The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has long been heralded as the best car in the world and that reputation is somewhat deserved. Always the firm’s technology leader, the S-Class is the car that rival carmakers look at when wanting to see what future technology and equipment will filter down the model ranges. As a vast luxury saloon it’s at the very top of its class, too, with comfort, refinement, performance, and equipment to better all its rivals, the breadth of its appeal covering everything from airport taxi diesel models to outrageously luxurious Mercedes-Maybach and ludicrous performance Mercedes-AMG derivatives. There are two wheelbase options in standard form, and if that’s not enough Mercedes-Benz can build you a Pullman stretched version or even a Guard model, which offers ballistic protection for paranoid global, industry and business leaders.
Did you know? The S-Class’s existing autonomous features would allow it to drive without a driver, if legislation allowed it to do so.
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The world’s best car? You had better believe it. The S-Class is a huge success globally, conveying captains of industry, world leaders, and even us mere mortals in huge comfort whatever model you pick. The standard wheelbase version is accommodating enough for most, but for real luxury the lengthened long-wheelbase variant offers real room to stretch out. The cabin, even on the most basic entry-level models, is generously equipped and very luxurious, while the range-topping cars offer the sort of glorious sumptuousness demanded by the most wealthy and exacting of customers. Whether you’re driving or being driven it’s a very special place to be, the hushed refinement it offers inside more monastic than a Rolls-Royce or Bentley, too. Some rivals match it in particular areas, but none can offer the sort of completeness that the big ‘Benz delivers, which is why it’s both a big seller and comes with such an exalted, yet deserved reputation.
Design & Exterior
Interior & Comfort
Technology & Connectivity
Performance & Handling
Specs & Trims
Running Costs & Fuel Economy
Performance is good in all
We Don’t Like
Hardly a unique, or excusive choice
Extensive and expensive options list
Boot space eaten into by options
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Design & Exterior: (9/10)
Large without being vulgar, expensive without being ostentatious, the S-Class does a fine job of being discreet yet assertive at the same time. It’s a familiar sight, as much as a big luxury saloon can be: the S-Class is a hugely successful model for Mercedes-Benz, selling many multiples of what its rivals can muster around the world. Offered in two wheelbases, the longer car is obviously the more appealing, though the shorter model is only marginally so, and loses little on interior space, or indeed looks.
The scalloped detailing along the S-Class’s flanks break up what would otherwise be a large flat expanse of bodywork, Mercedes-Benz’s designers managing to mask the S-Class’s substantial length with some clever visual tricks. How grand it looks depends on your exact specification; the AMG models ride on the largest alloys and wear more overtly sporting aerodynamic styling, while the Mercedes-Maybach luxury flagship adds some neat elements to the style that distinguish it from the lesser, higher volume sales models. All look good though, from the entry-level SE, though AMG line to AMG itself and that Maybach; the detailing is sharp, a tech-rich specification hinted at by cool headlights and performance by its proud, upright grille. That it remains head-turning, despite its relative proliferation and advancing years, is a credit to how good it looked to start with, though a new car is expected to arrive late 2017. Even so, if you’ve an S-Class parked outside your house, give yourself a pat on the back, as you’re clearly winning in life.
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Interior & Comfort: (9/10)
If space relates to luxury then be prepared to be truly spoilt in the S-Class, as the four seats offer generous accommodation for even the most corpulent of corporate bosses. The middle rear seat is admittedly a bit of an afterthought, so it’s best then to option the individual rear seats that omits it and replaces it with an extended centre console. The long-wheelbase model brings even more space, allowing, if specified (or standard on the S 65 AMG), for reclining rear seats with the front passenger one folding out of the way. If you need more space than that, you need a bus, frankly. The climate control is superb, and it’s possible to have not just heated seats in the front, but heated panels in the doors and armrests, while massaging, climate controlled chairs can be had front and rear. Comfort is assured then, however it’s specified. Fit and finish inside is exemplary, too.
