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Mercedes S65 AMG: Big, fast - and pointless

Super-powered luxury car recipe takes out some of the cream, adds hot sauce.

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNNMoney.com staff writer
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PHOENIXVILLE, Penn. (CNNMoney.com) -- Some people, no matter how much they have, want to be sure they have more than everyone else.

If you're one of those people, the high-priced Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG is the car for you - though you may regret your obsession with rushing to the top.

The Mercedes-Benz S-class, the basis for the S65, is a superb luxury automobile. It's big, roomy, smooth and quiet.

Like all luxury cars these days, all the S-class models have more on-board computer technology than a nuclear submarine.

You can see at night using infrared light and high-intensity headlights that turn to follow curves in the road.

The heated, cooled, massaging seats (front and back) are adjustable in ways you could never have imagined.

The cruise control keeps up with traffic, maintaining a safe following distance even when traffic comes to a full stop. It takes time to develop trust in the system, but once you do, all you have to do is steer (and be ready to take over in a real emergency.)

In regular, non-AMG, S-class sedans the steering is appropriately easy, with just enough sense of the road to lend a feeling of control.

Standard S-class sedans do all that wonderfully well. Who could ask for more? And why?

The lilly, gilded

While any S-class has more than ample power, in the S65 you get a massive 6.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 producing, at top wail, 604 horsepower. The wheels are 20 inches in diameter, wrapped in thin-walled performance tires.

The price: $192,000 for the car I tested, including a gas-guzzler tax and the few comfort items that aren't already standard equipment. (The only thing not available in this version is the rear-seat DVD player.)

The S65's estimated zero-to-sixty acceleration time of 4.2 seconds is impressive. What's even more impressive is the violent punch you get by mashing down the gas pedal while at any speed in between.

The brakes, featuring front discs that look as if they could be sliced to serve eight, do a fine job of bringing the S65 to a quick, controlled stop.

This is a big car, though. Trying to make it into a sports sedan is a futile effort. True, it feels well controlled in turns. The automatically adjusting suspension stiffens up under pressure so there's surprisingly little body lean.

But, beyond goosing the gas pedal, is it fun to drive?

No, not really.

It packs a punch, but at such a cost. It's not just the $40,000 between this and the V-12-powered S600, or even the $90,000 between this and the V-8-powered S550.

It's as if someone drank a third of your bottle of Courvoisier and filled it back up with Night Train. The S65 is brimming with raw power, but the modifications make it feel, ultimately, more ordinary to drive than the car on which it's based.

With its heavy and wide wheels and tires, and the power steering cranked up to compensate, the S65's steering is flighty and numb at low speeds.

As speed increases, and the power steering boost is ratcheted down, steering feel is much better. But you feel bumps and, over rough pavement, you hear the sizzle of rubber over asphalt and the "whap" of expansion joints. In the S-class's opulent cabin, the noise is grating and out of place.

The S65 doesn't have the advanced seven-speed transmission you get in other S-class cars, either. With 738 foot-pounds of torque, the S65's engine would make cogmeat salad out of that fancy machinery.

So it comes with a 5-speed transmission. Again, feeling shifts from an automatic transmission is nothing unusual. But when those shifts are virtually imperceptible in versions costing tens of thousands less, you begin wondering just what it is you're paying for.

These admittedly quibbling flaws could be called "the price you pay" - over and above the actual price you pay - for added performance.

But the point of paying for outlandish horsepower is to take it out and play with it. A vehicle of the S-class's size and character simply defies rowdiness.

Not that "fun to drive" necessarily requires two seats. Mercedes even makes an AMG-tuned E-class station wagon, complete with rear-facing third-row seats, that's a hoot-and-a-half.

But if you can afford the $190,000 S65 AMG, you can afford more than one car.

I'd suggest the S550 and, perhaps, a Porsche 911 Carrera S. That way you get your luxury and your performance in nice individual wrappers.

Very few are fortunate to even be able to consider the S65 AMG. But there's a lesson here for everyone. More power doesn't always mean more enjoyment.

Photos and details: Mercedes-Benz S65 AMGexternal link

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