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ZURICH, Switzerland – While at first glance this may look like a minor update, the facelift of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class includes a catalogue of notable changes, many of which have been made under the skin.

The AMG variant of the S-Class has long been a bit of an enigma, feeling somewhat distant from its smaller siblings in terms of driving dynamics. Both the E63 and C63 are known to be stern, agile and no-nonsense super-saloons, but the S63 feels something more along the lines of a long-distance mile-muncher.

In some regards, this isn’t a bad thing, although with the pre-facelift model, we pointed to the S500 as the sweet spot in the range. Its turbocharged 4,7-litre V8 mill provides more than sufficient grunt, after all, coupled with a supreme level of comfort and refinement.

But back to the updated S63. The latest model drops the brand’s M157 turbocharged 5,5-litre V8 in favour of the new M178 twin-turbo 4,0-litre V8, an engine we have praised after experiencing it in other AMG derivatives. In this application, the eight-cylinder delivers the full 450 kW, along with a torque output of 900 N.m.

Furthermore, it’s mated to a new “multi-clutch” nine-speed transmission (based on the 9G-Tronic) and delivers its power to all four wheels through the 4Matic+ system also found on the newest E63. Take note, however, that S63 models destined for South Africa will remain rear-wheel drive.

So, the S63 now has more power, more gears and more driven wheels, which may suggest it will deliver a more intense experience for the driver. In practice, however, it still feels more-or-less the same, albeit a little faster (the 0-100 km/h sprint now takes a claimed 3,5 seconds). Lower in the rev-range, the engine feels more alert, but once at cruising speeds it’s very hard to notice any major differences. The new gearbox, however, has given the S63 a softer demeanour that makes it more comfortable to use on an everyday basis.

In the bends, with the 4Matic+ system’s clever torque distribution systems working hard, the S63 displays some evidence of its weight, most notably on entry. But once you muster up the courage to place faith in the computers, it all works very well, with the Airmatic suspension allowing swift and balanced cornering without any sign of understeer.

Despite having speed-sensitive steering, the S63 doesn’t feel as direct or agile as some of its AMG siblings, which is understandable given its considerable mass. Perhaps the slightly lighter, rear-wheel-drive model coming to SA will feel a little, well, lighter on its feet.

The engine and exhaust notes are also notably softer than before. While the pipes still emit a hearty roar under aggressive throttle, the sound is relatively subdued. Engine noise entering the cabin has been significantly decreased, too, which adds to renewed levels of refinement.

Summary

The S63 is a performance car that is most comfortable out on the open road, where it will happily maintain composure at high speeds. While it certainly is capable in tight corners considering its heft, it still feels a little dynamically removed from everything else in the AMG line-up. And that leaves one wondering whether the S560, which makes use of the same engine but with a lower output of 345 kW, may well be the smarter choice.

The new powertrain in the S560 feels more in-tune with what you might expect from an S-Class, while the new M256 turbocharged 3,0-litre inline six-engine with the 48V system in the S500 (unfortunately not destined for South Africa) is also a treat to drive.

As a show-piece, however, the AMG-badged model is hard to beat. For those who crave a brutish, two-tonne luxury sedan, the S63 satisfies … and even more so than before, thanks to the significant under-the-skin changes that have been made.

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