Payne review: Mercedes S560 Coupe, king of beasts

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

My former Detroit News colleague, Scott Burgess, once advised that auto reviewers schedule a regular Porsche 911 test — as a reminder of how good a sports car can be. The same might be said of a Mercedes-Benz S-class and its place atop the luxury kingdom.

Everyone is in luxury these days because there’s money to be made. Tesla, Genesis and Alfa Romeo offer new meat; Lincoln and Acura are rediscovering their mojo; Cadillac, BMW and Audi run the Nurburgring like greyhounds.

But for pure majesty, Mercedes rules.

Its perfect cheekbones and polished manners are handed down the family tree all the way to the little CLA. SUVS, sedans and coupes spring from its loins. Its sinewy V-8 inspires the AMG performance badge and GT race cars — muscled mutants that shred tracks like Marvel’s Juggernaut.

S is for Simba on Pride Rock.

How can any other mere luxury brand hope to compete? For pure presence and power, my favorite S is the Mercedes S560 4MATIC Coupe, a vision on wheels. It’s like living in Dwayne Johnson’s tuxedo: handsome, graceful, muscled shoulders out to here.

The Mercedes S560 Coupe is the patriarch of a handsome family of S-class vehicles that include the S450 sedan, S63 sedan, S65 sedan as well as the S560's convertible, AMG S63 and and AMG S65 coupe stablemates.

After some tired styling years in the '90s, the new century has awakened Stuttgart designers from their slumber. Walking through a Mercedes auto show display (alas, it will visit Detroit no more) is like attending a DIA masters’ sculpture exhibit. The bodies are exquisite. King S560’s bold face — punctuated by a tri-star logo bigger than your head — is backed up by toned flanks and rocker panels with stampings so deep they might have been cut by the Colorado River.

The style is familiar across the brand's body of work, perhaps most significantly in the entry-level, $32,000 CLA coupe and sedan. The CLA flaunts papa’s DNA right down to the exquisite, jewel-flecked grille. For Mercedes wannabes who can’t yet afford the three-piece suit, the CLA is a lovely jacket.

But the interior is where the S560 Coupe sets the standard. I’m often asked to name the nicest car I’ve driven. The S is it.

Even the $400,000 Rolls-Royce Dawn coupe I sampled last year (only Rolls can make a $157,000 car look like a bargain) can learn from the king. No, the S doesn’t come with umbrellas tucked into its doors (Rolls’ signature), but the Benz offers a more comprehensive, premium experience.

Slip into the quilted first-class leather thrones and be spoiled. An arm extends at the driver’s left shoulder, handing over the seat belt. Visibility is superb thanks to a non-existent B-pillar. The doors are encrusted with stitching and etched stereo speakers, while recessed lighting bathes the cabin in color. Rear-seat space is tight for giraffes like me, but Benz makes the accommodations livable with auto-sliding rear seats and deeply scalloped front seatbacks for the knees.

The cabin is wrapped in premium materials, from the quilted albino seats and mauve dash to an iPhone-like glass pane that stretches across twin 12.3-inch instrument and infotainment displays.

The screen is another brand trademark and can be found across the Mercedes lineup from sport utilities to compact cars.

The decadent interior isn’t just for show. Like furniture in Q’s James Bond lab, the S-class is a showcase for futuristic gizmos.

Fifteen years ago, Burgess took me for my first ride using adaptive cruise control. We marveled at the early autonomous technology as the big Mercedes floated to and fro in traffic, its radar reading traffic speeds up ahead. Today, adaptive cruise control is common on most mainstream cars. For the early 21st century, Benz follows Tesla with self-driving technology that can automatically change lanes with the toggle of a turn-stalk (appropriate, since Tesla borrowed Mercedes' steering wheel stalks for its Model S).

Neither is the high-class S too proud to adopt other proven technologies: Kick-open rear trunk innovated by Ford. Head-up display from Cadillac. It’s all here. It even has millennial-friendly Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Mercedes' engineers stretch their creativity with devices like night-vision pedestrian detection and miniature mousepads on the steering wheel. The pads are part of a suite of redundant center console controls, including a touch pad, rotary wheel, even push buttons. My accessory of choice was voice command that understood direct verbal commands — Navigate to Le Petit Dejeuner on Jefferson Avenue — like my smartphone.

With this upholstered apartment stuffed inside, the S Coupe tips the scales at over 4,700 pounds. But don’t let its weight fool you. This beast can move.

Credit an all-wheel drive, all-wheel steer system (the 4MATIC part of the Benz’s dizzying alphanumeric nameplate) that constantly keeps its four paws planted. I took ess-curves in Oakland County much faster than I thought possible, the big locomotive cornering as if on rails.

Mercedes has been dominating GT racing in recent years with ground-pounding V-8s. No sissy sixes for the king of beasts. Under the S560’s breast beats the heart of a lion.

I pressed the throttle of the twin-turbo, 4.0-liter, 463-horsepower V-8 and gulped traffic like Simba running down herd of antelopes. Credit 516 pound-feet of torque and a liquid-smooth, 9-speed automatic for the instant thrust. The transmission was nearly seamless as it swapped cogs to catapult past mere mortal cars. See a traffic opening? Voom! You’re there.

This brute power happens with remarkable calm in the cabin where the eight pistons sound like velvet hammers deep under the hood. Though hardly necessary, the hammer octet can be put on high alert with Sport and Sport+ modes — the latter offering rev-match barks with each downshift.

Whatever. This engine could tow the QE2 in Eco mode and not break a sweat.

Pity the competition which has to cope with not just one, but three S-class coupes on top of its formidable S-class sedan. Lincoln’s Continental interior rivals the Mercedes' comfort. Cadillac this year unveiled its first twin-turbo V-8 CT6 V-Sport. Fetching, but they must jockey for air space with the S450 sedan, S63 sedan, S65 sedan as well as my S560 tester and its S63 and S65 coupe stablemates. The CT6 doesn’t even offer a coupe — not to mention just three SUV offerings versus Mercedes' seven.

S560 is a magic carpet with animal thrust. Intoxicated by the quilted-leather seats' “heated back massage” mode, my wife barely noticed as I pushed 100 mph merging onto I-94.

“I’d be afraid of smudging this gorgeous white interior,” she mused.

Such are life’s trivial worries when being chauffeured by the lead ship in Mercedes’ star fleet.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2018 Mercedes S560 4MATIC Coupe 

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, four-passenger sports coupe

Price: $125,495 base ($152,195 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8

Power: 463 horsepower, 516 pound-feet torque 

Transmission: 9-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.0 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 130 mph (electronically limited)

Weight: 4,751 pounds 

Fuel economy: EPA fuel economy: 17 city/27 highway/21 combined

Report card

Highs: Rolling Rembrandt; AWD balance

Lows: You can't afford it — so buy the mini-S-class CLA

Overall: 4 stars