Grey Anatomies : Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe & A 45 Driven [review]

By topgear, 17 August 2016

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The twin grey Mercedes-AMG S 63 Coupe & A 45 show us there’s plenty of vibrant colour waiting to burst out

SINGAPORE - When Aufrecht and Melcher first started out in the town of Grossaspach (the A, M & G in AMG) in Germany, they were tuning big V8 Mercedes S-Classes (300SE at the time) in their garage to go for racing in touring championships. AMGs were always big, brawny and powerful German muscle cars that had powerful V8s or V12s (with the exception of two 6-cylinders).

The infamous 300SEL ‘Red Pig’ 6.8-litre touring car shocked the crowds at 24hours of SPA by coming in second and overall class win. It must have been a ridiculous sight to see a massive bright red S-Class winning a touring car championship – even by today’s standard it’s still preposterous.

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This is what amazes me about Mercedes-AMG – unassuming luxury cars force-fed by immensely powerful engines with racing pedigree. Your gran could drive an AMG to the supermarket comfortably (mine has!), without ever suspecting there was a snarling, snapping V8 leashed to her right foot. This is what all AMGs need to be, high performance machines that can transform into docile comfortable cruisers.

To the author, the C 63 S is a Goldilock’s “just-right”, where performance and luxury achieve an equilibrium, but what about the AMG models on either end of this spectrum? To that end, we’ve gathered the S 63 Coupe and the A 45 to explore AMG’s wizardry, spanning zippy city hatchback to ultimate luxobarge grand tourer. And don’t be fooled by the stealthy greys either, because there’s a vibrancy to both personalities that really bowled us away.

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You can’t miss the racer boy of the two – the A 45 preens and poses for you with prominent go-faster bits, since it’s already clear that Mercedes’ NGCC (or New Generation Compact Cars) are intended to muscle-in on rival brands lower down the premium pecking order. Front side splitters, rear diffusers and an oversized wing of proportions similar to those found on hardcore Black Series AMGs all work to create a powerful and unmistakable character in which to prowl the city streets.

The contrast between the A to the S Coupe couldn’t be more stark – as you approach the big coupe, you can’t help but admire the beautiful rear three-quarter silhouette and the fact that its proportions are elegant and seem smaller than reality. In fact, we had many people ask from the photos if it was the C-Class Coupe instead, due to the similarities of thefront-end designs.

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The S 63 hides its massive size very well, and is extremely discreet about its performance, well that is, unless you really know what you’re looking for. Granted it has a far sportier design than the CL-Class it replaces. Don’t be fooled though, it’s still a S-Class after all, and only 20mm shy of its sedan sibling.

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All the Bauhaus elements from the sedan are mirrored on the Coupe, and there’s the same expansively sweeping wood trim and two massive LCD screens greeting you as you step into the car. Everything else takes a backstage to the posh Bengal Red leather, which we feel helps to accentuate the sporty luxury. It also has a lot more bling than the average Merc, with 47 Swarovski Crystal LEDs in each headlamp and six different choices for cabin mood lighting.

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The AMG bits on the S 63 aren’t as prominent as on the A 45, because even with different bumpers and quad exhaust tips, the design is too close to the AMG-Line bodykit that can be spec’d on the ‘Plain Vanilla’ S 500 Coupe. Inside, apart from the optional ‘Designo’ leather as standard, the S 63 gets better-bolstered seats, a gorgeous AMG performance steering wheel and the ‘AMG’ coat-of-arms stamped into the centre armrest – the A 45 gets the same logo stamped on the gear shifter, which is now in the same stubby style as its bigger brothers.

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The A 45’s cabin is enlivened with motorsports intent, with a tasteful blend of red accents, carbonfibre trim, strategic bits of Alcantara and fantastically supportive and snug sports seats. Although this is already in the facelift, we’d like to mention that the A 45 is Mercedes-AMG’s first foray into compact turbo’d four-cylinders and likewise, the first hot-hatch in the line-up.

Not that there’s anything wrong with compact turbo’d engines, but don’t forget this is AMG we’re talking about, not some people’s brand, so we’ll naturally hold it to higher standards and expect it to deliver the same big-engine thrills as its larger-hearted stablemates.

Being AMGs, the two cars need to have the same meaty steering as their illustrious forebears. As far as touch and feel is concerned, both these cars delight their drivers with the fantastically thick Alcantara-clad steering wheels. Even though steering on both is electrically assisted, the C 63 S has already demonstrated how how well-nuanced such a system can be.

The newly face-lifted A 45 has better weighted steering than before, and helm inputs do readily translate to changes in direction, but we feel it could do with a bit more feedback. At the other end of the spectrum in the S 63, it feels like there’s a plush pillow between you and the road – it is definitely more plush Merc than rushed AMG.

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The revised suspension of the A 45 is a welcome change over the original’s and well-sorted for our mix of roads. It’s more enjoyable as a daily runabout now that it no longer scuttles over uneven tarmac. The optional adjustable dampers and toggling ‘Race’ mode on the drive programme knob instantly firms up the ride, transforming the A 45 into an eager hunting hound in search of corners to attack.

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The S 63 has neither ‘RACE’ nor ‘Sports +’ mode. Even its Sports setting is more comfortable than most other sporting coupes. ‘Comfort’ mode in all Mercedes, AMGs not excluded, makes the accelerator pedal feel like there’s a huge sponge cake stuck behind it; you can literally rest your foot on the pedal while driving and I think no other car maker allows you to do that. Both these cars still left us wanting a ‘Goldilocks’ setting though, since it was either too relaxed or too urgent, but not something in-between.

