Preview: Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe

Preview: Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe goes on sale this September.
Jim Kenzie
By Jim Kenzie
Posted on July 31st, 2014
0 Comments

2015 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe

Price: TBA
Engine: 4.6-L V8 twin turbo
Power/Torque: 449 hp/516 lb.-ft.
Fuel Consumption L/100 km: na (premium required)
Competition: Audi RS7; Porsche Panamera, BMW 650iX
What’s Best: Surprisingly agile for such a big car, top-ranked safety equipment, first-rate interior fittings and furnishings.
What’s Worst: Rear seat borders on unusable, brakes can be tested under hard driving, manual upshifts could be quicker.
What’s Interesting: Mercedes-Benz nomenclature keeps getting more and more confusing.

Bulkiness of rear end eliminated, but room to sit is compromised

PISA, ITALY—If you think of the Mercedes Benz S-Class, you probably think big, luxurious, quiet, comfortable, expensive, four-door sedan that’s as safe as houses.

The S-Class sedan is all of that, and a bag of chips.

But through much of its existence, the S-Class has also included a two-door coupe which adds “sporty” to that list of attributes.

Previously, the S-Class Coupe has been known on our shores as the CL-Class. But possibly in deference to the car’s genesis, they’ve gone with S-Class Coupe this time.

The car goes on sale this September in two states of tune: the S 500 uses the 455 horsepower 4.6-litre (more precisely, 4,663 cc) twin-turbo V8 engine, while the S 63 AMG gets the 585-horse 5.5-litre (5,461 cc) twin-turbo V8, as well as the usual AMG suspension, equipment and visual upgrades.

Incidentally, those power numbers by our measurement system are 449 and 577, respectively.

For reasons known only to the murky minds of North American marketing types, what should be called the S 460 Turbo will be called S 550 on our side of the pond, as is its four-door sibling. RoW (Rest of World) will use the only slightly less inaccurate S 500 designation.

Yeah, beats me too.

Both models will be offered in Canada only with 4MATIC, Mercedes’ full-time four-wheel-drive system. Good news and bad news, as we shall soon learn.

Prices will not be announced until closer to the showroom date. Looking at historical data on the S-Class sedan and the former CL Coupe, I’m guessing the 2015 S 550 Coupe will roll in around $135,000 and the S 63 AMG Coupe around $165,000, although differences in equipment levels may change that.

A few months later, there will also be an S65 Coupe. Details have yet to be released, but it will have a V12 turbo engine with enough torque to pull the Earth out of its orbit.

The new Coupe gains the “sports car” Mercedes front end, similar to that on the SL and SLK, featuring the big three-pointed star.

Full LED headlights can be augmented by optional Swarovski crystal daytime running lights and turn signals. Very cool.

The “pillarless-hardtop” profile (no centre roof pillar) gives the car a sleeker look.

As befitting a sportier variant, the coupe rides on a shorter wheelbase (2,945 mm) than its four-door sibling, which comes in short- (3,395 mm) and long- (3,165) wheelbase variants.

Again, this is good news and bad news.

On the downside, this restricts rear seat space to strictly “plus-two” status. Mercedes claims 69 millimetres more “effective” legroom (whatever that is) than the former CL. But if you don’t work for Cirque du Soleil, you won’t want to spend much time back there. It beats walking home in the rain, but only just.

The pluses to the shorter wheelbase?

First, it allowed Mercedes’ stylists to significantly reduce the bulkiness of the rear end. Repositioning the licence plate holder lower in the rear fascia also helps this visual trick, although the appearance isn’t perhaps quite as uniquely S-Class or even as uniquely Mercedes as is the sedan’s.

Second, and to me much more important, the shorter wheelbase makes the car much more agile.

I mean, sporty looks are all well and good, but if the chassis can’t deliver, what’s the point?

And it does deliver.

Whatever you may think of NBA basketball, it’s pretty impressive to see the moves some of those seven-foot, 300-pound behemoths can pull off.

Likewise here.

The “Airmatic” suspension allows you to select from Comfort or Sport modes, with stiffer settings as you’d expect for the latter.

The S 63 AMG comes with its own setup, for even crisper handling.

Neither may be quite as agile as, for example, a Porsche Cayman.

But as the twisty two-lane roads of Tuscany amply illustrated, this big car can hurtle along at an awe-inspiring rate.