The dashboard is dominated by two huge screens, which offer all manner of connectivity, info and entertainment options. All version come with leather upholstery, while above SE line all feature laminated acoustic glass that helps keep it serenely quiet inside. Air suspension is standard in all for a supple ride, while noise suppression of the engines is exceptional, making the S-Class about as quiet and comfortable a way to travel as is humanly possible
The boot is big, though going for some options – like premium audio and rear-seat chillers – does impact on the space. There’s no option to fold the rear seats down either, should you need to use your S-Class for picking up fence posts. Not a likely scenario in truth, and owners will more than likely have other cars (or just have things delivered) rather than use it in such a manner, but it is adept at swallowing suitcases, golf bags and the likely sizeable number of boutique shopping bags that owners will expect it to.
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Technology & Connectivity: (8/10)
The S-Class is absolutely brimming with technology, from the ambient LED lighting, to the latest autonomous driving features. Indeed, it can conceivably drive itself, if only legislation would allow it to. There’s the option to fragrance your air, an epic Burmester surround sound system with 13 speakers as part of a Premium Plus pack, and the sheer breadth and range of options available on the S-Class could fill an entire website it is so extensive.
Some of the coolest tech relates not to connectivity, but the way it drives; V8 models are offered with Magic Body Control (the S 600 and AMG versions get it as standard), a suspension system that actively reads the road ahead via cameras and adjusts the suspension in anticipation. There’s night vision, a head-up display, rear seat entertainment packages, telephony, and masses of connectivity and personalisation options within the ‘Comand’ system, too. It’s all controlled via the now familiar circular controller and trackpad topper, though the massive screens in the S-Class are unlike some rivals’ by not offering touchscreen interaction. Otherwise, if you can think of it, it’s probably offered on the S-Class, though start ticking those option boxes and the price rapidly escalates.
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Performance & Handling: (8/10)
Comfort and refinement is the goal, and that’s exactly what the S-Class provides – oodles of it. That’s not at the expense of driver appeal, surprisingly; if you are sat up front the S-Class has the capacity to shrink its bulk and drive with real verve, it’s just not its most natural demeanour. The engine line-up comprises of a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel that’s not just the entry-point in the range, but also the biggest seller in the UK, by some margin. Deservedly so, too, as its 258hp output is ample, the nine speeds offered by the automatic transmission shifting with imperceptible smoothness, and refinement is ghostly quiet.
It’ll get you to 62mph in a useful 6.9 seconds from rest and, if you happen to be passing through its native Germany, it’ll gallop along at its 155mph limiter all day long. Alongside that diesel Mercedes-Benz offers a pair of hybrid models, one a four-cylinder turbodiesel with a conventional hybrid system badged S 300h L, the other being a plug-in 3.0-litre V6 petrol wearing the S 500e L badge. The conventional S 500 is powered by a 4.7-litre turbocharged V8, the S 600 a 6.0-litre turbocharged V12 and the AMGs a choice of a 5.5-litre turbo V8 in the S 63, or an even racier version of the S 600’s V12 with 630hp in the S 65. That range-topping AMG will get you to 62mph in a faintly ridiculous 4.3 seconds, while the AMG models’ suspension is more adept at exploiting their pace than the regular S-Class variants, giving it the ability not just to blast across Europe to the foot of the Alps in supreme comfort, but the incentive to drive up the mountain passes for the hell of it, too.
Recommended engine: S 350 d
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Safety Features: (9/10)
The S-Class is responsible for introducing innovative safety features to the wider marketplace and it still continues to break new ground with advanced technology. It would get a full ten stars here were it not for the fact that some of that technology is limited to more expensive models, or available optionally. Naturally all come with the full complement of airbags, anti-lock brakes and Brake Assist, while the S-Class also monitors the driver via Attention Assist to check they’re not fatigued. There are automatic child seat recognition sensors in the seats, Collision Prevention Assist Plus, Electronic Stability Control with traction control, tyre pressure monitoring, ESP with curve assist, and ISOFIX points in the outer rear seats.