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On the move, the S 63’s paddle shifters don’t provoke as instant a response as we’d like, much like the earlier iteration of the A 45 and most earlier AMGs. ‘Manual’ mode just pisses the car off and we found it best to leave it to its own devices in Auto. “Das is not the right time to change gear”, is what I imagine it saying whenever it refuses to give in to my demands for a higher/lower gear when I tug on the metal paddles – many a times I hit the rev limiter as the revs bang against the redline.

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‘Auto’ does a fantastic job and correctly predicts the gear you need to be in, especially after it’s picked-up on your driving style – it’ll even blip for you to add to that race excitement. In the new A 45 though, as with the C 63 S and AMG GT, the gear changes are executed instantly with a wondrous pop and crackle from the exhaust as the gearbox jolts you into the next gear – the feeling is explosive, like pulling the trigger on a sniper rifle.

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With 585bhp and 900Nm, the S 63 leviathan demolishes the century sprint in 4.2secs, identical to its cheeky upstart smaller brother. The 5.5-litre bi-turbo V8 emits a lovely muted rumble as you flex your right foot, with none of that augmented noise nonsense – it certainly sounds a lot less synthesised compared to the new crop of turbo cars. At the compact end of our AMG segment, the A 45 has been tuned to deliver big-engine thrills from its compact four-pot, with 381bhp and 475Nm on tap. On this cheeky hatchback, 0-100km/h comes up in 4.2 seconds and Singapore spec cars are delimited to 270 km/h, although we reckon that’s plenty fast for even the Malaysian highways.

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If the S 63 feels like a plushly appointed private jet, the A 45 is like a buzzing hornet, since it can almost always be driven in ‘attack’ mode. Chuck the A 45 hard into a corner and dump the throttle and the front-biased four-wheel-drive system feels like it’ll never let up on its grip. If you try to take the same liberties with the S 63, be prepared for a rude awakening as that much torque to the rear wheels can be a handful if not respected. The creamy delivery of the 2+2 coupe’s V8 makes it perfect for crossing continents.

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Give it a heavy right foot and the immense g-forces pin you and your passengers hard into the plush seats as you shoot towards the horizon. The speeds really sneak up on you in both these cars: on the A 45, it’s because you’re having so much fun; in the S 63, it’s because it’s so silently but deadly efficient, like ‘Death from Above’. Both cars will happily gobble up the miles and are perfect for the blast up to the Malaysian capital.

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The S 63 features a unique ‘Curve’ system that leans it 2.5 degrees into the corner like Valentino Ross, if Rossi was a whale that is. The experience is uncanny but does its job really well with my passengers only noticing the lean when I mention it to them. This system however, is recommended for comfort use only as the suspension remains in its soft setting when the system is turned on.

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The face-lifted A 45 has grown up to become more refined to better reflect its price-tag – well, as refined as Prince Harry is in the company of the Queen Mother, that is. All primp and proper until the sun goes down and it’s bottoms up, pants down (or guns out).

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The competition may offer more bang for the buck, but the added refinement, premium touches and outright grunt is what makes the A 45 stand out. For me, that high speed overtaking pull is worth the price of admission alone. With an asking price in the region of S$800k (price is accurate at time of writing), the S 63 Coupe makes no excuses for itself. The type of audience this car attracts prefers to enjoy performance and luxury in discretion rather than to be flash and brash, so it won’t pander to the sort who inundates social media with ‘boarding pass’ posts or those who need validation by virtue of how much they’ve spent on something.

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The A 45 is a good first foray into the hot hatch segment from Mercedes and captures as much of the AMG DNA it can for a car of its type. Although it does border a bit too much to the safe side in execution, as some may feel that more could have come out of a compact car with close to 400bhp. The S 63 Coupe cossets you with its beautiful appointments but is still able to tackle corners with grand tourer aplomb. It exudes ultimate luxury with S-Classness overshadowing its outright dynamic performance. To be fair, it is a big two-tonne coupe and AMG does offer more performance in a similar design in the guise of the upcoming C 63 S Coupe.

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The AMG formula has been nicely injected into both the A 45 and S 63 without changing so much of the original donor cars’ characters and functions. There are instances however, that I find myself wanting more bespoke AMG and less ‘mainstream’ Mercedes. We reckon this argument will come in bigger focus with the introduction of the sub-AMGs ‘43 AMG’ models. That’s when the full-fat AMGs need to better differentiate themselves so as to not over dilute the ownership experience.

STORY Sean Tay
PHOTOS Tan Meng Choon

S 63 Coupe (C217)
Engine: 5461cc, V8, biturbo
Power/rpm: 585bhp/5500rpm
Torque/rpm: 900Nm/2250-3750rpm
Transmission: 7spd AMG Speedshift MCT auto
0-100km/h: 4.2secs
Top speed: 250km/h (electronically-limited)
Fuel consumption: 10.1l/100km
CO2: 237g/km

A 45 AMG (W176)
Engine: 1991cc, inline4, turbo
Power/rpm: 375bhp/6000rpm
Torque/rpm: 475Nm/2250-5000rpm
Transmission: 7spd AMG Speedshift dual-clutch
0-100km/h: 4.2secs
Top speed: 250km/h (electronically-limited)
Fuel consumption: 7.3l/100km
CO2: 171g/km

This feature first appeared in TopGear Singapore #53 (Aug'2016)