Mercedes S-Class review
The Mercedes S-Class is the luxury car king, delivering a blend of comfort, refinement and status that few rivals can match
Few rivals at any price can match the incredible Mercedes S-Class for luxury, refinement and upmarket appeal. Big saloons are what the brand does best, and whether you're driving or being driven, the S-Class is the default choice in the limousine sector. And despite nearing the end of its lifecycle, the Mercedes has continually managed to see off a whole host of newer rivals, including the Jaguar XJ and Audi A8. At the heart of its appeal are imposing looks, a beautifully trimmed dash and a fine range of engines. An all-new car will arrive sometime in 2013, and will be the first of six new models to wear the S-Class badge. As well as the standard car, there will be a long-wheelbase luxury model to replace the Maybach brand (and act a spiritual successor to the S600 Pullman), an S-Class Estate, a hot AMG version, a two-door S-Class coupe (which will replace the CL-Class) and a three-door S-Class convertible based on the 2006 Ocean Drive concept.
Our choice: S350 L BlueEFFICIENCY auto
While the Mercedes lacks the immediate visual impact of the more contemporary Jaguar XJ, it still manages to create a stir. It’s neat design and fine proportions ooze good taste and understated class, meaning the Mercedes is first choice for captains of industry and heads of state alike. Externally, there’s little to distinguish entry-level diesel versions from the mighty V12 engined S600. The cabin of the S-Class is one of the most luxurious you’ll find. Soft leather is used for the comfortable seats, while highly polished wood trim covers the slickly styled dashboard and door tops. A long wheelbase option adds an extra 13cm to the already generous legroom in the rear, while the rear seats are powered and heated. All versions come with 18-inch alloy wheels as standard.
Many limousine owners like to enjoy their car from the back seat – and this is where the Mercedes excels. Standard air suspension means the S-Class glides over the worst road surfaces, with only the most severe potholes disturbing the calm of the cabin. What’s more, double glazed windows and excellent insulation effectively isolate occupants from any engine, wind and road noise. Elsewhere, the beautifully judged steering, strong grip and excellent body control mean it’s almost as nimble as the lighter Jaguar XJ, while the optional ABC active body control system cancels roll through the corners. Plus, standard parking sensors means it's not too unwieldy to manoeuvre despite its dimensions. The petrol engine line-up includes a refined 302bhp 3.5-litre V6, a muscular 429bhp 4.7-litre V8 and a turbine smooth 510bhp 5.5-litre V12. However, for most owners the punchy and frugal 255bhp 3.0-litre V6 in the S350 CDI BlueTEC diesel will be the best bet. All units are mated to a seamless shifting five or seven-speed automatic gearbox
Short of wrapping yourself in layers of cotton wool, there’s no safer way to travel. While it hasn’t undergone a Euro NCAP assessment, the big Merc's crash protection credentials are second to none. Solidly built and featuring nine airbags and electronic stability control as standard, it’s like driving a wheeled fortress. You can also add night vision kit, lane keep assist and radar-guided cruise control. And for owners more worried about mortar attacks than motorway pile-ups, there’s a special, armour-plated S-Guard model. The S-Class doesn't feature in the Driver Power survey either, but the equally excellent E-Class managed an impressive 3rd place in 2012. So as you’d expect, the thoroughly engineered S-Class should be reliable, but the firm’s Mobilo scheme does deliver breakdown cover for up to 30 years if you continue to have your car serviced at a Mercedes main dealer.
It doesn’t matter whether you choose the standard car or the long-wheelbase version, you’ll not be short of head and legroom in the rear. Occupants can lounge around with their legs outstretched in complete luxury. Fork out for the Rear Seat Comfort Package – standard on the S600 – and you’ll even benefit from a pair of chairs that boast a relaxing massage function. Press a button on the inside of the driver’s door and the powered tailgate glides open gracefully. Look past the low loading lip and you’ll discover a vast 560-litre load bay - bigger than both the Jaguar XJ and BMW 7 Series. There’s no folding rear bench, but then no S-Class owner is likely to be using the car for trips to the dump or moving house.
Let’s face it, running a luxury limousine is never going to be a cheap business. Yet the S350 CDI BlueTEC diesel makes a good job of keeping costs down. Thanks to the recent addition of stop-start technology, the 3.0-litre unit emits only 164g/km and promises to return 46mpg. Of course, the petrol engine machines are thirstier and more polluting. The S600 is the worst offender, with eye-watering emissions of up to 340g/km and a 20mpg appetite for fuel. As with any Mercedes, it’s also very easy to double the list price by getting carried away on the options list. Add desirable extras such as bespoke leather and wood trim, a DVD multi-media system, soft close doors and ambient cabin lighting, and your wallet will take a severe beating.