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Merc's AMG hooligan limo tested

2009-10-28 06:39
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Mercedes-Benz
Model S 65 AMG
Engine 6l biturbo V12
Power 455 kW @ 4 750 - 5 100 r/min
Torque 1 000 Nm @ 2 000 - 4 000 r/min
Transmission five-speed auto
Zero To Hundred 4.4 seconds
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel Tank 101l
Fuel Consumption 23l/100km
Weight 2 270kg
Boot Size 560l
ABS Yes, with BA and composite rotors
Tyres 255/35 R20, 375/35 R20
Front Suspension Four-link
Rear Suspension Multi-link
Price R2 100 000

Lance Branquinho

Since the launch of the original S-Class, a three-pointed star has been the automotive currency for plutocrats the world over. Presidents, executives, arms dealers – they all prefer the notion of S-Class pampering over and above any other.

It’s hardly surprising either.

The styling has remained thoroughbred, managing to mask the Merc über saloon’s bulk with classic lines. S-Class technology is always mind-boggling, comfort a given and the ownership experience unmatched.

For a brand as conservative as Mercedes, the gamble of producing stand-alone hooligan limousines (when BMW, traditionally the more performance-oriented brand, pointedly refuses to do so) has been inexplicable.

In an attempt to understand why anybody would pay an additional R500 000 for an extra 85kW and some fancy wheels (the deal when comparing S600 to S65 AMG) we spent a rather blurry week with the facelifted S65 AMG.

Big, brutish

For model year 2010 AMG has, in an attempt to placate European safety fundamentalists, added a flurry of LED lights to the S65 AMG, most of them (52 to be exact) nestled within the tail light cluster.

There is a new grille and LED daytime driving lights up front, whilst new front and rear aprons test your speed bump challenging resolve. Considering the crassness of some other AMG styling kits, the S65’s is decidedly subtle. The wheels are fetching five-spoke 20-inch items and those dual exhaust mouldings are pure class.

Overall, the AMG embellishments blend effortlessly with the 5-and-a-bit metre shape of the S65.

The only debit entry on the styling balance sheet is the location of the cruise control radar receptor unit, in the middle of the grille, which looks a bit aftermarket when the S65 is parked up.

Individual rear seats usher in proper limousine-like luxury. AMG pace ensures an experience akin to flying business class.

Limo luxury

Beyond the elegant exterior sheetmetal surfacing, the cabin with its gentlemen’s club comfort levels is another huge plus.

Our S65 was a four-seater with the optional individual rear seats. Like the front chairs, they have active multi-contour functionality with active side-bolstering during directional changes and full-massage pampering.

These seats are not strict AMG performance buckets - they lack integrated head restraints - but they are comfortable and quite capable of making both driver and passengers fall asleep at 250km/h, especially with the massaging function enabled.

In traffic, or at speed on your way home from the office late at night, the S65's cabin is an extraordinarily cocooning place.

Infotainment technology is at hand via the command controller, both rear passengers have individual DVD entertainment screens and the quality of materials (just run the back of your hand along the velour roof trim) is redoubtable throughout.

Lap timer on a S-Class? Can only be courtesy of AMG...
There are two instrument binnacle features adorning the S65 that deserve mention. First is the TFT display, which allows an impressive range of multifunctionality, yet lacks the classic feel of analogue road and engine speed dials.

Scrolling through the menu display options in the instrument panel, you’ll happen upon the rather embarrassing AMG-themed lap-timer, which I suspect will be the most underutilised feature ever fitted to any Mercedes. Ever.

The second instrument binnacle tour de force is night vision, of which I am a huge fan.

In the West Coast's springtime mist, or the forbidding Mpumalanga fog, it enables safe progress at legal speeds by providing reliable imaging of the road ahead.

S65 AMG night vision is ace, one of the most useful techno trinkets ever.

Lots of power, but can you play?

There can be little question the S65 looks particularly purposeful, yet stylish. Its cabin comfort levels are akin to flying Cathay Pacific first class.

I suspect these are issues of little consequence when all you'd really like to know is what happens when you hit that 1 000Nm torque limiter and the engine speed rushes you over to the 455kW power peak…

Allow me to qualify a few things first.

Don’t be under any illusions. The S65 AMG is a heavy car. At 2 270kg and sporting a wheelbase longer than 3m, the dynamic odds are resolutely stacked against it.

