If you were to create the perfect car for the 2000s, Mercedes-Benz’ S580 AMG just might be it.
A stunning, hulking, technologically-sophisticated luxury sedan, the S580 I’m talking about is a gasoline-powered triumph: fast and smooth, a creamy delight of excess and achievement of a sort that marks the pinnacle of the first 100 years of the auto industry. Which came to a celebrated conclusion about two decades ago.
This, of course, is 2022. A hulking four-door with an internal combustion engine (ICE) and no regard for fuel economy is no longer a perfect fit for the rich and insouciant. Brad Pitt drives a Tesla Model S and Justin Bieber, a Fisker Karma.
And before I go further, let me be clear: I am not referring to the latest plug-in hybrid version of this long-wheelbase luxury saloon. While not the pure EQ version, the hybrid does a little tip-toeing into the full-on 21st century.
The pure petrol S580 AMG, however, is more suited for the early days of the 2000s, that first decade of this century when we were breathing a sigh of relief that Y2K proved to be just ball of hype.
Remember? In 2000, human-driven climate change was more rumour than lived experience, even if the Paris Accord of 1997 was fresh and on the minds of a certain subset of lefty environmentalists and smart, enlightened scientists. The world today is a place of droughts, wildfires, islands and shorelines being overrun by rising sea levels driven by melting ice caps. Gus guzzlers, I’d add, are passe and an irritant when regular is now selling for $2/litre.
The carefree early 2000s seem like a lifetime ago. And that simple fact explains why I love this car, and also hate it, all at the same time.
Love it because it is a work of engineering genius and inspired design. Sure, the most basic version lists for $139,900, and ticking a few boxes can get you up to $147,000. But for that you get a modern throwback under the hood – a 497 horsepower biturbo V-8 that will launch you to 100 km/hour in 4.4 seconds. Alas, this mill also calls for 14.4 litres/100 km of premium fuel in city driving.
And another brief aside: this is not the latest Mercedes-AMG EQE 4MATIC battery-electric car, the one with a handful of moving parts, a 90.6 kWh battery pack, a 0-100 km/hour time as low as 3.3 seconds, terrific software and spectacular graphics.
No, the 580 AMG is a throwback, with all its thousands and thousands of moving parts, the ones required of all petrol or diesel cars. Complexity, complexity, complexity. It’s a wonder how all this complexity comes together so seamlessly.
That said, it is also a fearsome presence. The S580 AMG is a stunning, sexy beast. It feels dangerous to drive and intimidating to look at. Dip into the throttle, and you immediately imagine what it feels like to take off for space with Jeff Bezos. Whoosh.
The entire package, inside and out, is breathtaking, from the multi-function leather-clad seats (10 different massage programs are available), to the MBUX interface (Mercedes-Benz User Experience), to the rear-axle steering that adds precision, and to the delightfully adequate, very large central display screen. Heck, the active suspension control can adjust ride quality and dynamic responses 1,000 times a second.
This Merc rests at the pinnacle of ICE achievement; you would be challenged to find a better car of this sort. Alas, though, it feels as out of date as a Russian oligarch in these times. Tesla is the world’s most valuable car company, and it is all about EVs. The world is moving on at a hurried clip, leaving this sort of design and engineering genius in its wake.