Cars: Mercedes’ S63 AMG convertible is cushy but cut-throat

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 27, 2018.

The front grille has been updated to stunning effect. Photo by Bloomberg

The S63 AMG is surprisingly fast and smooth, especially through the middle gears as you increase speed.

The screen and dashboard configuration are expertly done.

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THE 2018 Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Cabriolet is the fastest, plushest yacht-like four-seater drop-top you can get for the money.

And at US$179,500 (RM701,945) it is a lot of money, so it had better be good.  

The first thing you notice is the front, which has had a facelift so subtle it belongs in the Bel Air lunchtime crowd — you know there is something different and it is not just because you have been so well-rested and happy lately. The results are enviable, if expensive.

The second thing you notice about the car is the more than 2ft of high resolution touchscreen that extends along the dash from the left side of the car to the centre of the console in one unbroken line. On it, in high detail, you can see the indicator gauges and the controls for sound, climate, navigation, crash avoidance technology, and phone capabilities. It is far more advanced and far more beautiful than anything I have seen yet in another convertible.

It is all controlled by a round knob at the bottom of the centre console, as we have grown used to in recent years. Between that and the high clarity heads-up display and subtle buttons on the steering wheel, everything you could ever need while driving is at your fingertips.


Interior success

It was not until I brought the S63 to the guys at Parkhaus 1, a Porsche tuning and sales shop in Miami, that put the screen in perspective. “Wow! This is nicer than any TV I’ve ever owned — like an iPad with buttons” was the comment that stuck out the most. It is high praise considering the sources: Longtime Porsche enthusiasts so die-hard they have not owned another brand in years.  

Elsewhere inside, there is wrap-a-round wood panelling and a pinstripe design that makes the car feel like sort of like a mini-ship. In fact, I had several people see it next to the water in the background of a photo and assume it was some sort of boat rather than a car. But the company has managed to fit together very modern, fresh and easy new technology configurations with the old-world appeal of woodwork and hand-stitched hide that feels as thick as a leather jacket. It is a triumph of interior design. “The stitching on the seats — it is great,” Al Rodriguez, the boss at Parkhaus, told me.

The Porsche-heads were also impressed by the room in the back seats, which is ample compared with a 911. But I had to sit with my legs angled to the side when testing them out — for most people, they are not really functional. And though the carefully edgeless sides and rounded rear of the car did not bowl me over, design-wise, those features are expected in a convertible that has four seats and needs a high shoulder to maintain balance, rigidity, and stability. The only really sexy thing on the car is that front grille.

The car also drives a bit like a speed boat, if you will pardon the continued maritime comparisons. Simply point the 5.5-litre V8 turbo engine in the direction you want to go, and you are barreling down the road like a shot. Press the gas for a moment, and the car doubles down and lifts off with no discernable effort through its seven speeds, specialised by AMG to seamless glory.

The caveat here is you have got to be ready; the cabriolet looks sedate, even like something a new retiree might drive, but it packs a 577-horsepower punch that will catch you dangerously unaware if you are not careful. Zero to 60mph (96.56kph) is 3.8 seconds, faster than the US$124,300 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet (4.2 seconds), though not as fast as the US$174,000 911 Turbo S Cabriolet, which can do it in three seconds flat.


A select group

On the flip side, the seats themselves are very large, wide, and high — if you are looking for Recaro-level sport seats, or even something you can sink into a little bit for a closer connection with the road, forget it. In fact, the disconnect between how seriously fast and smooth this AMG-tuned car drives and how La-Z-Boy-like the seats feel is a little disconcerting. (The bulky heft of these seats is due to things like adjustable lumbar supports, active side bolsters, and shoulder supports, plus six massagers including two modes combining massage and heat for a “hot stone” effect. It’s a lot, and, to my mind, unnecessary in anything less than an actual town car or a Rolls-Royce.)

While I am at it, the trunk is, prohibitively small. You can fit one overnight bag and one backpack in it, plus maybe a coat stuffed on top. The power-operated roof, which deploys at a blissfully quick sub-20-second rate and tucks into the trunk when it does, will see to it that you would not find room for anything more. This, of course, is par for the course for virtually any convertible on the market today made after about 1980, so it is not that surprising.

There is certainly a perfect buyer for this car. It is someone who wants a sleeper convertible that looks as appropriate as a strand of pearls at a Bal Harbour brunch but can rip away from most challengers in a second. Someone who needs an inner sanctum as silent as a library but wants a car that can surprise with a throaty roar if necessary. Someone who travels light — or alone — for most trips and who can afford the high sticker price and low (14mpg [5.95kpl] in the city) gas mileage.

If you are that person, you are in for a treat — the S63 AMG is the drop-top of your dreams. — Bloomberg