Spotlight – new Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG W222-series S-Class vs Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 W116 and Mercedes-Benz 560SEL W126. Mountain movers – with over 17.800cc and 119bhp between them, these super saloons demonstrate that there is far more to the legend that is the Mercedes S-class than just luxury and comfort.
Isn’t it fascinating how car companies can go through great change and release new models that put an intriguing twist on decades of heritage, yet somehow retain the core values of their ancestors.
When the current 222-series S-Class was unveiled last year, hopes were high that it would follow the form of its predecessors and set the benchmark in its segment, pushing boundaries with new technologies that will eventually find their way to the C-Class, E-Class and even some smaller models. The car delivered on the promises of its maker, and so it came as little surprise that the S-Class was given the 2014 World Luxury Car award. Where does this leave the S63 AMG, then?
In my book, it is the world’s best luxury car – with an extra sporting edge. The new, V12 powered S65 AMG is arguably the ultimate model in the range, but the S-Class and the V8 have history. Indeed, 12-cylinder power did not stir the grand four-door Mercedes until 1991 in the form of the 140-series 600SEL.
W116 vs W126 – face to face
Their concept is very similar, but almost four decades separate these Mercedes. This takes nothing away from today’s photoshoot, however. Here we have gathered three generations of S-Class (116, 126, and 222) with their respective range’s most powerful V8, to celebrate over four decades of one of the best known car names in the business. Eagle-eyed readers might recognize the Cypress Green V116 450SEL 6.9 as it featured in the July 2009 issue. Back then the car was based in the UK, but soon after it was sent to South Africa. It changed hands once more, and now forms part of a Mercedes-Benz aficionado’s collection. He is also the owner of this pristine V126 560SEL.
EIGHT BY THREE
The 6.9’s clock is still a few hundred miles short of 30,000, which surely makes it one of the lowest mileage examples in the world. The interior, at first sight, looks simplistic. But turn the key and suddenly a few lights reveal themselves below the speedometer and rev counter. The dashboard has a solid feel and structure to it. The air conditioning system is situated above the Becker Mexico radio, while the speedometer, which is marked in both miles and kilometres, immediately reminds you of the car’s British background.
The driver’s pew is comfortable, while the carpet covering the transmission tunnel and footwells affirms the cabin’s cosy nature. The dashboard is remarkably shallow, finishing not far behind the A-pillars, so the front occupants have ample room ahead of them, which contributes to the interior’s roomy feel.
CHASING THE HORIZON
The fact the rev counter’s redline starts at around 5,200rpm, maximum power (282bhp) arrives at 4,250rpm and maximum torque. Should you trim your speed before entering a bend, you will be surprised at the level of composure the 6.9 displays (405lb ft) is produced at 3,000rpm, suggests the manner in which one should drive to extract the best behaviour from the three-speed auto equipped 6.9.1 press the throttle pedal to the floor several times and marvel at the way this near 40-year old limousine just lifts its nose ever so slightly (thanks to the hydro-pneumatic suspension) as it leaps down the road. Should you have deleted the 6.9 badge on the bootlid in the 1970s, you might have surprised a few sports car drivers of the time with this ultimate sleeper. With its M100 engine code, the 6.9’s V8 was based on the already monstrous 6,332cc unit used in the 600 Grosser and 300SEL 6.3.
This car’s Michelin 215/70VR14, steel belted radial tyres are period correct and were actually acquired only a few years ago. Pushing this older saloon through corners almost seems wrong but, keeping the car’s weight in mind, should you trim your speed before a bend, you will be surprised at the level of composure this near two-tonne car displays. There is more body movement than in a modern car, but this sense of flowing with the road adds distinct character and appeal to the 6.9’s drive.
Parking the car, switching off the engine and listening to the rear aerial retract into the bodywork, I jump out of the driver’s seat and open the rear door. As I sit down, I can feel and hear how the springs deform and shorten under my weight. Head, shoulder and legroom are all in good supply and 1 imagine three adults would not encroach on each other’s private space too much, something dignitaries of the day would have appreciated.
A MORE ORDINARY FLAGSHIP?
Next to the green 6.9, the white, 1990 560SEL looks a little less special. However, it has a hidden weapon in the form of its alloy, 5.5-litre M117 V8, the launch of this flagship saloon coinciding with 126-series S-Class’s facelift in 1985. This being a post September 1987, non catalyst example, it left the factory with 296bhp and 336lb ft torque, meaning a 6.8-second run to 62mph and a 155mph top speed. As on the 6.9, Mercedes granted the 560SEL hydro-pneumatic level control suspension.
Open the SEL’s door and a familiar cabin design and instrument layout welcomes you, but because the V126 followed in the footsteps of the V116 (‘V’ denoting a long-wheelbase model), there are a number of changes and upgrades seen in the trim and buttons, and the general layout, which appears more cohesive and less cluttered. Despite having 10,000 more miles on the clock, the SEL’s interior feels even sturdier and more solid than the 6.9’s, while the dashboard is similarly shallow, so front occupants still have a serious amount of room. Space for rear passengers is also similar to that in the 6.9, although headroom is down a touch, possibly because of this car’s sunroof.
