997 Miles in a 2018 Mercedes-AMG S65 Coupe
A tristate tour of the Midwest in a quarter-million-dollar Mercedes
Resting her head against the soft, red Nappa door panel, she stared out across the empty, black field. Her smile lit up in the passenger-side mirror by purple light coming from the footwells of our 2018 Mercedes-AMG S65 coupe. She yelled "There!" and pointed to the pale yellow glow of a firefly. Another bug blinked, then another, then dozens more. She laughed and squirmed like she'd seen a magic trick. She would've stared into that field all night.
My girlfriend, Mallory, and I recently took a 977-mile road trip through Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. When an old friend invited me to a summer wedding in Wisconsin, I decided to use the opportunity to introduce Mallory to the Midwest; I grew up just outside of Chicago, then lived in Michigan for four years, and Mallory has long wanted to see the places I once called "home. " The S65 coupe fit the bill for transportation; a grand tourer that can cut through farmland quickly, comfortably, and in style. "I could get used to this," Mallory said getting into the thickly padded, tightly contoured passenger seat. She liked it even more after I told her the as-tested price: $257,745.
We drove to the southwest Suburbs and visited my house and the schools I went to, then started an unhealthy, 36-hour food binge: hot dogs from Portillo's, beefs from Al's, Italian lemonade from Mario's, pizza from Home Run Inn, followed by deep-dish pizza from Gino's East. We couldn't stomach a burger at the Billy Goat Tavern on Lower Wacker Drive, which is one of my all-favorite playgrounds. The S65 handled its 4,850 pounds confidently as we turned from street to street and the V-12 made all the right guttural noises. We parked near Millennium Park, where we saw some of the annual Blues Fest before visiting a Charles White retrospective at the Art Institute.
In the morning, we started a four-hour drive to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. As the rain thinned heading north, I appreciated the electrochromatic "Magic Sky Control" glass roof that tints dark blue on demand—a $2,500 option. Halfway through the trip, I decided to wow Mallory with another S65 trick: automatic lane change. I set cruise control, got her attention, took my hands off the wheel, and tapped the signal stalk. The car calmly changed lanes, and Mallory acted like we were about to careen off the highway. "I can't believe that," she said when we didn't. At the wedding, a Friar Tuck-looking priest presided over the ceremonies, which were followed by speeches and overserved 30-year-olds twerking.
In the morning, on the shore of Lake Michigan, I about shit when the guard at the S.S. Badger told me to give him the keys to the S65 AMG so that he could drive the car onto the 66-year-old ferry that provides passenger and freight service between Manitowac, Wisconsin, and Ludington, Michigan. Instead of protesting, Mallory and I ate fried cheese curds and waited for our 63-mile trip across the lake. When I sat down for bingo in the mess hall, I immediately won and everyone hated me. Mallory and I fared well in the trivia that followed—Charles Barkley really set an Olympic record for most points scored in a single game? —but we almost broke up over Yahtzee. Upon landing in Ludington—where someone else drove the Merc off the boat—we met Phil, a banjo player from The Drowsy Lads who came to greet the grand ol' steamship. Mallory and I had dinner in town and when she wondered where to put her leftovers, I mentioned our car's optional $1,100 rear-seat refrigerator, which blew her mind. On a dark road to Glen Arbor, I blew her mind again when I turned on night vision, which comes standard.
The following day was one of the best I can recall. Mallory and I climbed the Sleeping Bear dunes before kayaking on the lazy Crystal River, rock hounding and catching toads. We'd hoped to see river otters in Leland's Historic District, "Fishtown," a carefully renovated shanty town; gray, weather-beaten smoke shacks from the early 1900s now serve hearty sandwiches and delicious McClure's "spicy pickle" potato chips from Detroit. We explored back roads of Michigan searching for beavers, because Mallory has a strange infatuation with them, and I asked, "Do you think this is the first car with a V-12 that's gone down this road?" Fortunately, the air suspension can raise with the push of a button, so ground clearance never became the issue it should've been. More tricks from the S65 AMG coupe.
I became bolder as I spent more time with the car, yet it always felt unfazed. It is an approachable car that gently reminds you that 738 lb-ft is a lot of torque and offers a humbling driving experience that favors comfort over performance, with capable performance. What it lacks in fuel economy—getting 21 mpg on the highway—a giant fuel tank overshadows, helping you believe "I'm not the problem." The 2018 Mercedes-AMG S65 coupe has presence and gets a lot of attention, but I considered it very little on our trip, which is probably why I enjoyed it so well. It afforded us an idyllic space to talk and joke as we drove through typical, beautiful America.
It's hard not to love and hate anything this big and lavish that has 16.5-inch carbon-ceramic brakes and costs $8,950. I don't care to criticize it because it's dying, or needs to. It's too much of old ideas, especially in a time when Mercedes is having so many innovative ones. Midwestern folk loved it, like they love fried foods, capri pants, and the Cubs. Mallory loved it, too, and I loved being in it with her. A wonderful trip that would've been ruined if one firefly exploded neon green on our windshield.
2018 Mercedes-AMG S 65 Coupe Specifications
|PRICE||$241,195/$257,745 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||6.0L twin-turbo DOHC 48-valve V-12/621 hp @ 4,800-5,400 rpm, 738 lb-ft @ 2,300-4,300 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD crossover|
|EPA MILEAGE||13/21 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||198.9 x 75.3 x 55.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.0 sec|
|TOP SPEED||186 mph|