The Olympic Games are the pinnacle of modern athletic competition. Nations from across the globe gather to pitch their best in the crucible of sport. The sites of Olympic games take on a certain mythos to the athletically inclined. Sometimes the games themselves leave an indelible mark. Lake Placid is one such place. Host to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and site of the famed Miracle on Ice, the town seems to hold a quiet reverence for performance at the highest level. Surrounded by the highest peaks of the Adirondack mountains, it also provides easy access to some of the best driving roads in the state.
A special location requires a special car. The 2018 Mercedes-AMG S65 Coupe is that in spades. Our introduction is a 3-hour drive north to our hotel in Lake Placid. The bulk of that time is spent on the Adirondack Northway, a scenic highway that runs from our headquarters in Albany all the way to the Canadian border. The S-Class Coupe takes all the luxury and sophistication that we’ve come to enjoy from the sedan and packages it into a two-door grand tourer. The ultra-exclusive S65 Coupe doesn’t leave anything to chance and comes standard with all the niceties that are optional on the S560 and S63. The ride is exceptionally smooth, quiet, and comfortable, with just enough audible feedback from the handcrafted AMG engine to remind you that there’s a little more to this S-Class. We stepped out of the car in Lake Placid just as the sun was beginning to set. Removing a chilled bottle of wine from the optional rear-seat cooler, it was time to relax. The last golden hour of the day showed off the S65 in its best light.
The S-Class Coupe is an elegantly drawn-out design with proportions that the camera cannot do justice. Even when it is scaled down to E-Class and C-Class sizes, it seems to lose some of the presence and sophistication of this full-size S-Class. It is a sight to behold, especially when it has been enhanced by AMG. The visual changes are subtle, unless you know where to look. Horizontal stripes are in for 2018, with AMG adding the signature Panamerican grille to the S-Class this year. A unique front bumper with larger air inlets and a pronounced front splitter also defines the AMG’s front end. 2018 also brings a revised rear bumper with diffuser and exclusive OLED taillamps. The visual texture and design of the OLED taillamps may, for some, be more fascinating to behold than the Swarovski crystal accents in the headlights. But the hallmark of the S65 is its high-sheen chrome design elements and mirror-polished wheels. Brightwork in the lower inlets, side skirts, window surrounds, and diffuser trim boldly stands out from the designo Mocha Black Metallic paint of our tester. In the right light, the deep brown metallic color shines and the yellow glow of the AMG performance calipers reflects in the 20” wheels.
The following morning, low clouds hid the majesty of the mountains. Mirror Lake sat mirror still as we fired the cold V12 engine. The hand-crafted engine whirs for a moment before exploding to life, breaking the silence of the morning and startling bystanders. Assembled by a single Mercedes-AMG employee, the bi-turbo V12 engine produces a staggering 621hp and 738lb-ft torque. We use just a fraction of its potential to slip out of town, avoiding the morning runners and bikers that clog the local roads. Clear of town and well on our way into the mountains, we’re surprised by the engine’s demeanor. Unlike the brutish bi-turbo V8 we tested in the AMG S63 sedan, the S65 offers endless, smooth, linear power. The V12’s unique bellow echoes off the exposed cliffs, but doesn’t drown out the flowing mountain stream that runs along the road. This is well-aged, mature power. Our destination is Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway, a five-mile toll road that climbs to 4,867 feet above sea level. Traversing the spine of New York’s 5th highest mountain, it is the highest drivable elevation in the state of NY and the next peak to scratch off our list.
At a leisurely pace, the S65 feels solid and well balanced. In the tighter sections of road, however, you can feel the heavy V12 push the nose. Unlike the S63, this big coupe isn’t available with the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. There’s no fancy torque vectoring here, just a big engine up front and two drive wheels in the back. But the S65 does have one trick up its sleeve to stay composed, MAGIC BODY CONTROL. This system uses cameras to detect the road surface ahead of the car and calculate the optimal response from the active suspension system. By adjusting damping at each individual wheel, Mercedes can glide over the road more smoothly. Beyond the expected Comfort and Sport suspension modes, the S65 also has a Curve setting. When enabled, the active suspension tilts the body of the car into the corner up to 2.65 degrees to counteract the normal body roll and minimize lateral forces felt in the cabin. It perceptibly shrinks the car on tight mountain roads in an astonishing way, making the S65 feel much smaller than its true footprint.
Arriving at the toll gate, we were warned the low cloud ceiling would prevent us from seeing anything at the top of the mountain. But we hadn’t come for the vistas, we came for the road. The toll operator was nice enough to take our money and let us go, having watched the four cars ahead of us turn away. Today, we were the crazy ones. With the mountain pass to ourselves, save for a few cyclists, we dialed the S65 in Sport. That disables the slow ECO Start/Stop system and allows the AMG SPEEDSHIFT Plus 7-speed transmission to allow takeoffs in first gear. This isn’t the setting for around town, when the aggressive shift mapping can lead to some rough gear changes at low speed. But on the mountain’s 10% grade change, it brought the big coupe to life. The first few miles were driving delight, but the road ahead slowly became enveloped by fog. Passing into the mountains, the AMG ceramic brakes became our good friends, biting confidently when the road twisted out of view. The last mile required extreme caution, with visibility no better than 25 feet ahead. The big Mercedes ambled into the summit parking lot, where we explored a castle build 4,600ft in the sky. The S65 ticked quietly in the mist, not the slightest bit winded from the climb and ready to fly down the mountain it had just conquered.
The Mercedes-AMG S65 is an Olympian, the automotive equivalent of a marathoner. Not the quickest over short ground and not the nimblest or most agile, but the sheer pace over long distances will put any other competitor to shame. And yet, you could walk pass a medal-winning marathon runner on the street and never notice. This, too, is the S65’s weakness. It may be a stunning design emboldened by the AMG division, but the layperson isn’t going to pay it any more attention than any other Mercedes S-Class that might pass them by. Those not looking could walk right by the large fender badges or brush off the unique timber of an idling V12. If you’re looking for your GT car to turn heads, you’d have better luck with the British or Italian options. But for those who can afford the quarter-million price tag and aren’t inclined to show it, you’ll be rewarded with world class performance.
|2018 Mercedes AMG S65 Coupe
|designo Mocha Black Metallic||$2,300|
|designo Bengal Red/Black Exclusive Nappa Leather||N/C|
|designo Black Piano Lacquer Flowing Lines Wood||$1,300|
|AMG Ceramic Composite Braking System||$8,950|
|Refrigerator Rear Center Console||$1,100|
|Magic Sky Control||$2,500|
|20″ AMG Forged Multispoke Wheels||N/C|
|Black Nappa Leather Headliner||N/C|
|Gas Guzzler Tax||$1,700|
|As Tested MSRP||$257,745|