The S-Class debuted Pre-Safe, a system that moves seats into the best position to protect occupants in case of an imminent collision, while the S-Class also comes with a system that helps maintain the car’s trajectory in crosswinds. Among the optional equipment (standard on S 600 and AMG models) is the Driving Assistance Package, which contains Active Blind Spot Assist with Cross Traffic Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Distronic Plus, Stop and Go Pilot, and Pre-Safe Plus. There are also ‘intelligent’ rear seatbelts on the V12 models as standard, containing integral belt airbags on the outer rear seats.
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Specs and Trim Levels: (10/10)
Nice metallic finishes are offered as standard, most relatively sober greys, slivers and dark blues and blacks, without any additional charge. There’s designo paint in Diamond White metallic that adds to the list price, however.
The S-Class starts with the generously specified SE model, rising through AMG Line, with the AMG models and that sole Maybach getting their own vast array of standard equipment. That the S-Class brochure is over 80 pages long underlines how much equipment you can add to your car, though you could conceivably drive a bog-standard 350 d SE out of the showroom and not be wanting for anything, as it comes with leather-trimmed electric seats, climate control and plenty more besides.
Size and Dimensions
We’ve listed the S-Class long wheelbase here, as really, who wouldn’t want another 130mm if you could have it?
Max towing weight without brake
2,100kg with braked trailer.
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Running Costs & Fuel Economy: (8/10)
The diesel and hybrid models should be relatively inexpensive to run thanks to decent economy and low emissions. The big-selling 350 d emits just 141g/km and has an official combined economy figure of 50.4mpg. You can improve on that, on paper at least, with the hybrids, the S 300 h L achieving an official figure of 65.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 120g/km, while the plug-in 500 e L has a quoted figure of 100.9mpg and emissions of just 65g/km. That allows it to dodge various city charges and makes it very tax efficient, though in reality the economy will be way lower than that unless you’re very clever with managing the battery and keeping it charged up. The V8 and V12 models, both regular and AMG, have running costs consummate with their price and performance, and buyers of such models are unlikely to worry too much about how much they’re costing to run.
Reliability and servicing
Reliability should be fine, the S-Class having a reputation for being over-engineered. Servicing booking and pricing is possible via Mercedes-Benz UK website.
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The lb70,435 starting price for the S 350 d SE looks like decent value for a huge, luxurious and well-equipped car, while Mercedes-Benz does good financing rates and offers many sales incentives, so it could be had cheaper still. In reality you could easily add lb10,000 to that in options, but even then it’s a lot of luxury car, especially compared to super-luxury rivals from Bentley and Rolls-Royce. Start climbing the model lines and it gets ever more expensive, and it’s difficult to justify the near lb200,000 list price of the range-topping V12s from the perspective of a mere financial mortal, but for those wealthy individuals who want the best of everything that’s what they unquestionably offer.
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Any S-Class is tech rich, but the S 600 with every option is a feast of innovative, high end audio, satnav, and driving equipment.
The Mercedes-AMG S 65 is a madman in a business suit, ridiculously fast, and surprisingly capable, too.
The Maybach model brings the most sophisticated, most refinement and sumptuous luxury to the already cosseting big ‘Benz.
More fun to drive, but however much it impresses it’s no match for sheer indulgence, even in lower trims.
BMW 7 Series
Closer to the S-Class than it’s ever been before, though not quite close enough.
One for the driver, the Panamera is a more overtly sporting choice, which lacks the Mercedes’ outright luxury.
Not pretty, but bold, though it’s nowhere near as sophisticated a car, even if it drives impressively.
Lots of luxury in a high-riding, massively capable package, but the S-Class is a more cosseting passenger experience.
What others say
“As a luxury saloon, the Mercedes S-Class is tricky to beat, It’s ruled the class imperiously for years, and it’s difficult to see when that might change.”
“The Mercedes S-Class is the best luxury car around. It’s great to drive, and has all the quality and space you could want.”