Mercedes S-Class review
The Mercedes S-Class is the ultimate luxury limo and a fantastic showcase for cutting-edge technology
For more than four decades, the Mercedes S-Class has set the standard for luxury and cutting-edge technology. This latest, sixth-generation car is the best yet as it continues to be a showcase for the brand’s latest hi-tech developments. And that’s not all: sleek new looks mean the Mercedes S-Class is more desirable than ever, plus it gets a completely overhauled cabin design.
There are fewer relaxing experiences than driving the S-Class. Vibrations through the pedals and steering wheel are non-existent, and even at motorway speeds you won’t hear any wind or tyre roar. All the engines are fantastic but it’s amazing that Mercedes can offer a diesel-electric hybrid offering more than 60mpg, or even a standard V6 diesel with 50mpg. For the ultimate in speed an S63 and S65 AMG are on the way, or if you want an S-Class that emits less CO2 than a Toyota Prius then you'll want the S500 Plug-in Hybrid, with economy and CO2 emissions of 100.9mpg and 65g/km.
The S350 diesel is our pick thanks to its super smooth and quiet engine combined with seriously quick in-gear acceleration and it will make up the vast majority of sales in the UK. Apparently 0-62mph takes 6.8 seconds but it genuinely feels much faster than that. The most recent addition to the line-up is the S300 BlueTEC hybrid, which combines a frugal four-cylinder diesel and electric motor to blend the effortless performance limousine buyers expect with supermini running costs.
If you can stretch to it, the £87,965 S500 Plug-in is a remarkable machine, letting you travel up to 20 miles on electric power alone before the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 cuts in. With both power sources working together, performance is similar to the V8-powered S500.
Our choice: S350 L BlueTEC AMG Line
Externally, the S300 Hybrid looks identical to other S-Class models, which means you benefit from the same imposing kerb appeal and neat design details as on the standard car. Despite its vast external dimensions, the Mercedes disguises its bulk well thanks to its sweeping roofline and carefully sculpted lines cut into the flanks.
A bold grille, topped by the brand’s trademark three-pointed star, swept-back all-LED headlamps and tastefully applied chrome trim add a dash of glamour, while AMG Line trim brings racy looking 19-inch alloy wheels and a subtle bodykit.
The Mercedes’ interior is even more impressive as it’s beautifully built, supremely comfortable and plushly appointed. The wide dashboard features a pair of 12.3-inch TFT screens – one for the sat-nav, infotainment and hybrid power flow graphic, the other for the speedo, rev counter, trip computer and optional night vision display.
Other highlights include the metal finish eyeball vents for the air-conditioning, the precise action of the switchgear and the intuitive COMAND rotary controller.
As you’d expect, the fit and finish is flawless, while the materials are all top notch. Lustrous Black Poplar wood trim covers the dashboard, centre console, door trims and steering wheel, plus a £1,740 soft Nappa leather trim option for the seats.
Despite its focus on luxury and refinement, the S-Class is still one of the most engaging executive limousines on the market. Standard air suspension gives a wonderfully cushioned ride and buyers wanting even sharper driving dynamics can spec the £4,340 Magic Body Control system, which reads the road ahead and adjusts the cars setup accordingly, yet it’s currently only available on the petrol-powered S500.
There’s barely any wind or road noise, while the standard air-suspension effortlessly smooths out bumps – although the 19-inch wheels can crash into potholes. Yet this comfort doesn’t come at the expense of agility.
The steering is quick and well weighted, plus there’s lots of grip. Selecting Sport mode stiffens the standard adaptive dampers to reduce body roll.
Yet refinement doesn’t come at the expense of performance. Despite a hefty 1,975kg weight and the seamless seven-speed automatic box’s long ratios, 0-60mph takes just 6.9 seconds.
The S300 BlueTEC Hybrid nudges just over 2,000kg due to the added weight of the battery but performance is still brisk, hitting 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds. While its real-world performance is impressively punchy, the S300’s hybrid system can’t run in electric-only mode for long, and even a small squeeze on the throttle pedal will cause the diesel engine to rumble into life. And unlike the Lexus, there’s no option to manually select the zero-emissions EV mode.
On the road, the new S-Class doesn’t feel as urgent as the Audi A8, but still packs plenty of overtaking punch. The brakes are strong, too, with a positive and progressive pedal feel.
Charge it up for two hours through a household socket, and driving the S500 Plug-in on electric power is one of the quietest and most refined experiences anywhere. But flex your right foot and the V6 engine wakes up to deliver effortless overtaking power when you need it.
Mercedes has forged a strong reputation for building durable cars, and this is backed by an impressive top 10 finish in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey.
As you’d expect, the S300 comes with plenty of standard safety kit, including eight airbags, a traffic sign recognition camera, a driver drowsiness monitor and a stability control system which incorporates Curve Dynamic Assist and Crosswind Assist.
It can also be fitted with the £2,300 Driving Assistance Package, which adds blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control, plus a £2,250 night-vision camera and novel £1,230 rear seatbelts that feature integrated airbags.
Given the S-Class’s luxury car status, it’s no surprise to find most of the space in the cabin is reserved for rear seat passengers. There’s a trio of three-point belts for the rear bench, but most buyers will treat this car as a four-seater.
Rear head and legroom is generous, while the £4,335 Executive Rear Package adds a reclining function, powered blinds for the side and rear windows and ventilation for the seats.
There’s also plenty of storage space, including the fold-down rear armrest that includes a pair of cup-holders and neat lidded cubby. The Mercedes also features a useful 510-litre boot – although the optional £1,130 fridge compartment reduces capacity by 40 litres.
Starting at £62,620, the S-Class isn’t exactly cheap to buy and if you get a bit friendly with the options list, the price can rise to well over £100,000. However, despite the price tag the S-Class won’t cost you the earth to run. Mercedes’ Service Care pack covers routine maintenance for £40 per month, and in S350 form, the new S-Class should match the previous model’s 44 per cent residual value after three years.
The S300 BlueTEC Hybrid boasts fuel economy of 61.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 120g/km – that means it’s actually free to tax for the first year and only £30 thereafter. However, the the frugal diesel hybrid plays second-fiddle to the S500 Plug-in Hybrid, which returns 100.9mpg and 65g/km, but depending on how you use it it could be much higher, or much lower than that. For example if your commute is less than 20 miles with somewhere to charge it at either end you won't need a drop of fuel. Use it for longer journies though and the economy will plummet.
Offering the best blend of economy, performance and price is the S350 BlueTEC, which feels seriously quick, while still emitting just 146g/km. The new S63 AMG is more efficient than ever - but still only manages a meagre 27mpg combined as a consequence of its enormous power and two-tonne bulk even though it does have a carbon fibre boot liner and the option of fade free ceramic disc brakes.