2024 Mercedes-AMG S63 E Performance First Drive Review: Big Power, Big Complexities
AMG’s latest flagship sports sedan masterfully blends opulence and sophisticated technology, but it might just be a little too advanced for its own good.
For over half a century, the S-Class has served as a showcase of what the engineers at Mercedes-Benz are capable of. Technologies like electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, and adaptive cruise control made their brand debut here, and the automaker’s tradition of stuffing a massive powerplant into the engine bay for a performance-tuned iteration of the sedan dates back equally as far.
While these hot-rodded models have always focused more on luxury and innovation rather than outright dynamic capability, the 2024 Mercedes-AMG S63 E Performance boasts some headline-grabbing numbers. The plug-in hybrid's peak output of 791 horsepower and 1,055 lb-ft of torque comes by way of a 603-hp twin-turbo V8 that’s paired up with an AMG-specific hybrid system that can deliver as much as 188 hp and 236 lb-ft on its own. The combination makes this not only the most powerful S-Class in history but also the most powerful roadgoing AMG sedan to date.
That power comes at a price, though, and I’m not talking about the as-yet-unannounced MSRP.
2024 Mercedes-AMG S63 E Performance Specs
- Base price: TBA
- Powertrain: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 | permanently excited synchronous electric motor | 9-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 791 (peak) | 697 (continuous)
- Torque: 1,055 lb-ft
- Seating capacity: 4
- Curb weight: 5,721 pounds (European specification)
- Cargo volume: 10.8 cubic feet
- 0-60 mph: 3.3 seconds
- Top speed: 155 mph
- EPA fuel economy: TBD
- Quick take: A stunning concert of luxury and technology that’s held back by its own complexity.
- Score: 8/10
AMG brings a wide variety of changes to the W223 S-Class, nearly all of which focus on bolstering the sedan’s performance credentials. Visual flair is ramped up with an AMG-specific grille, a unique front fascia with larger air intakes, sportier side skirts, and a rear diffuser flanked by a quad-tip exhaust. AMG-specific alloys and red-accented badges also contribute to a noticeably more performance-oriented look, but the relatively restrained approach taken here should still allow would-be S63 E Performance owners to fly under the radar when they want to.
Inside, subtle tweaks like the AMG steering wheel, trim, and badging also provide a nod toward performance, but the S63’s cabin is still primarily a feast of lavishness that focuses on the rear passengers nearly as much as those up front. Like the standard S-Class, the S63 E Performance is outfitted with a 12.8-inch OLED touchscreen infotainment system, though here it also features real-time information about what the hybrid system is up to. AMG-themed layouts for the digital gauge cluster and head-up display can also be configured to provide a racier vibe as well as performance-related information like battery and electric motor temperatures.
What really sets the S63 E Performance apart from a standard S-Class, though, is the powertrain. Mounted to the rear axle, the hybrid system features its own two-speed gearbox as well as its own electronically controlled limited-slip differential. Paired up with a 13.1-kWh battery pack with an integrated cooling system, it offers about 20 miles of electric-only range at speeds of up to 87 mph. The battery can be recharged via a 3.7-kW onboard AC charger, but since the powertrain is constantly working to keep the battery at an ideal state of charge, owners will rarely need to do that, if ever. No less than seven drive modes can be selected from the dial on the right-hand side of the steering wheel (Electric, Comfort, Battery Hold, Sport, Sport+, Slippery, and Individual). Pressing that dial also allows you to select from four different levels of brake regen that range in strength from resistance-free coasting to one-pedal driving.
Mercedes says that by mounting the hybrid system behind the transmission (rather than sandwiching it between the engine and the transmission), the maximum amount of torque offered by both the internal combustion engine and hybrid system can be used simultaneously, which is what allows Mercedes to arrive at that lofty 1,055 lb-ft figure. The system is said to have been inspired by the ones used in Lewis Hamilton's hybrid Formula 1 cars, which are designed to deliver as-needed power frequently and repeatedly thanks to clever recuperation efforts.
This all sounds like great news for the S63’s capability, but the story gets a bit murkier when you take a closer look at what’s required to make it all work. More horsepower typically brings with it more mass in order to maintain balanced performance. You need bigger brakes to stop from greater speeds, more cooling capability to handle the additional heat produced, more chassis reinforcements to maintain proper cornering stability at high speed—you get the idea.