The S 500 (OK, OK, S 550) is predictably a bit slower than the S 63. The factory-supplied numbers are 0 to 100 km/h in 4.6 and 3.9 seconds, respectively.

But unless you drive them back-to-back as I did, you won’t feel undergunned in the S 550. The torque peak of 700 Newton-metres (516 lb.-ft.) arrives at a low 1,800 rpm and stays constant right up to 3,500, so acceleration is strong and linear.

That said, absolute torque corrupts absolutely; the S 63 AMG with 900 Nm (664 lb.-ft.) is nothing short of relentless.

The good-news aspect of 4MATIC is obvious — better all-weather traction. In the S 63, it even cuts the 0 to 100 km/h time by 0.3 seconds. In RoW only, since we don’t get the rear-drive car.

One bad-news aspect of 4MATIC is that only the rear-drive cars get Mercedes’ new nine-speed automatic transmission. We have to make do with a mere seven. Given all that torque, this is not really a huge hardship.

Three shift programs are available. C (“Controlled” Efficiency; wouldn’t want too much of that efficiency to escape, now would we?), S (Sport) and M (aw you guessed — Manual) allow you to tailor the car’s response to your mood.

The S 63 AMG automatically blips the throttle in all but Manual mode — in M you’re supposed to be on your own.

In M it also holds the engine at the red line rather than automatically upshifting, again as it should be.

I found on one test car that when I did pull the steering wheel paddle, it took an inordinately long time to complete the upshift.

A second car was quicker although not instantaneous; whether this was a function of these cars being pre-production prototypes, I’m not certain.

Until quite recently, all AMG models were rear-drive, in order to maintain the rear-drive character that is synonymous with sporting handling.

To that end, the front-rear torque split in the four-wheel drive system is more heavily rear-biased in the S63 AMG — 33/67 versus 45/55 in the S 550.

Another downside to 4MATIC is that its packaging precludes installation of Mercedes’ latest semiactive suspension system, dubbed Magic Body Control with curve control.

This system can literally read the road via cameras and combined with inputs from the steering wheel and ride-height sensors, prepares the car for an upcoming bend, even leaning it into the corner like a motorcycle or motorboat, thereby subjecting the occupants to less centrifugal force.

The objective here is comfort, not handling. In fact, the harder you corner, the less effect is dialed in.

Oh well, unless you move to RoW, you won’t experience this anyway. At least not yet.

Other than the sharper handling, sportier styling and reduced interior space, the S-Class Coupe is pretty much the S-Class sedan. The interiors, vastly upgraded in the newest generation, include such untypical Mercedes touches as available white wood trim.

Very classy, I must say.

A new feature for the COMAND system for controlling the vast array of functions such as Infotainment, telephone, SatNav, etc., is a touch pad on the centre console, supposed to mimic an iPad in its ability to accept one- or two-finger gestures such as swiping and pinching. You can even write characters in your own handwriting.

There is only one one-finger gesture I ever want to make in the direction of any Apple product, or one inspired by same. And if you think I’m going to waste one second of the driving time available to us on these fabulous roads trying to figure out something as silly as this — well, go look up somebody else’s road test.

If you are hair-assing around on said great roads in a 2,000-plus kilogram car, you are going to be putting its brakes under some pressure.

We found that after a couple hours of this, the brakes were in fact starting to feel the strain. Not unsafe, just a bit of fade.

We tried an S 63 AMG with the optional carbon ceramic brake system; if you plan on driving your car really hard, check this box on the order form.

The massive array of “safety” systems, all designed to keep you from crashing, is all here. That key word is in quote marks because semi-Luddite that I may be, I am not yet convinced that having the car steer itself is all that safe.

It certainly isn’t as much fun, and especially for a sporting coupe, surely pointless.

True, the pedestrian detection and rear cross-traffic systems are worthy because they can actually see places you can’t.

But I’d venture that for a sporting car, driving pleasure is more likely to be the main attractor.

The S-Class Coupe might not be quite as focused a driver’s car as, say, the Audi RS7 or Porsche Panamera Turbo.

But if you want S-Class-style luxury and safety in a smaller, sportier package, these cars should be on your radar screen.

Transportation for freelance writer Jim Kenzie was provided by the manufacturer. Email: wheels@thestar.ca.

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