2018 Mercedes-AMG S63 Cabriolet Test Drive Review: Who Needs A Supercar?

Test Drive

The S63 AMG delivers supercar performance wrapped up in supreme luxury.

When most people think of supercars, they picture a mid-engine affair, stamped with the image of a horse or a bull up front. Stiff, hardcore Italian cars used to define supercar-level performance, but in 2018, even large luxury convertibles such as the new S63 AMG can match what (just a few short years ago) would have been supercar speeds. I know what you may be saying at this point, "a 4,817 pound convertible can't be a supercar!" Well, this 4,817-pound convertible can do 0-60 mph in just 3.3 seconds. Do I have your attention now?

For 2018, Mercedes updated the AMG versions of the S-Class Coupe and Convertible to align more closely with other AMG products. Both cars now feature the Panamericana grille, which was first seen on the AMG GT R. I wasn't a big fan of the change at first, but the new grille looks positively menacing in person.

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Along with the aesthetic facelift, the S63 also received a sizable bump in power. The 577-horsepower 5.5-liter turbocharged engine is gone, replaced by a new version of AMG's 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8. Torque is the same at 664 lb-ft, but horsepower has now been increased to 603. The lackluster seven-speed automatic has also been replaced by a wonderful new nine-speed unit. The S63's massive grunt is sent out to an AMG-tuned 4MATIC AWD system, which can vary the torque distribution to send up to 100% to the rear wheels. Thanks to the AWD grip, Mercedes says this massive convertible can hit 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds.

I tested Mercedes' claim using the car's launch control, which simply requires the driver to hit the accelerator and brake at the same time in either Sport+ or Race mode. Amazingly, I was able to beat the claimed time by 0.1 of a second with a 3.3 second run (as measured by the car's onboard performance readout). For reference, that's the same as an Audi R8 V10. What makes the S63's performance so staggering is the fact that it is able to transform from a snarling monster back to a lap dog at the push of a button. You'd expect an AMG car to be as stiff as a skateboard running down a brick wall, but the S63 is sumptuous like a marshmallow floating in a bowl of whipped cream.

If you drive slowly over the most torn up roads imaginable, you do get some indication that the car you're driving is a sporty, AMG-tuned Merc. Still, the S63 never feels punishing like most sports cars. AMG has tuned the AIRMATIC suspension so that it can glide over bumps when you want, or attack a back road when you want to take advantage of those 603 horses under the hood. In the standard comfort mode, you rarely get the impression that you're driving anything more than a comfortable luxury convertible. Shifts from the nine-speed automatic are smooth and nearly imperceptible save for a few slightly jerky movements when coming to a stop.

Activate either the Sport or Sport+ modes and the whole car wakes up like a junkyard dog that's just been tossed a raw steak. Under normal circumstances, the S63 can tool around silently and discretely, but as Batman is to Bruce Wayne, 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 has a dark, vigilante side that loves to come out at night to strike fear into the hearts of its enemies. Step it up even further to Race mode and the shifts from the nine-speed automatic go from CVT-smooth to kick-your-head savage. On the overrun, the crackle from the performance sports exhaust system makes the hairs on your neck stand on end with what might be one of the ultimate turbocharged soundtracks on the market.

I often criticize automakers for building turbocharged engines that don't match the pantomime of their normally aspirated predecessors. Not only is this 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 one of the best sounding engines on the market, it may be one of the all-time great powerplants and certainly the best engine AMG has ever produced. Many people complain that AMG has been diluted by offering performance versions of "soft" models like the S-Class convertible or GLC crossover, but AMG manages to keep its uniqueness through its "One Man. One Engine" philosophy. Each AMG engine is built from the ground up by just one person. In my S63's case, it was Said Alemi. I like your work Mr. Alemi.

On the interior, the S-Class has the same hand-built feel as its wonderful engine. Mercedes made a bold decision to offer a different interior from the S-Class sedan, specific to the coupe and convertible. The result is a treasure land of beautifully stitched leather, metal, and dizzying levels of technology. Almost everything in the cabin feels expensive, and you really have to dig to find an ounce of plastic. The entire dashboard is even wrapped in leather, and all of the steering wheel and infotainment controls become hot to the touch when you leave the car in the sun. That's because they aren't plastic like on a normal car, they are made of metal.

Driving an S-Class makes you feel like you are the ruler of a small, car-sized nation. Simple annoyances of driving become insignificant as soon as you you step in the car and close the door. Even getting in the S-Class is different from a normal car. Simply bring the door close, and the soft-close system will gently lock it in place without the need for a jarring slam. Next, the seat belt is presented to you on an automatic arm, because no S-Class owner should have to trouble themselves reaching around to buckle a seatbelt. After the door shuts, the outside world becomes nothing but a faint memory, double-glazed glass keeps the cabin bank-vault quiet.

When you hit the start button, a slight burble from the engine offers a gentle reminder that you're driving an AMG car. You then start to forget about the trivial task of driving thanks to the car's massive amount of technology and safety features. An S63 Cabriolet starts off at $179,500, and perhaps not unsurprisingly, there is plenty of room for options. My test car had a number of added packages, which brought the as-tested price up to a mortgage-like $208,645. So what does the S63 have that a two bedroom house doesn't? Quite a lot actually.