In the case of the S63 E Performance, there’s a symphony of powertrain components working together to send the grunt to all four wheels, all of which add complexity and more weight. To counter this, Mercedes-AMG has implemented features like active engine mounts (a first for an S-Class), electromechanical anti-roll bars, and standard rear-axle steering. But, of course, that stuff also brings in additional heft, and the end result is a sedan that weighs as much as a Ford F-150 Raptor, or about 900 pounds more than the outgoing S63.
Does that ultimately matter in a full-sized luxury sport sedan like this? Well, that depends on where your priorities lie.
Even before firing up the elaborate powertrain and setting off, the seats’ soft bolsters make it clear that this sedan’s sporting intentions are more about high-speed grand touring rather than corner carving. Although they lack the pillowy headrests found in standard S-Class, it didn’t take long to dial in a position that would comfortably suit me for hours at the helm.
There isn’t a whole lot that separates the S63’s cabin from a standard S-Class, but the AMG-specific steering wheel does make a tangible and immediate difference. High-quality perforated leather feels great in hand, and while I still find the capacitive controls for functions like volume adjustment to be annoyingly inaccurate, I have to admit that the designers managed to pack a ton of functionality into this thing in a generally intuitive and aesthetically pleasing way. Adjustments for everything from driving mode and brake regeneration strength to gearbox behavior can be made without looking away from the road or even taking your hands off of the wheel. And when you need quick access to often-used system functions with minimal hassle, a strip of physical buttons is also available just below the infotainment display.
The S63 E Performance’s stealth factor is enhanced by the fact that it starts in electric mode by default. The system will fire up the V8 as needed whether you select the Electric drive mode or leave it in Comfort, but the former seems to have a higher threshold before doing so.
Around town, 21-inch wheels and short-sidewalled Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires allow some road imperfections to make their presence known, but the air suspension, adaptive dampers, and sway bar disconnect system generally do an excellent job of keeping things serene, even in the sportier drive modes.
It’s bank vault-quiet inside—as you’d expect from an S-Class—and the drive modes’ simulated powertrain soundtracks are clearly audible as a result. Weirdly, while Sport mode adds more V8 growl, Sport+ augments it with some odd harmonics that actually make it sound more like an Audi five-cylinder. I suppose that’s a more futuristic noise, but personally, I’d prefer to just hear more of the V8 in the most aggressive drive mode setting.
Some open stretches of road in the Malibu hills gave the S63 E Performance a chance to stretch its legs. Packing nearly 800 hp and more than a thousand lb-ft of torque, I expected this thing to be a mind-melting rocket ship, but the complexity of the powertrain and the sheer poundage it's tasked with shoving around seem to keep its straight-line performance in more conventional territory. Yeah, zero to 60 mph in 3.3 seconds is quick by general standards, but it also means that the S63 E Performance is only marginally more urgent than an Audi S8 despite having an additional 228 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque to work with.
Race Start does earn the S63 E Performance some points back, though. Along with being simple to call up (select Sport or Sport+ drive mode, hold the down brake pedal, stand on the throttle, then side-step the brake pedal), the launch feels impressively visceral thanks in part to the immediate torque provided by the hybrid system (and the fact that the seat belts pre-tension around you like a concerned loved one). From a performance standpoint, instantaneous throttle response is perhaps the biggest selling point of the S63 E Performance’s hybrid system, as it eliminates the last vestiges of the already-minimal turbo lag from the V8.
The tight, technical roads in Malibu can make a Porsche 911 feel big, but the S63 holds its own when thrown into corners. This is not a car that “shrinks around you” when driven hard, but the rear-axle steering makes it more eager to change directions than you might expect, and the optional carbon ceramic brakes provide strong, consistent stopping power without feeling too grabby at lower speeds. And while it lacks the uncouth Drift Mode setting found in the C63 and E63, the S63’s Sport and Sport+ drive modes do allow for some curated shenanigans when powering out of corners.
The Early Verdict
There’s no question that the 2024 Mercedes-AMG S63 E Performance packs a ton of impressive engineering that benefits everything from comfort and efficiency to safety and outright performance. Still, given the numbers Mercedes is touting, it’s hard not to expect a bit more from its bracingly elaborate powertrain.
Of course, no one is buying an S63 because it’s the most dynamically capable machine that Mercedes-AMG offers. But given that the car’s greatest strengths come from the inherent radness of the W223 S-Class, and the sense that this buyer would likely prioritize luxury over performance anyway, I can’t help but wonder if a Mercedes-Maybach S580—or even a standard Mercedes-Benz S580—wouldn’t be the better choice for many.
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