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First drive: 2018 Mercedes-AMG S63, Maybach S560 [Review]

by Drew Johnson
2018 Mercedes-AMG S63 - image 1

Mercedes makes some significant changes to its S-Class range for 2018.

Even as an increasing number of luxury buyers transition from sedans to SUVs, the S-Class remains the pinnacle of Mercedes-Benz luxury. In order to maintain that positioning, Mercedes is giving its entire S-Class lineup a freshening for the 2018 model year. But is it enough to satisfy luxury customers in this SUV-crazed market? Come with us as we find out.

Charting the changes

Unless you're a Mercedes aficionado, you might not recognize the familiar shape of the 2018 S-Class as a new model. However, Mercedes says the 2018 S-Class has been thoroughly re-engineered with over 6,500 new parts. And they aren't counting a new valve spring or cam shaft as a new part; that 6,500 figure counts the S-Class' new engine offerings as a single part.

So what's new for the S-Class mid-cycle update? On the outside styling has been tweaked to include a new three-bar grille and revised lower bumper. New headlights with a "triple torch" LED treatment signals the S-Class as Mercedes' range-topping model; the new E-Class has just two light bars while the C-Class has just a single LED element in each light.

The rear of the 2018 S-Class is essentially carryover, but the entire range includes new wheels for a fresh look.

Inside the story is much the same — there are a few noticeable new parts, but not anything radically different from the S-Class that original debuted in 2014. After receiving negative feedback from its customers regarding the S-Class' "clown face" steering wheel, Mercedes upgraded the 2018 version of the luxury sedan with a more conventional three-spoke design. Cruise control switches have moved from a steering column stalk to an easier-to-use location on the new wheel. The S-Class' twin 12.3-inch LCD screens have been placed under a single pane of glass for a more streamlined look; previously they were separated by a thin frame.

Mechanically, however, a whole bunch has changed for 2018. At the bottom end of the S-Class spectrum there's a new S450 model that uses a twin-turbocharged 3.0L V6. The V8-powered S560 — which replaces the previous S550 — swaps out a 4.6L twin-turbocharged V8 for a version of the 4.0L biturbo V8 typically found beneath the hood of the AMG GT sports car, albeit in de-tuned form. The 2018 Mercedes-Maybach S560 makes use of the same engine. The new Mercedes-AMG S63 also borrows the 4.0L V8 from the AMG GT, but power is anything but de-tuned with 603 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque on tap. All V6 and V8 versions of the 2018 S-Class use a new nine-speed automatic transmission, replacing last year's seven-speed.

Capping off the S-Class range are two V12-powered models — the sport-oriented Mercedes-AMG S65 and the opulent Mercedes-Maybach S650. Both models use a 6.0L twin-turbocharged V12 rated at 621 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque. Unlike other models in the S-Class range, the S65 and S650 are rear-wheel drive only and come with a seven-speed auto.

There's also new suspension systems all around, including a sporty AIRMATIC setup in the S63 and a hydraulic setup for added comfort in Maybach models.

Our time with the 2018 S-Class was spent with the S63 and Maybach S560, so we'll concentrate on those models here.

2018 Mercedes-AMG S63

Mercedes refers to the S63 as the "athlete of the group," and after spending several miles behind the wheel, we can see why.

With a total length of 208.5 inches and a curb weight of 4,800 pounds, the S63 isn't a small vehicle. However, with the S63's drive mode switched to the most aggressive Sport+ setting, the big sedan seems to shrink around you. Steering is sharp, and the sport-oriented AIRMATIC air suspension provides an extremely planted feeling with virtually no body lean. You're only reminded of the S63's sheer size when navigating narrow lanes or tight corners.

The S63's 4.0L V8 is simply a bombshell of an engine, providing gobs of power from anywhere in the rev band. Acceleration is aided by a performance-tuned 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive system and the same dual-clutch nine-speed auto that debuted in the most recent Mercedes-AMG E63. The result of all that go-fast hardware? A luxurious flagship sedan that is capable of accelerating from 0-60 in just 3.4 seconds.

Even when left to its own devices in Sport+ mode, the S63's nine-speed auto is quick to shift and willing to downshift a gear or two under hard braking. And, as a cherry on top, every downshift in Sport+ mode is accompanied by the kind of crackling and popping that would make a bowl of Rice Krispies jealous.

But being an S-Class, the S63 is more than just a hot rod. Flip the dial from Sport+ to Comfort and everything just calms down; the exhaust goes quiet, the steering softens, the suspension becomes more comfortable, the accelerator pedal isn't as sensitive and the transmission reverts to a more relaxed state. There's still plenty of power in reserve if you need it, but the S63 is the kind of Jekyll and Hyde car that can go front hot rod to posh ride in the blink of an eye.

