Of all the places Mercedes could have chosen for the first drive of its new flagship performance sedan, Malibu is a pretty good option. After all, it’s home to some of the wealthiest vehicle shoppers in the world, making it the natural habitat for pricey German luxury cars. But Malibu also has a sinister underbelly situated a few miles inland from the Pacific coast.
I’m not talking about mob wars, drugs, or crime. I’m talking about a snaky little stretch of pavement called Latigo Canyon Road. Gaining more than 2,000 feet of elevation in a little over 10 miles, Latigo Canyon is a tight, narrow two-lane that has the funny habit of making Mazda MX-5s and Civic Type Rs feel oversized, so my eyebrows arched higher than Divine’s when I saw that my first taste of the 2024 Mercedes-AMG S63 E Performance would entail Latigo and many other similarly skinny sections of pavement.
You see, while the S63 would have no trouble tackling the elevation changes thanks to 791 horsepower and 1,055 pound-feet of torque, this hunky plug-in hybrid weighs more than a Ford Expedition Timberline, with about the same length and width. How could such a large vehicle possibly tackle the canyon roads above Malibu? Well, not to give away the ending, but pretty darn well.
As with the previous generation, the 2024 Mercedes-AMG S63 E Performance gets a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8, producing 603 hp and 664 lb-ft. The nine-speed automatic will likewise sound familiar to anyone who owns an old S63. But the 2024 model sets itself apart via that lengthy “E Performance” appellation: a 13.1-kilowatt-hour battery and 188-hp electric motor mounted to the rear axle. Being a plug-in hybrid like its C63 kid sibling, the hot S-Class is capable of about 20 miles of all-electric driving, and the e-motor can send power forward via the driveshaft to give it zero-emissions all-wheel drive.
Left in Comfort mode, the S63 operates like a traditional hybrid, prioritizing use of the battery whenever possible to maximize efficiency. And the electric side of the powertrain can even take a little abuse via the accelerator before firing up the gas engine, making the car feel totally up to the task of a normal commute on electrons alone. In fact, if not for the various performance styling cues inside (Affalterbach crests embossed on the headrests, a flat-bottomed Alcantara steering wheel, et al), you might never know you were behind the wheel of an AMG product for how smoothly the S63 operates in normal driving conditions.
But like any good AMG, the S63 is more about performance than efficiency. Its 791 combined hp makes it the most powerful S-Class ever built, and with a 0-60 time of 3.2 seconds, it’s also one of the quickest Mercedes vehicles of all time. There’s also a rear-axle steering system, and although its 2.5-degree max angle is less impressive than the regular S-Class’ available 4.5-degree or 10-degree units, it still makes the S63 far more maneuverable than its 210.1-inch overall length would suggest. Active roll stabilization is likewise standard, helping the big AMG corner almost completely flat.
As such, the S63 E Performance was hilarious good fun on the twisty roads above Malibu. Propulsion out of corners is explosive, and powertrain integration between gas and electric is nearly perfect. The electric motor is mounted directly to the rear axle to reduce parasitic losses, while an integrated two-speed transmission ensures it can provide nearly as much of a boost at higher speeds as it does from a standstill. It also provides torque vectoring for neutral, balanced handling most of the time.
Thanks to the rear-axle steering, turn-in is surprisingly crisp, and the air suspension does a masterful job of quelling body motions without resorting to teeth-chattering stiffness. Even in the most aggressive Sport+ drive mode, the S63 handles rough pavement as though there’s Vaseline in the dampers – you feel the bumps, but they’re instantly smothered before they have a chance to jostle you about. That helped my confidence grow, and before long I was attacking curves with far more enthusiasm than I’d ever have thought possible. This is a large car that can handle itself just fine.
The only caveat is that aforementioned torque vectoring system. If you’re really pushing the S63 E Performance hard, it starts to feel a bit confused as the software figures out where to put power. It almost feels like stability control intervention, which I might have suspected had the telltale dummy light not illuminated during my time behind the wheel. Dialing back the pace from hair-raising to merely brisk solves the problem completely.
Boldly, Brashly Beautiful
To my eye, the current Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the most imperious-looking car the company has built since the W126 S-Class of the 1980s. Part of its appeal for me is that it retains the traditional Mercedes-Benz segmented grille and star hood ornament, even as the company’s other sedans move to the dinnerplate-sized, grille-mounted star. As such, I can’t help but be a little sad that the S63 follows the trend, swapping out the hood ornament for an AMG-signature Affalterbach crest and ditching the “luxury” grille for a sportier treatment. It’s the first S-Class sedan to do so, in fact.
