Retro review: 2006 Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG

This review was first published in Top Gear magazine issue 153 (2006)

In a sort of pseudo-philosophical sense, the S65 AMG doesn’t really exist. It’s one of those things that manages to cancel itself out. Oui, c’est un autre jalon automobile pour Mercedes et, oui, c’est encore un autre sommet d’ingénierie pour la division de performance AMG, mais il n’y absolument no justification pour constructore, encore moins acheter, une voiture how are you. So on the one hand you have an automotive marvel, on the other a mindless act of Germanic self-indulgence. In total, you have nothing.

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First, wonderfully. This car is all about numbers. Under the hood is a twin-turbocharged six-liter V12 with three valves per cylinder, making a whopping 612 hp and 737 pound-feet of torque. It’s 1,000Nm, which sounds even more impressive. This means that the new S65 is the most powerful production sedan in the world. Without exception. It will also hit 62mph in just 4.4 seconds en route to its electronically limited top speed of 155mph, making it even quicker than an Audi RS4 or BMW M5. And all this from a car that weighs well over two tons.

The mania, at this point, speaks for itself. Few cars that weigh this much can handle going so fast. Not that the S65 doesn’t know how to stop either. A world first on this car is the inclusion of twin sliding calipers, an idea that maximizes performance by reducing heat transfer to the brake fluid as a floating caliper would, without giving up the stopping power of a large fixed caliper. In a nod to the S65’s limousine origins, lighter ceramic composite brake rotors reduce the car’s unsprung weight and improve ride quality. However, hurtling around a tight corner on a two-ton stretch (unless you’ve downshifted so much that your rear passengers hit the dash) still doesn’t feel right. The S65 is huge by anyone’s standards, and nothing that big will give you the finesse of response and feedback that makes hard cornering especially healthy.

In a straight line, the S65 is freakishly fast. What AMG calls Speedshift is a nimble and, more importantly, smooth five-speed automatic transmission that, coupled with a beefed-up drivetrain to handle large amounts of torque, sees flawless bursts of acceleration at the slightest provocation. Some figures from Mercedes underscore the point…

Of that 737 pound-feet of torque, 420 are available at just 1,000 rpm. Dial in 500 more laps and you’re at 552 lb-ft. That kind of low-end growl means simply awesome shifting, when and where you want it. But honestly, when would that be exactly?

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The feel of the car is still largely dictated by the S-Class’s basic prerogatives. Demanded by executive cruiser buyers, it’s at odds with AMG’s obvious sporting intent. So what the S65 gives you compared to an S500L, at least in a real-world driving environment, is uncertain.

Except maybe it looks hard as a nail. Standard 19-inch AMG alloy wheels and beefy side skirts do far more justice to the new S-Class’s oddly open wheel arches, while a massive front apron with oversized air intakes and an equally thick rear end , divided by a pair of huge twin wheels. depletes, completes the kind of repackaging reminiscent of borscht and punitive beatings.

But the S65’s sales pitch is again skewed by a whopping £145,365 price tag. To put that in the Merc context, the ‘L’ version of the S320 CDI is £58,975, while the 500L is £73,770, and will still hit 62mph in 5.6 seconds. What’s included in the S65, in terms of re-engineering and exclusivity, is undeniable, but whether it’s actually worth at least twice as much as a standard S-Class is up for debate.

Performance flagships have their place. It’s as much a marketing tool as anything else, which does wonders for the model lineup and the brand as a whole. But this type of mind game works best with a more ambitious demographic. Think of the driver of the BMW 318i who asks for 18-inch M-Sport alloy wheels. Who is going to be lured into a regular S-Class under the promise of proxy performance? S-Class buyers care about quality, refinement and class, unless something has changed drastically without any of us realizing it.

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If there’s one person for whom the S65 AMG doesn’t immediately seem redundant enough, that’s not really the kind of person you want to recognize, is it?

Who, after all, feels a real compulsion to spend more than double what they need for their S-Class, just to be able to hit 100 km/h in 1.2 seconds faster, while consuming almost twice as much fuel on the road? the process? Who barks enough to want to remove their limo’s door handles, either in the rear or the front? And who, in the end, values ​​an AMG plate at, by our reckoning, £71,595? Cynical as it may be, and whatever AMG’s hidden technological sorcery shrugs off, it’s not outrageous to suggest that the vast majority of S65 buyers will be seduced by the flagship status of a bit of badge and spoiler, and they’re unlikely to make much use of those compound brakes or an integrated stopwatch.

But the buyers are there, and despite the cod’s philosophy, it’s the S65. He looks terrifying, resembles Satan’s mistress, and despite his simple four-door origins, he’s pretty unique. Remember you can buy two Audi S8s or have a Bentley Flying Spur and £30,000 for the price of an S65. Just because something exists doesn’t mean it makes sense.

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