to emulate the S-Class. If Mercedes and AMG can show the timelessness in enjoying the mechanical attributes of the car, the rest of the industry will follow.
The S550 and S63 are trendsetters. While both very similar, they speak to different buyers. Mercedes tells us that in this market, the price difference isn't really a deciding factor. Someone buying either of these cars is probably parking them in a garage with at a minimum two other cars. This might even be the least expensive of the fleet. Choosing between the two simply does come down to preference. If it were my choice, I would take the AMG simply because I want the greater connection to the car, yet I can see the attraction of the S550's ultimate luxury. If these two versions seem slightly too common, never fear, AMG will be showing the 6.0L twin-turbo V-12-powered S65 shortly. Is there anything more mechanically lust-worthy than a V-12?