Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG: Non-In-Depth Drive

This post originally appeared on Substack.

Thanks to electrification, we’ve become desensitized to the idea of large, heavy vehicles gaining speed at an absurd rate. It’s commonplace now.

The acceleration and horsepower figures of the latest high-performance EVs often read as if pulled out of thin air. We accept them — who am I to say that the first standalone car from a famed Italian design house doesn’t have one-thousand nine-hundred horsepower?

The 2006 Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG is a large, heavy vehicle that gains speed at an absurd rate. The way it delivers that performance is unlike like any electric vehicle.

The key to its capability, I suspect, is the 6-liter V12 up front, which AMG felt the need to turbocharge for good measure. Twice. Mercedes-Benz claimed the S65 was the world’s fastest sedan when it launched in 2005, and the spec sheet seems to back that up: 604 horsepower and 737 lb-ft of torque. This particular S65 has been chipped by RENNtech to offer comfortably more.

Stand on the gas pedal, which isn’t particularly sensitive, and it takes a moment for things to get cooking, but once all the horsepower have been rounded up, it moves. There’s no skill required, no shifting — just point the S65 where you want to go, and let the blunt force acceleration do the rest.

It wakes up above 75 mph. On the highway, you feel confident that you could out-accelerate any challenger (lower-case ‘c’), if only you had unlimited clear road ahead of you. The steering ratio that feels ponderous at slower speeds, feels instinctively dialed-in at full tilt.

The moment you start to feel a connection with the S65… is immediately followed by a sense that it will be disappointed in you for lifting off the gas.

The 5-speed automatic transmission is working harder than any transmission has ever worked before, which you can tell from the heat radiating through the firewall during hard acceleration. It warms your legs — it surprises you every time. The energy being produced under the S65’s hood *literally* cannot be contained, and is spilling out into the cabin.

I should also mention that this is the only time I’ve ever watched a gas needle move in real time. I’m actually surprised that it doesn’t have a digital gas gauge for the same reason that the Lexus LFA had to have a digital rev-counter: because an analog dial would not have been responsive enough.

Without hyperbole, every time you look at the gas gauge needle, it has noticeably moved since the previous time you put eyes on it.

S65 Interior

Like Morty Seinfeld’s tip calculator, I’m sure this car does other things, but I’m not interested in discussing them. But I made a few additional notes:

  • Visually, this is probably my favorite-ever S-Class, because I celebrate the so-called “bad era” of Mercedes design. Earlier designs were more iconic and more elgenant, but these were the first ones that connected with me as a dumb adolescent. I love the proportions and subtle surfacing, and the 2003 facelift perfected the futuristic headlights and taillights. S65-specific gray and silver multi-piece wheels add sportiness, and quietly announce its presence for those nerdy enough to know what to look for.
  • Ride quality is superior to any car I can remember being in, but part of that very well could be down to the seats, which are the most comfortable seats I’ve ever sat in. Active Body Control — the active hydropneumatic suspension — keeps the ride from being overly floaty, and is just one of a host of technologies that seem ahead of their time for 2005. (Some others: dynamic, massaging seats, and Distronic radar cruise control)

The W220 S65 was offered only for the 2006 model year, and only 427 were sold in the US. The car’s owner claims that these were built with more care and craft than the other W220 S-class variants — a one-off showcase that enjoyed the full gamut of Mercedes-Benz technologies and quality. Is that true? I’m not sure, and there’s no time to research this claim here. But it’s a nice story.

This 2006 S65 AMG is available for sale from Europa Touring Ltd.

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