America has the hots for hybrids. On the flip side of high gas prices, the value of any vehicle with fuel economy below 20 mpg has collapsed. Brand new "gas guzzlers" sit on dealer lots collecting incentives, rebates, finance deals and dust. The price of used fuel-suckers has dropped by 25 percent in the last four months, and THEN the rest. This is the perfect time to shop for a twin-turbo twelve-cylinder behemoth.
The 2006 Mercedes S65 was the first model where the automaker's in-house uber-tuners (AMG) massaged the standard issue triple "T." They coaxed the powerplant's output to heroic levels: 604 horsepower and 738 lb. ft. of torque. Why the Mercmeisters decided to drop this gi-normous powerplant into the last year of the previous S Class is anyone's guess; it preordained owners to extra-cataclysmic depreciation.
Did the owners know they were lighting C-notes on fire? Who knows? At the risk of being labeled an unrepentant capitalist, one man's cash conflagration is another man's sense of smug satisfaction. I found no less than 18 S65s on line. Prices ranged from $60k to $90k, depending on miles. I drove two S65s extensively, earning myself a traffic violation in my quest for knowledge.
Let's address the mileage issue right off the bat. Driven sensibly, an S65 averages 17 mpg overall. That's not bad for a 5k pound leviathan. And that's all I've got to say about that.
The engine's aural delights are evident only upon start-up. The motor barks authoritatively then settles to a whisper, no matter where one is in the rev range. The driving experience is akin to flying a 747. There are millions of pounds of thrust whenever you wish, but there's too much mass to ever feel like you're moving sprightly. The throttle is limo-compliant; not much happens during the first two inches of travel. Follow your natural instinct is to press harder and you'd better have the wheels pointed straight ahead, unless there are no other planes, I mean vehicles nearby.
At full throttle, the S65's turbos whistle louder than the engine roars. (And that's saying something.) Once the twin impellers spool up, you immediately understand how Boeing's biggest get off the ground. Zero to 60 takes four seconds. Porsches? Pffff! Even sport motorcycles are an easy kill.
Despite the Swabian anti-gravity device known as Active Body Control, the S65 plows mightily through sharp bends. High speed sweepers are another matter; the big Merc is endlessly, frighteningly competent. The S65 AMG puts the Gee in GT. The brakes are like the throttle: not much happens in the first inch or two, then the giant binders impart the most G-force the luxobarge can generate. Who knew 747s could land on an aircraft carrier?
While the S65's cabin doesn't offer a Bentley-esque sense of occasion, the [other] German transcontinental express embodies a sense of timelessness. In other words, the S65's interior is hopelessly conservative. There is, of course, a sybarite of luxury touches. All visible surfaces are swathed in fragrant, soft touch leather, stitched to an inch (millimeter?) of its life. My desk should be made of such wood.
Amazingly, the S65's seats are softer than any modern day Cadillac's or Lexus'. The Merc's thrones include "drive dynamic:" side bladders inflate inversely to the direction of turn-in during cornering, to better brace the driver. In reality, it feels like a poorly trained masseuse pummeling you in all the wrong places. More usefully, fans blow cool air through the perforated leather seats.
Otherwise, the gizmo count is a little light, especially compared with today's entry-level Infinitis. The satellite radio and a navigation system shows virtually no road names on the display, despite having a DVD source drive. Your Mercedes dealer will gladly hit you up for $2k-plus to rectify the factory's oversight in the Bluetooth department. At least the Bose sound system is better in this application than virtually any other, with an outstanding sound field. Double-paned windows keep ambient sound to a minimum, adding to the concert hall sensation.
Two years ago, when new, the Mercedes S65 sold for $180k. I bought a pristine example with 23k on the clock for $70k. There are still two years or 27k miles left on the original manufacturer's warranty. The nice folks over at leasecompare.com were kind enough to write me a two-year lease, so I will never have to worry about maintenance or how many times she was ridden hard and put away wet.
To paraphrase Charles Dickens, this is the worst of times and this is the best of times. If you're looking for maximum bang for the buck, or a Mercedes built like they used to, there are many fine AMG models waiting for a new home. The S65 AMG is The Daddy.