LITTLE USED LIMOUSINE
The rev counter’s 6,000rpm redline suggests a more technologically advanced engine, while the transmission has also gained an additional forward gear. However, you should not think the M117 motor needs more revs to get into its stride because it is still in the lower two-thirds of the rev range where this V8 is happiest. The ride quality is equally impressive, although there is an additional layer of control to the way the 126 handles compared to the 116.
The owner bought this three-pointed star in 2001 with only 18,000 miles on the odometer.
Since then, he has added 19,000 miles by taking the old S-Class on regular journeys and participating in Mercedes-Benz Club South Africa’s long distance roadtrips, the wide and open roads of South Africa perfectly matched to this flagship limousine.
As beautiful and imposing as the V116 and V126 are, it is the W222 S63 AMG that gets the most attention – after all, it is the top V8 model of a new generation. Its age, or rather lack thereof, is visible in the exterior design. The body looks bolder and stronger, and on closer inspection of the front, you notice the camera, sensors and radar system for the cruise control. In terms of technology, the S63 AMG is simply on another planet to its predecessors.
Surprisingly, the AMG’s front quarters don’t feel as roomy as those of the earlier generations. The thick and high transmission tunnel divides the cabin in two, while the large digital screens on the dashboard take some getting used to. But once the driver’s door has sucked itself shut, you are encased in a virtually soundless cocoon. The soft seat engulfs your body while your head is cushioned by a wonderfully soft headrest. The flowing lines of the dashboard and lack of any unnecessary buttons have a visually soothing effect on both the driver and passengers.
In terms of engine size, the 560SEL and S63 AMG are close – 5,547cc versus 5,461cc respectively. However, two and a half decades of research and development mean that from the moment the key is turned in the AMG, the similarities end. The S63’s V8 biturbo engages with a distinctive snort from the AMG exhaust system, yet despite this early drama, the soft throttle response in Comfort mode means moving away from rest is utterly smooth.
With 577bhp/664lb ft torque, it isn’t long before things liven up, though. You cant help but smile at the dual personality of the S63AMG W222.
Using only 2,000rpm, you will make surprisingly quick and effortless progress, but far greater potential lies higher up the rev range. Switch the transmission and suspension to Sport mode, and immediately the car firms up while the seven-speed automatic responds by dropping a gear or two, encouraging you to place your fingertips on the metal paddleshifters behind the steering wheel.
Bury the throttle pedal into the carpet at low speed and the ESP system kicks in as the tyres struggle to deploy all that torque to the road. Select the next gear and the onslaught simply continues. Tackle a few corners and the S63’s air suspension (tweaked by AMG and running with Mercedes’ road scanning Magic Body Control technology) keeps the body amazingly flat. It would be somewhat unfair to expect a car of this size to instil confidence in the driver on a mountain road, but the 222-series S63 AMG does so with aplomb.
Rest your arm on the heated, Affalterbach badged armrest, adopt a more laid-back seating position and settle into a fast (ish) cruise and you can’t help but smile at the dual personality of the S63 AMG. Although it is light years ahead of the 450SEL 6.9 and 560SEL, it shares a common theme, and the owner of the latter two agrees. “They were simply the supercars of their time,” he said.
The fact the rear-wheel drive S63 AMG will accelerate from 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds makes it worthy of inclusion in the story of the fastest S-Classes, big saloons that have looked sports cars dead in the eye for generations.
The 5,157mm long S63 is the heaviest and most powerful car here.
The AMG exhaust system is designed to thrill all within earshot
The W222 S-Class AMG remoulds the fast limousine genre
A relatively low redline for the V8 S-Class of the 1970s.
Less weight makes the less pokey 560SEL a 6.9 beater.
The S63’s digital dials lack the character of their forbears.
You should not think the 560SEL’s V8 needs more revs to get into its stride
The 126 is lighter and more aerodynamic than the 116, the SEL measuring 5,160mm.
Optional light alloys, the 215/70VR14 tyres are standard.
JUST THE FACTS – Mercedes only made the 6.9 in 5,060mm long-wheelbase form.
Each car here has eight cylinders but offers a unique and wholly successful take on the super saloon theme.
Figures for a standard 450SEL 6.9. a 1990 560SEL as pictured, and a standard S63AMG; fuel consumption for the 450SEL 6.9 determined at % of top speed (not more than 110km/h 68mph) plus 10 percent, for the 560SEL according to EEC urban, and for the S63 AMG according to NEDC combined; top speed of the S63 electronically limited.
|Car||Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG W222||Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 W116 (V116)||Mercedes-Benz 560SEL W126 (V126)|
steel body monocoque
M157 5.461cc V8 biturbo
|M100 6,834cc V8||
M117 5,547cc V8
577bhp @ 5500rpm
282bhp @ 4250rpm
296bhp @ 5000rpm
|Max torque||664lb ft @ 2250-3750rpm||
405lb ft @ 3000rpm
336lb ft @ 3750rpm
|Transmission||7-speed auto||3-speed auto||4-speed auto|
|Drive||driving rear wheels|