Designed for crossing continents at top speeds in high style, the Grand Tourer class of automobile is, in many ways, the true mark of a manufacturer's ability. Hitting the optimal balance between a finely considered aesthetic, an interior that is suitable for long rides and a driving experience that lets you open up the car on straightaways while remaining nimble through winding roads is the challenge engineers face. It's got to be fast, fun, comfortable and, most importantly, sustain these qualities as your passport fills with stamps. With the 2015 S550 Coupe and its juiced-up S63 AMG counterpart, Mercedes-Benz proves their capacity to create a GT that's fit for country-hopping and everyday driving alike. We took to the serpentine roads of Tuscany to put each model to the test.
While the casual observer might not discern a major difference between the AMG version and the S550, a closer look and a stomp on the accelerator puts things into focus. As we learned behind the wheel of the E63 AMG S-Model Wagon, AMG is synonymous with power. Born out of a love for motor building, Mercedes merged with AMG in 1999 to bring the integration of their hand-built engines to the next level. Badge details, race-inspired hits of carbon fiber throughout the car along with multi-spoke forged wheels painted in titanium are just the beginning of what sets the S63 AMG apart.
In terms of output, the AMG coupe clocks in at a staggering 577 horsepower thanks to its 5.5-liter V8 bi-turbo engine. (The S550 more than holds its own with an impressive 449 ponies.) Deciding on which is best for you largely comes down to driving style and personal choice. For some, the AMG might be too much power for going about your day-to-day—unless that involves hitting the Autobahn. However, behind the wheel, the power is pure and manageable. You can hit 60 miles per hour from a dead-stop in just under four seconds (and once the 4,000 pound hunk of German muscle is moving, that acceleration rate approaches an exponential quality), but high-tech driver assistance safety features and finely tuned handling keep the power in check.
Benz is going all in with their driver assistance programs that, in the case of the vehicles at hand, results in both a safer and more comfortable experience. The Intelligent Drive system is packed with so many safety features it would appear that the era of the self-driving car is upon us. From pedestrian detection to adaptive high beams to a braking system that can carry out autonomous maneuvers at speeds up to 65 mph, safety prevails. However, the driver is largely unperturbed by these features until they're at work.
While the driving experience leaves little to be desired, it wouldn't live up to gran turismo specs if there weren't a few luxurious touches. Inside, both models are dressed to the nines. Swooping lines across the dash, extending from driver to passenger side, call to mind the grand proportions of the classic '57 300SL. Benz is introducing three new interior color options including a Bengal red that is a bold choice but on that suits the character of the car—especially when paired with carbon fiber.
Though the models we tested didn't feature Apple's CarPlay integration, Benz's proprietary nav and media system was as intuitive as always. Using the Command Control dial, accessing everything from car settings to digital radio, is accomplished with minimal distraction. For those who often find themselves waiting or standing still in traffic, the digital TV tuner (that blacks out once the car starts moving) is a welcome addition—especially when Brazil is kicking off in the World Cup. A standard panorama roof extends two-thirds of the car's roof, bathing the interior in natural light. An available Magic Sky control allows for the transparency of the roof to be altered in seconds. With ventilated seats featuring three massage styles and optional ionization and fragrance climate control packages, the interior of the vehicles surpasses comfort and extends into all-out pampering.
Paying further homage to its touring roots, the sculpted lines of each coupe evoke images of the German automaker's star racing designs of the '50s and '60s. An elongated hood is textured with character lines that scoop wind off the hood and contribute to what the brand claims is the quietest interior on the market. While wind noise is minimal, you'll hear the AMG downshift with a light (but welcome) pop. Positively arched surfaces extend through the shoulder to a succinct taper in the car's rear. At a standstill, the car has an aggressive quality about it, almost as if standing still were unnatural for it.
Driving a car like the S63 AMG or the S550 comes down to passion, and if one place embodies passion for life, it's Tuscany. Hitting the accelerator coming out of a corner with vineyards on one side and centuries-old villas on the other, it'll make a believer out of even the most sports car averse driver. To be sure, it's a driver's car and it's an incredibly luxurious one at that. While prices for the models—available Fall 2014—haven't been confirmed, expect the S550 to start around $116,600 while the AMG will run you $154,600. For more information, check out Mercedes-Benz online.
Photos by Hans Aschim