2006 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S65 AMG 6.0 V12 biturbo petrol from UK and Ireland
ESP malfunction required a dealer reset.
Uplifting big saloon with a real sense of occasion, even taking into account the price tag.
Stupendous performance from the blown V12. Virtually flat torque curve (737 lb/ft) from 2,000 RPM upwards gives deeply impressive acceleration. The car is purported to hit 100 mph from rest in just over 10 seconds. I can believe it. However, the torque is the most impressive aspect. It really does push you back into the seat, and that's coming from someone who ran (and loved) an E39 BMW M5 with a 400 bhp V8. The AMG unit is however truly one of the world's great powerplants. It makes me wonder why they chose to shroud it in cheap looking plastic, however.
Five speed AMG auto box is a delight. As usual, being forced into an auto box in a Mercedes is no hardship. Changes are smooth and timely, kickdown is instantaneous, and the whole thing feels robust and well set up. The column change is somewhat odd however, for someone not raised in the US, although to be fair it works superbly.
Handling is keen, despite the S65 being comfortably the wrong side of two tonnes, although there's very little feel from any of the controls. Covers back roads quickly and safely. In fact, covers every road in the same effortless manner. Not the last word in driver interaction, but safe, capable, and devastatingly quick.
The performance and handling do not come at the expense of refinement. Under hard acceleration, there's a distant whooshing from the turbochargers accompanied by a muted growl from the V12. The exhaust note is to my mind a little disappointing compared with the V8 AMGs such as the SL55, but I suppose it's in keeping with the "executive express" brief of the S65.
The ride is definitely on the firm side of comfortable, but only becomes a problem over the most rutted surfaces, but excellent body control at speed is a welcome trade-off.
Mercedes' "COMMAND" control interface is much more intuitive and ergonomically sound than BMW's i-Drive, although my personal preference is still for conventional switchgear. I don't think cars at this level need gimmickry to sell them. The luddite in me is clearly alive and well.
On a related note, the S65 has, without a doubt, the most amusing owners manual of any car I've ever owned. It's 564 pages, and an inch-and-a-bit thick, and is so unfathomable to those without an anal appetite for knowledge that MB have wisely included an "in brief" booklet detailing the really important things you should know.
Fuel consumption averages 15 mpg, although a sustained 80mph motorway cruise will ease consumption down into the low 20's. Hard use, such as back road blasts will see the V12 guzzling a gallon of Super Unleaded every 8 miles or so however, and that can be somewhat sobering at today's fuel prices.
Build and material quality are both first class, as frankly I would expect on a £140,000 car. If Mercedes are doing as the reports suggest and cutting corners with the quality of their cars, they certainly are not extending the policy to their high end models. This car feels as if it were constructed from rock, and as if it will run pretty much forever. However, I will admit that more than 7,000 miles will be needed to properly assess and report on this. Even in hyper-critical, "nit-picking" mode however, I cannot find so much as an exposed screw head or a piece of trim that doesn't fit perfectly.
Sadly the reliability has been less than perfect, although thankfully it was one fault, and it was resolved in moments by a very apologetic dealer using a plug-in diagnostic tool. Driving home from a friend's place one Sunday afternoon, I decided to give it some beans down a slip-road to join a dual-carriageway. As I did so, a warning chime sounded, and an ESP system error appeared on the main display.
As mentioned above, it was resolved in moments by the dealer, and other than that, the faults list adds up to nothing. I note with interest that Evo magazine had the same thing happen with their S65 test car in a recent feature, but the dealer assures me it is neither a common problem, or likely to reoccur on my car.
Overall, I am delighted with this car. It's not perfect, and for some it will not offer the driver interaction and feedback that they demand, but as an all-rounder it is probably one of the finest cars you can buy right now. Superb on the motorway, capable on the back lanes, searing off the lights, seats 5 in utter comfort, has every piece of equipment you could want (and lots that you probably don't) and is built like a battlecruiser. Apart from better feel from the controls (mainly the steering), and a better exhaust note (I accept that's a personal thing), I can't genuinely think of a reasonable way to make it better. And as one of the world's pickiest car buyers, that's a big compliment.
If you are in the market for a car at this price, at least do yourself a favour and test drive one. I see this car being a keeper.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 27th December, 2006
I have yet to read an automotive magazine review of this car that was not full of the superlatives you have noted. This car is truly a work of art.
The only trouble I have with it is its price. In America, the 2007 model with a few options nudges the $200K mark. Now I know in this class of car money is somewhat irrelevant, but it does compete with "more unique" vehicles such as the Maserati Quattroporte and Bentley Flying Spur, the latter having the added benefit of AWD standard. Plus, S Class vehicles depreciate like mad as all large sedans (7 series, A8, etc.) do, making them not the best "investment" in this price range vs an entry level Ferrari or Lamborghini would be (yes, I know those aren't sedans, but in this price range we are talking where to put your money).
That said, unlike BMW I think Mercedes paid especially close attention to the quality control in their large sedans (the BMW 7 series is one of the most unreliable cars in America). I know there was an edict that eliminated something like 600 "functions" in the cars as being either redundant or simply too complex - and that should contribute to the quality of the S Class.