But in spite of my traditionalist leanings, I still found the S63 AMG irresistibly handsome when I saw it in person for the first time. The grille shape is nearly the same as it is on the S500 and S580 – unlike the C-Class, whose AMG variants get a mouthy trapezoid up front – but with vertical Panamericana grille vanes and bold, functional bumper corner vents, the S63 E Performance cuts an imposing first impression.
The side skirts are marginally more aggressive, and the rear bumper’s exhaust outlets are larger, but visual alterations are otherwise rather restrained. That’s a good thing in my book, allowing the S63 to glide by unnoticed (at least until the exhaust fires off a blatty upshift or a crackling downshift).
Inside, the most obvious sport-spec alterations are the aforementioned headrest embossing (which takes the place of the regular S-Class’ neck pillows) and AMG steering wheel. There’s also a dedicated AMG Track Pace infotainment menu that can log performance metrics and act as a stopwatch if you’re one of the probably four people who will take your S63 around a racing circuit. The data monitor even works on the rear seat tablet and infotainment screens, allowing the bourgeoisie to monitor Jeeves’ behavior behind the wheel.
Time Is The Greatest Luxury…
…but a cosseting leather interior is a close second. With luscious red upholstery and a slab of intricate carbon fiber on the dashboard, the 2024 Mercedes-AMG S63 has an interior that’s somewhere between burlesque and Bahrain International Circuit. Up front, the chintzy “piano black” center console is the lone detractor from what is an otherwise gorgeous cabin. Both front passengers are absolutely spoiled for room and seat adjustments, and heating, ventilation, and massage are also on board to keep you comfy.
The rear seat retains the same long list of optional extras as the regular S-Class, like a champagne cooler behind the center armrest, reclining outboard seats with a left-side footrest, and MBUX infotainment controls – all of which my tester came equipped with. And thanks to the S63’s upright, formal roofline and sculpted door panels, space for four occupants is akin to a roadgoing 787 Dreamliner.
The tech suite could rival a Boeing as well, with the regular S-Class’ carryover 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, 12.8-inch center display, and Dolby Atmos sound. Lossless audio sounds incredible in the S63 (if you can peel your ears away from the woofling exhaust note). The MBUX system is reasonably easy to use, although the capacitive-touch seat controls and infotainment-bound lumbar adjustments are a dumb answer to a question no one asked.
At least the car’s active safety suite works well, with standard adaptive cruise control, lane centering, traffic jam assistance, blind spot monitoring, and automatic emergency braking. Put it all together and the S63 is about as easy to drive in heavy traffic as anything short of a hands-off system. For that, however, you’ll have to wait for Mercedes to make its Level 3 driver-assistance suite legal in all 50 states.
Posh And Poised
Mercedes-AMG hasn’t released pricing for the S63 E Performance just yet, but figure the old S63’s $60,000 premium to carry over (if not expand). I’m guessing a base price of just over $170,000, with my car’s as-tested cost ballooning via “Diamond White Magno” matte paint, black exterior accents, extended Nappa leather, flashy wheels, and a posher rear seat with massage and ventilation. I wouldn’t be surprised if a US-spec car like the one I drove cost 190 large or more.
That puts the S63 E Performance in odd company. It’s likely to be far more expensive than the slower and less sporty Audi S8 and BMW M760i. But it’s quicker, cheaper, and nearly as posh as the Bentley Flying Spur Speed, which starts at $263,525 and hits 60 in 3.6 seconds – though the Brit will run to 207 mph when unchained. As with the Maybach S580 I tested last year, the S-Class AMG might be a tough sell when marketed against its mainstream luxury rivals. But it’s a damn steal when you look at what Bentley and Rolls-Royce are peddling.
My ideal competitor for the S63 is even less logical. In the nebulous class of “daddywagon,” the AMG has dethroned the Audi RS6 as my new champ. Heck, it took that title the first time I saw it cruising down Ocean Avenue at 20 miles per hour. In a vehicle that looks and feels this rich and exciting, the Mercedes-AMG S63 E Performance’s capabilities on a canyon road are just a bonus.