Mercedes S-Class review
The once imperious quality of the Mercedes S-Class may have slipped a little, but the technical highlights are typically eye-catching
Once the undisputed king of saloon cars, the S-Class still retains much of its traditional appeal. It’s a supremely luxurious, refined and technology-laden conveyance for affluent and successful individuals, and the latest, seventh-generation car has a bold new face that enhances its opulent style.
Inside, there’s a mind-bending array of tech innovations including augmented reality navigation, 3-D digital displays and face recognition, but we’ve a sense that Merc’s engineers have been lured too far down the digital rabbit hole and core values have suffered.
While back seat passengers will be blissfully oblivious to the flimsy feel of steering wheel controls and other questionable fit and finish choices, their chauffeurs may regret the passing of old certainties.
About the Mercedes S-Class
This is the seventh-generation of the Mercedes S-Class, a flagship saloon model first introduced in 1972 on the coattails of an illustrious lineage of even older Mercedes luxury models dating back to the dawn of motoring.
As such the S-Class has always been the company’s most important brand statement, encapsulating the very best of what its engineers, designers and craftspeople have to offer. It’s an approach summed up in the words of the company’s current motto ‘The Best or Nothing’ which - apart from resonating with Frank Sinatra fans - is an apt description of the qualities the S-Class has brought to the luxury car segment over the years.
But we live in confusing times, and at this moment on the cusp of a wholesale switchover to electric vehicles and digital interfaces, even the S-Class must be wondering about its place in the world. It’s got mild hybrid technology, an impressive array of electronic and infotainment tech, and the usual opulent creature comforts, but it was developed in the shadow of a far more significant internal rival for the top Mercedes crown in the shape of the all-electric EQS.
So perhaps this seventh-generation S-Class is a bit of a stop-gap, and possibly Mercedes may have needed to divert its best resources to the development of an heir to the throne. It’s a theory that might account for some of the criticism we feel able to level in some surprising areas, and which made it easier than Mercedes might have hoped for us to rule the S-Class out as our luxury class pick in the 2021 Auto Express New Car Awards - the term ‘shoe-in’ was invented for previous generations of the flagship Merc.
We’ve only tried the S500 petrol model as yet, which as well as an opulent cabin is lavishly specified with a range of electronic interactive features that most S-Class owners may struggle to find time to get to grips with. It’s powered by a 429bhp 520Nm in-line six-cylinder engine with a 48V integrated starter-generator, with a nine-speed 9G-Tronic auto transmission and 4MATIC four-wheel drive - the first time 4x4 has been available on right-hand drive UK models.
There are two diesel variants available to order, namely the 282bhp S 350 d and the 325bhp S 400 d 4MATIC, which are expected to make up the bulk of UK sales, and all versions get the latest MBUX operating system running on a 12.8-inch OLED central display, plus a 12.3-ich digital driver display. 3D tech with facial recognition is optional, the latter able to suggest and adjust seat and mirror positioning, optimised for the human that’s staring back at it.
There are five main trim levels, with all but the entry-grade named AMG Line something… so you can have an AMG Line, AMG Line Premium, AMG Line Premium Plus, AMG Line Premium Executive and AMG Line Premium Plus Executive. At the top of the range are two Mercedes Maybach derivatives recognisable by special forged wheels and a bespoke grille treatment, plus a truly opulent spec that includes airline-style rear tray tables, TV tuner and massaging rear seats in the most expensive First Class edition.
Standard AMG Line kit includes 19-inch alloys, Nappa leather upholstery, soft-close doors, heated front and rear memory seats, Keyless Go and wireless charging in the front plus a nine-speaker audio system.
Premium gives you bigger 20-inch alloys, panoramic sunroof, 3D display, remote parking and electric memory rear seats for long-wheelbase models. Premium Plus throws in the augmented reality head-up display, digital headlamps, plus massaging front seats and heated armrests, and rides on 21-inch wheels. Executive versions of both the latter include electric rear blinds, rear seat control of front passenger seat adjustment, plus an extra rear footrest and a removable Samsung tablet that pops out of the central armrest.
Priced from around £77,000 the Mercedes S-Class faces a range of premium rivals that include the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 and Maserati Quattroporte saloons, plus a range of upmarket SUVs such as the Range Rover, Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo XC90. Buyers pushing the boat out as far as the £160k+ Mercedes-Maybach may also consider options such as the Bentley Flying Spur saloon or Bentayga SUV.
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In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe once imperious quality of the Mercedes S-Class may have slipped a little, but the technical highlights are typically eye-catching
- 2Engines, performance and driveOnce impressive performance pales beside electric rivals, but ride and handling are typically well-composed
- 3MPG, CO2 and running costsWith no plug-in options yet, there’s lots of tax to pay and no big economy wins
- 4Interior, design and technologyThe S-Class cabin offers up a technological feast, but it’s not quite the usual masterclass
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe S-Class provides all the comfort and space you’d hope for from a Mercedes flagship
- 6Reliability and safetyThe S-Class is laden with safety tech, and should be bullet-proof mechanically