As standard, the S63 includes features such as: Magic Vision Control (a system that integrates the windshield spray into the wiper blades), a power-operated wind deflector, keyless entry, power front feats with lumbar, memory, heating, ventilation, massaging, and air scarf, power folding mirrors, an in-cabin fragrance system, multi-color ambient lighting, COMAND navigation, electronic trunk control, illuminated door sills, soft-close doors, voice control, and dual 12.3-inch displays. Those dual displays replace traditional gauges, and can be customized to display any combination of information like the trip computer or 0-60 and lap times. It's all a bit overwhelming at first, but easy once you get the hang of it.

This S63 is the first Mercedes car I've spent an extended amount of time with, so my experience with COMAND was very limited. The central controller isn't as easy to master as BMW iDrive or Audi MMI, but it works in concert with a central touchpad and two Blackberry-style mouse pads on the steering wheel. The left mouse controls the gauge cluster, while the right controls the infotainment screen. These two steering wheel controllers were extremely intuitive and made the whole system a breeze to manipulate. Add in a superb voice command that was able to take me to the local movie theater with the use of natural speech, and the COMAND system adds up to be a winner in my book.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also included, though controlling them using the COMAND system was more difficult than in other cars with simple touchscreen displays. It is also worth noting that a completely redesigned system called MBUX is on its way in the new A-Class, and will eventually reach the S-Class. All of these tech features combine with the massive list of safety features, including: adaptive high beams and LED headlights, active brake assist, surround-view camera, active park assist (which can parallel park by itself), blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and ECO start/stop. The test car also included the optional Driver Assistance Package.

Some of the features of this $2,250 package include active safety technology such as active steering assist, active lane change assist, and route-based speed adaption. With these systems engaged, drivers can rest at ease while the car keeps itself in the lane and handles the steering. Unlike Cadillac's SuperCruise, the S-Class requires the driver to keep their hands on the wheel. Activate the turn signal stalk, and the car will safely change lanes without assistance. These systems can even slow the car automatically when it detects a tight turn in the road ahead. The cornucopia of option packages didn't just stop at safety either.

Also included was the Designo saddle brown exclusive Nappa leather for $3,250, and the Designo black piano lacquer flowing lines wood for $1,350. It is possible to dress the S63 up with a number of interior combinations, but the lacquered wood with brown leather made it feel like a true luxury experience. Sure you could just toss in some carbon fiber, but it would honestly look out of place in this well-appointed cabin. My test car also had the Warmth and Comfort Package for $1,990, which includes a heated steering wheel, center armrest, door armrests, and rear heated seats.

Though the interior was carbon fiber free, the exterior had the optional Carbon Fiber Package for $6,500, which includes a carbon splitter, rocker panels, mirror covers, rear diffuser, and engine cover. The carbon fiber feels tasteful, if not a bit unnecessary on a nearly 5,000-pound convertible. Painted in a beautiful shade of Emerald Green Metallic, when the sun hit the car at just the right angle, the S63 shifted from black to brilliant green. Mercedes will sell you an endless assortment of boring blacks, silvers, and whites, but Emerald Green Metallic is one of those truly special body paints worthy of such a special car.

It may not be within most people's budgets, but the S63 Cabriolet is almost free of faults. If I had to nitpick, and sadly I do, the S-Class has two very minor issues that are worth noting. The first is ventilated seats, which were extremely disappointing. The seats in the S63 are spectacular, bordering on the best in the auto industry with dizzying levels of adjustment and massaging features. Sadly, the ventilation felt pretty weak, and not nearly as powerful as those found in several Kia models I've tested. And while I'm on the subject of massage, the seats in the Volvo XC60 delivered a more vigorous and enjoyable body rub.

My only other issue lies with the back seat, which didn't seem as usable as expected. Getting into the back seat is a breeze, and the front seats whir forward automatically to create a large opening. Unfortunately, my front passenger and rear seat occupant had to argue over who wanted to have leg room - an issue that shouldn't arise in a car that is only around six-inches shorter than a Chevy Tahoe. I'm willing to overlook the smallish back seat, because Mercedes does sell the S63 sedan with a much larger back seat. These minor gripes aside, the S63 is very close to being the perfect vehicle. One that can act as the ultimate luxury car and the ultimate sports car.

With the keys to an S63 Cabriolet in hand, you can get a taste of what it's like to be omnipotent. Want to soak in the sun and listen to a glorious V8 soundtrack? Just lower the roof and pop the exhaust into race mode. Is the wind starting to mess up your designer haircut? Just roll up the windows and deploy the massive rear and windshield-mounted wind deflectors. Too chilly? Just engage the heated air scarf and hot stone massage. And when it starts to pour, cast nature aside with the thick convertible top and enjoy the fresh air of the in-cabin fragrance system. When you drive an S63 Cabriolet, you control nature, not the other way around.

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