In this month's Top Gear mag, Chris Harris is your used performance car guru...
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Ah, the new S-Class Coupe and Cabriolet. Well timed…
Indeed. In the week we got our first proper go in Bentley’s magnificent new Continental GT, Mercedes has served up a timely reminder that one of its seemingly 492 model lines is a plus-size luxury coupe and convertible.
How could we forget? Mercedes sells about 600 S-Class Coupes and Cabriolets annually in the UK, so it’s a rare groove. Neither is quite as showy as the new British contender nor Aston Martin’s DB11, but as the S-Class’s more hedonistic and self-centred spin-off, this is arguably luxury automotive travel at its most definitive.
Costly, too: prices range from circa £102k for the S560 Coupe to £141k for the S63 AMG and a thumping £198k for the S65 AMG. Although that one comes with extra bells and whistles on top of the standard bells and whistles.
So what’s new?
In typical Mercedes style, it’s a thorough update, although the devil is in the detail here. The biggest news is the arrival of the S560, whose new 4.0-litre, 469bhp V8 biturbo replaces the old – and still fabulous – 4.7-litre twin-turbo.
Fair to say it’s prioritising efficiency over total performance, and the Coupe’s combined consumption figure of 35.2mpg (32.4mpg for the cabrio) means it drinks eight per cent less fuel than the previous car. Emissions are down to 183g/km (199), depending on wheel choice, which is hugely impressive for a car with this much power.
The 4.0-litre still uses the ‘hot V’ configuration familiar from AMG sports cars, and four of the eight cylinders are deactivated between 900 and 3,250rpm (or when you’re not hoofing it in Sport or Race mode in the Dynamic Select programme). Direct injection with spray-guided combustion also helps thermodynamic efficiency, and the fuel pressure varies between 100 and 200 bar.
I’ve also just discovered that the new engine uses a ‘centrifugal pendulum to reduce fourth-order vibrations in eight-cylinder mode as well as second-order vibrations in four-cylinder mode’. Good to know.
What else can you dazzle us with?
The visuals get an overhaul, most notably a more aggressive front apron with a chrome-plated splitter and bigger air inlets. The AMG versions get the ‘Panamericana’ grille, as used elsewhere in the range, to slightly less appropriate effect here, to my eyes at least.
Organic LEDs enliven the tail-lights, a total of 66 ultra-flat OLEDs floating inside the cluster for a distinctive day and night-time signature. As with the S-class saloon and E-class, Mercedes’ commitment to the autonomous driving cause is deepened here, via its distance control and active steering software. The car’s speed is also adjusted automatically ahead of bends or junctions.
The widescreen, all-digital cockpit arrives inside, there’s a new steering wheel design, new trim lines, and near-field communication for your smartphone. Mercedes also offers what it calls ‘energising comfort control’ to network the climate control, the seats, lighting (64 ambient colour options), and even music to turn the car into an automotive wellness spa. Of course, you can always stream your Napalm Death playlist if you insist.
That sounds ridiculous. The wellness thing, not Napalm Death…
It may well do, but these cars get close to Rolls-Royce Phantom levels of refinement and imaginatively unadulterated luxury. Even a lowly C-Class is a nice place to sit these days, so you can imagine what its sybaritic, range-topping über-luxo brother feels like.
I asked Mercedes’ chief design officer Gorden Wagener how the company was delivering such consistently strong interiors, and the answer is simple: “we invest the money”. Rivals, take note. His team is also reimagining the age-old wood and leather tropes to ever-greater effect, and if you plump for the ‘Flowing Lines’ trim, the substrate below the veneer is visible for an enhanced 3D effect.
The optional Burmester audio system integrates the woofers into the bodyshell, and even the windscreen wipers are intelligent, and know not to douse you in screen wash if the cabrio’s roof is lowered. The hood itself is a triple-layered acoustic job, that delivers the same refinement roof-up as the Coupe. The attention to detail is awesome.
Good to drive, we assume.
Beneath the welter of assistance systems – including evasive steering assist, which boosts steering torque all the better to help you avoid mowing down whatever has just strayed into your path – the fundamentals remain deeply impressive.
The suspension uses Merc’s Airmatic semi-active air setup to vary the damping, and Magic Body Control is available on the S560 to scan the road ahead for imperfections. Active body control effectively negates roll, and as before the S Coupe and Cabrio can be equipped with a curve tilting function, for greater passenger comfort.
Dynamic Select tailors the engine, transmission, suspension, and steering across Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Race modes. Or you can individualise the settings. Even on the canyon roads around Malibu, the default Comfort setting seemed perfectly good most of the time. The S560 uses a silken nine-speed automatic transmission, the S63 AMG the dual-clutch nine-speed MCT. Whatever iteration you’re in, the S-class Coupe or Cabrio will not be a light car, so the precision of its turn-in and its overall balance if you act the idiot are exemplary. The new Conti GT shades the big Merc in terms of ultimate on-limit feel, but the margin is slender.
We drove the 4Matic S63, which is rear-drive most of the time until you’re right on the edge. It’s also not coming to the UK.
Any other observations?
Yep. We’ve had the pleasure of running the now-outgoing S500 cabrio for a few months, and we’d have gone for it over the AMG versions. It’s just a beautiful thing. This latest round of revisions reverses that: the 4.0-litre biturbo in the S560 is more efficient but slightly less engaging, while the S63 – with 612bhp and 663lb ft – is simply blindingly good. AMG doesn’t always serve up the optimum iteration of whichever Mercedes it’s reworking, but that’s the case here.
Verdict: Taken as an overall brand manifesto, these reworked S-class Coupes and Cabrios are nailed-on superstars and fearsomely well-engineered bits of kit.