The entire S-Class design architecture is geared towards high-speed autobahn stability and peerless ride comfort, not drifting around traffic circles or dexterously negotiating mountain passes on trailing throttle.

A lexicon of new engineering jargon has been added to the facelift models to shore up the driving experience, and crosswind stabilisation, torque vectoring brakes and a direct-steer system all do pretty much what they allude to.

Of particular interest is the torque vectoring system, which applies ABS modulated brake intervention to the inside rear wheel when encountering extreme cornering forces, attempting to quell much of the elongated wheelbase’s tardy turn-in sharpness or power oversteer unruliness.

From the helm, the direct-steering mechanics, buoyed by a steering damper and variable ratio calibration, renders hugely reassuring tracking stability at 250km/h.

Curiously though, despite the litany of AMG badges, this S65 still makes do with a wood-trimmed steering wheel – hardly the last word in contemporary flat-bottomed performance driving control…

Monumental pace shows up some of the long-wheelbase handling issues on a track. Everywhere else, S65 AMG is disturbingly fast and meticulously elegant.

Overtake anything - shatter the fabric of time...

With the steering wheel in a dead-ahead position, the S65 AMG is an alarmingly fast car – even if your performance frame of reference is Porsche GT3 or Ferrari F430-like.

If your idea of swift motoring is within the parameters of GTI or OPC, the S65’s ability to make almost three tonnes of Affalterbach metal fly should unsettle.

The manner in which this car utilises time to displace distance would have deeply troubled Einstein if he was alive today. Inertia plays a role in standing starts (fuelled up with four passengers it’s a 2.7t car), but from 80-250km/h the roll-on acceleration is akin to a Boeing 747-600 at full thrust.

Overtaking is not negotiable; if you want to clear slower traffic you can go, no matter how suicidal the gaps in oncoming traffic appear.

Thing is though, the S65 is an AMG, and it rolls on some rather performance-biased tyres, so you can hardly excuse it for not being better when the roads tighten up a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, the adaptive dampening is very good, and stability, especially under deceleration, is remarkable for such a large car. Steering is okay too, but the wheelbase is simply too vast to quell incommensurable attitudes between the front and rear axles.

At speed, in tighter corners, you find the front wheels turned in, and under grip thanks to the weight of the V12 engine above them, when the rear axle is not even properly in on the cornering act yet.

With the ESP switched off (in typical Merc fashion it never disengages completely) any stabbing of the throttle breaks traction at the rear – and there is no slippy diff to help you keep it under control.

The torque-vectoring system works well in high speed third and fourth gear corners, yet in tighter stuff, the S65 AMG remains a limousine, and forgoes any pretence at AMG dynamic handling fluidity.

If you know what you’re doing, have plenty of run-off, no traffic, and your passengers leave the champagne in the onboard fridge for a moment, it can be massively entertaining, engaging in oversteering very improper for such a stately motorcar.


AMG bits add to, as opposed to detract from, the S-Class styling fluidity. LEDs not pretty, yet a European requirement now – unfortunately.


Absolute class, with unmatched comfort and ergonomic sensibility. Optional fridge unit extracts a hefty toll in terms of boot space.


S-Class insulation levels shield passengers from appreciating the lunatic levels of accelerative performance on tap. Stability is outstanding and high-speed handling exemplary, yet it can be lethal in the wet when driven with abandon.


The S65 AMG is a deeply flawed car.

It does not ride with the decorum of an S-Class (thanks to those 255/35 and 275/30 20-inch wheels). It sports a rather undersubscribed five-speed transmission (no 7G-Tronic throttle blipping here) and does not convince as either a credible alternative to the stock S600L or the S63.

The V8-engined S-Class AMG offers a more performance oriented 7G-Tronic transmission, features a proper, oversquare, performance engine, and more dramatic acoustics.

With the 63 being 200kg lighter, there is a negligible accelerative performance difference between the two S-Class AMGs. In terms of handling though, the S63, with its shorter wheelbase bests the S65 over a route littered with switchbacks.

I guess, in some irreverent way, I am grateful Affalterbach was given the opportunity to roll out something as irrelevant as the S65. It shows off that rather peculiar brand of German humour we see far too little of…


S-Class styling, AMG embellishments

Truly mad V12 biturbo pace


Long wheelbase not great in hairpin bends

Epic thirst


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