And if you want to just sit back and relax, there are plenty of gadgets in the S63 to help you with that. There's your standard suite of stuff like heated, cooled and massaging seats, but Mercedes has added a new feature known as ENERGIZING that ties many of those comfort and convenience features together. For example, if you need a little pick-me-up, select the Vitality setting within the ENERGIZING menu and the S63 will pump you up with an upbeat music selection stored in the car's hard drive, a blast of cool air from the ventilated seats, a shot of sweet-smelling air from the Air Balance Cabin Fragrance System and an invigorating seat massage. In all there are six different programs to choose from that range from calming to the aforementioned Vitality, with each lasting about 10 minutes. You can access the ENERGIZING programs using the S63's wheel dial or via a voice command.

Of course the ENERGIZING system is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to technology in the S63. Though we'd rather pilot the S63 ourselves, the big bruiser is nearly capable of driving on its own. With all the systems switched on, the S63 can keep itself center within its lane, keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead, and even change its cruising speed based on the posted speed limit. The S63 can even change lanes on the highway without the hassle of the driver actually having to turn the steering wheel.

As you'd expect of a vehicle carrying a base price of almost $150,000, the S63 is lavishly equipped with only the finest materials. Nearly every inch of the S63's cabin is covered in buttery soft leather, sumptuous wood trim or real metal. And you can really have the S63 your way as there's a plethora of colors and materials to choose from in the Mercedes option book.

2018 Mercedes-Maybach S560

For those more concerned with all-out comfort than performance prowess, there's the Mercedes-Maybach S560. Though no longer the Rolls-Royce competitor it was once intended to be, Maybach still stands for pure luxury.

In order to become a Maybach, Mercedes stretched the S-Class' wheelbase by eight-inches, with that extra room directly benefiting rear seat passengers. The Maybach model also has re-shaped rear doors for easier ingress/egress. In case you couldn't tell, the Maybach is for being driven, not for driving.

Once you slip in the back of the Maybach you're coddled in a super-luxurious cabin that wouldn't look out of place in a private jet. There's leather and wood everywhere, a pair of power reclining seats, individual TV screens, and just about all the comfort and convince items (heated/ventilated seats, massaging function, 4G LTE WiFi, just to name a few) you could imagine. The only thing missing is a partition to separate you from the driver.

Thanks to an hours-long traffic jam just outside of New York City, we got to spend plenty of time getting to know the Maybach's back seat. Seating comfort is nothing short of first rate, with the power adjustments allowing you to find the perfect seating position. It helps that you can also move the front passenger's seat forward from the rear seat for additional legroom.

The attention to detail in the back of the Maybach is simply staggering. Yes there's quilted leather and high-end speakers mounted above your head for full 3-D sound effects, but there's so much more than initially meets the eye. For example, raise the temperature from the back seat and the LED lights glow either red or blue to indicate if you're making the cabin warmer or cooler. Look up and you'll see a sunroof that can go from clear to semi-transparent with just a flick of the door switch, allowing you to let just the right amount of sunlight in. Mercedes really has thought of everything.

The driving experience of the Maybach S560 is wonderfully disconnected from the outside world. Not only is the cabin devoid of any noticeable outside noise penetration, but the steering is light and easy and the Maybach's hydraulic-based suspension system feels like you're riding on a cloud of air. But the Maybach is far from floaty — its unique suspension setup does an admirable job of keeping the car glued to the road and is even capable of titling the car inward by 2.65 degrees around curves to aid in handling and to also keep from jostling back seat occupants.

Power for the Maybach S560 is provided by a 4.0L biturbo V8 delivering 463 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque through Mercedes' 4MATIC all-wheel drive system. Weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 pounds, the Maybach S560 isn't sports car fast, but the big sedan is deceptively quickly. Mercedes says the Maybach S560 can accelerate from 0-60 in 4.8 seconds, which is plenty fast for a vehicle of this size.

With a starting price of $168,600, the Mercedes-Maybach S560 carries a hefty premium over the $102,900 Mercedes-Benz S560 4MATIC. And keep in mind, that price doesn't include the annual salary of a chauffeur.

Leftlane's bottom line

Even with the advent of super-luxury SUVs, the Mercedes S-Class remains the quintessential luxury vehicle. Superbly crafted and engineered, the S-Class simply doesn't have much in the way of competition at its price point. When it comes to the S-Class, Mercedes is serious about its "the best or nothing" tagline.

2018 Mercedes-AMG S63 base price, $147,500. As tested, $178,845.

Nut brown/black exclusive Nappa leather, $4,450; AMG carbon fiber/black piano lacquer, $3,700; AME exterior night package, $750; 20-inch AMG forged cross-spoke wheels, $1,700; Refrigerator rear center console, $1,100; Head-up display, $990; Heated windshield, $550; Night view assist plus, $2,260; Exclusive trim package, $950; Burmester high-end 3D surround sound system, $6,400; Warmth and comfort package, $2,600; Rear seat entertainment package, $2,650; Driver assistance package, $2,250; Destination, $995.

2018 Mercedes-Maybach S560 4MATIC base price, $168,600. As tested, $175,595.

20-inch high-gloss polished multi-spoke wheels, $5,000; designo silk beige/deep sea blue package, $1,000; Destination, $995.

Photos courtesy of Mercedes.