First Drive: Mercedes-AMG S-Class hybrid delivers big on every promise
Smug? No, that’s not the right word. Maybe “superior.” Yes, that better describes the relatively brief press presentation by Mercedes executives for the Mercedes-AMG S 63 E Performance. “We’ve done something rather remarkable here,” was the message. “You have a 13-page small-print briefing in front of you, now let’s go drive the car.”
And we did, on the Pacific Coast Highway and twisty canyon roads around Malibu, California, where a 210-inch, probably 5500-pound (a guess; the U.S.-spec weight wasn’t in the press briefing) luxury car might not be the obvious choice. But the big car’s agility was, well, rather remarkable. So was the price: An estimated $240,000, as tested.
Straight-line performance also impresses. The handcrafted, twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8, combined with plug-in hybrid technology straight from, we were told, Sir Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 car, generates a total of 791 horsepower, making this S 63 E Performance the most powerful S-Class ever. The manufacturer’s estimated 0-to-60-mph time of 3.2 seconds seems conservative, especially given the rocket-ship start when you apply the very simple-to-operate launch control. We expect AMG S-Class owners to use the launch control about as often as Range Rover owners tackle the Rubicon Trail, but it’s there to impress nonetheless.
“The focus of the powertrain,” says that press briefing, “is less on electric range and more on best-in-class performance.” Appropriately understated, in good S-Class tradition. Still, the maybe 20-miles-per-charge of electric range could handle a lot of customers’ daily commutes. You can select four levels of power recuperation, one of which kicks in when you take your foot off the accelerator pedal. The EPA fuel-economy ratings have not been set, but the gasoline engine is thirsty for, of course, premium fuel.
There’s a lot going on under the hood of the AMG S-Class, which, incidentally, does not carry the typical Mercedes star hood ornament but a small engineered-in-Affalterbach button. (It is possible to retrofit the star, if a customer so desires. We sort of like the button.) The electric motor, with a peak output of 188 hp, is mounted at the rear axle, where it’s integrated with a two-speed transmission that can bypass the Biturbo’s nine-speed 4Matic transmission to provide power to the front wheels. Combined system torque is a stump-pulling—again, probably not the right term—1055 lb-ft. Mercedes calls it a “new record in the class,” though that class consists of not all that many members.
The modest-sized 400-volt battery still has 1200 cells, all drenched in gallons of coolant to maintain an optimal temperature of 113 degrees. You don’t really need a wall-mounted charger, but we can’t see someone plugging a six-figure hybrid into a 110-volt socket.
Inside, the AMG S-Class is exceptionally handsome. Instruments and controls are reasonably intuitive and easy to master. There’s a slight exhaust burble from the V-8 just to let you know it’s there; otherwise the sound deadening is as you would expect, aside from some slight noise from the 20-inch wheels on coarse pavement. Rear-seat room is abundant should you prefer that Jeeves drive you about, but if that’s the case, why buy the AMG version? Trunk space, by the way, is 10.8 cubic feet, so neighbors won’t be asking to borrow the AMG S-Class on moving day.
There are seven driving modes, all pretty much self-explanatory: Electric, Comfort, Battery Hold, Sport, Sport+, Slippery, and Individual. We preferred Sport; the ride is almost as good as in Comfort but the driveline gets a little more boost from the electric motor. Downshifts arrive sooner, suspension damping and the (spot-on) steering are a little more on the aggressive side. Again, we figure the average owner will be venturing onto the racetrack in aforementioned Rubicon Trail intervals, so Sport+ and Individual are there if you want them.
Specs: 2024 Mercedes-AMG S 63 E Performance
• Price: $240,000 (as tested, estimate)
• Powertrain: 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 with an integrated electric hybrid motor
• Output: 603 hp and 664 lb-ft (engine only), 791 hp and 1055 lb-ft (hybrid combined)
• Layout: All-wheel-drive, four-door, four-passenger sedan
• Weight: 5500 pounds (estimate)
• 0–60 mph: 3.2 seconds (estimate)
• Competition: Porsche Panamera, Lucid Air, Tesla Model S Plaid
Handling is flat, with minimal body roll, thanks to the all-things-to-all-people suspension and the active roll stabilization. That suspension is seldom surprised by potholes. When it is, corrections are near-immediate. The standard rear-axle steering works up to a modest angle of 2.5 degrees and at speeds slower than 63 mph. Without a non-rear-steer model with which to compare our tester, we found it difficult to tell how much the rear axle was really doing, though the car was easy to park.
There’s little point in listing electronic safety features: Just imagine most every one you’ve heard about, and a few more. Helpfully, lane-keeping assist works up to the (governed) top speed of 155 mph, so no excuse for straying from your lane. (We’re joking, of course—unless you have your own private compound with a very long driveway, and, if you’re reading this, you just might.)
Bottom line: The AMG S-Class is a tour de force, with no real shortcomings and a lot of exceptional engineering. Would you expect any less?
2024 Mercedes-AMG S 63 E Performance
Price: $240,000 (as tested, estimate)
Highs: Monster power. Great handling for its size. Lovely inside and out.
Lows: Monster price. Not-great trunk space. Thirsty for a hybrid.
Takeaway: Even for an AMG, unusually stellar in almost every area.