2008 Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG

Back in 1991, Automobile Magazine editor David E. Davis, Jr. wrote a column about the just-introduced 1992 S-class, specifically its nose-bleed pricing, as the top-of-the-line 600SEL reached $125,000. If a $100,000-plus S-class was big news back then, what to make of this $200,000-plus S-class?

The S65 AMG, with its custom-order "designo" interior, crests that magic number, reaching $207,965 as tested. Wow. True, there was no AMG version of the S-class back then. (A more direct comparison shows today's S600 starting at $145,075.)

Clearly, the success of Bentley has shown that there is sufficient oxygen to support luxury sedan sales at the lofty, $200,000 price level. And with Mercedes' own Maybach prices starting with a 3, the company obviously felt that the best way to play in the $200k neighborhood was to grow the S-class at the top end.

Thus, we now have not one, but two V-12 S-class sedans (the S600 and the S65 AMG), and not one, but two AMG S-class sedans (the S63 AMG and the S65 AMG). The latter situation is the most bizarre, with the $127,875, 504-hp, eight-cylinder S63 competing against the $194,875 (base price), 604-hp, twin-turbo V-12 S65. Both are insanely fast: 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds versus 4.2 seconds. Both have similar chassis upgrades. Strangely, the V-12 actually gets better gas mileage-20 mpg highway versus 17-but it would take a long, long time to recoup the extra $67,000.

Whatever its reasons for being, the S65 is one sweet ride. The cream and black designo interior, with leather-covered everything, including quilted leather on the seats and door panels, is striking. Married with the S-class's art-deco-style dash and mood lighting, it creates a vastly different atmosphere than a Bentley's more traditional luxury décor.

The heavy overlay of luxury and refinement mean that the S65's capabilities can remain hidden to those without inclination to look for them. Throttle tip-in is languid, which is probably a good thing with 738 lb-ft of torque under foot. The steering is slightly heavier than a standard S-class, but-with the car's electric brain set to "comfort"-the suspension is just as supple and the transmission just as smooth as any other S-class. But the S65 is not any other S-class, and the first time you put your foot to the floor, you'll know. You'll know.

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