As a luxury product both to admire and to spend time in, the S560 Coupé certainly seems to hit an appealing spot; at least it does in this tester’s estimation. I’ve often been told that I don’t think like a well-heeled customer when reviewing cars like this. Short of taking an automatic weapon into my next pay review, I suspect that can’t be helped.
The car’s cabin is at once inviting, plush and exotic. While there are bits of brightwork inside it that feel like metal (door pulls, speaker grilles, heater controls) and other bits that clearly don’t (steering wheel trim, infotainment buttons), overall the interior wants for very little lavishness or opulent tactile feel. There’s a matching elegance and luxury-level presence about the S560’s outward appearance, too.
And, contrary to what you might expect, that new V8 engine can feel like the heart and soul of refinement when you want it to; it can even run in variable displacement mode, on just four cylinders, to save fuel. Quiet at idle and smooth under power, the engine is suavely managed by the car’s nine-speed torque converter automatic gearbox when you’re driving the car in Comfort mode.
It’s a typically responsive engine, too, with enough accessible mid-range torque to make the S560 capable of pouring on pace without seeming to work for it. In Sport mode, while you’d say the car clearly isn’t in the ‘super GT’ big league for outright pace, it can hold it own — and then some. And it sounds like an authentic, woofling V8 AMG performance machine while doing so.
The car’s overarching smoothness, its comfortable, well-sealed cabin and the isolated feel of its controls combine with Mercedes’ full suite of active driver aids to make long-distance driving feel like something of a privilege.
Even in appalling test conditions of monsoon-like rain, the S560’s optional Distronic Plus active cruise control and active lane-keeping assist systems worked flawlessly at UK motorway speeds. Unlike so many similar systems, they’re not flummoxed by spray, dazzle or waterlogged sensors, providing reassurance just when it’s most needed.
The S560’s ride prsents a couple of relatively minor disappointments. There's a little more road noise and surface patter that filter into the cabin than you’d ideally like — and enough, certainly, to be a good advert for the car’s standard-fit 19in rims (our test car was on optional 20in wheels). But it deals very well with the majority of UK road surfaces by cleverly cradling the car’s mass and very effectively rounding off the edges from the vast majority of bumps and ridges you might come across on your evening commute.
Mercedes Magic Body Control suspension leaves a particular impression as it works away underneath you, feeling not quite like air suspension and yet not quite like a well-tuned passive steel coil suspension set-up either.
Even though the car’s chassis rates are always adjusting to be ready for intrusions they’re about to encounter, they do it imperceptibly — and so there’s a clearer sense of honesty and predictability about the relationship between the road and the car’s sprung and unsprung masses than you'd get with air suspension. Better shock absorption, too, and better on-centre steering feel.
And yet certain short, sharp ridges still seem to catch the car’s suspension unawares — the car being much better at ironing flat a set of low-frequency, low-amplitude undulations. Mercedes’ latest and greatest suspension system clearly can’t be ready for absolutely everything. The S560’s ‘curve tilting’ function is handled like an extra setting on the car’s drive mode toggle switch and, you sense, would be at its best on those long, sweeping bends of European dual carriageways taken at continent-crossing speeds.
You get a flavour of what it does well on some UK motorway sliproads, because it inclines the car gently into each bend as you turn in, preventing lateral cornering loads from acting on the cabin occupants with notable success. But try to use it on a typical British A-road and you’ll find it slow to react at times, and that tends to rob the S560 of initial steering weight, making each turn of the wheel feel oddly vague; a bit like pushing at a door that’s come loose at the hinges.
Thankfully, steering weight is much better when you simply turn the system off.