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 Mercedes 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 current seventh-generation car has a bold 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. Still, we’ve got 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 best of what its engineers, designers and craftspeople can do. It’s an approach summed up in 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 arena over the years.
But we live in confusing times 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 offered with mild- or plug-in hybrid powertrains, an impressive array of electronic and infotainment tech, and the usual opulent creature comforts expected of a luxury car. However, the arrival of the all-electric EQS casts a shadow over whether the S-Class will retain its place at the top of the Mercedes line-up.
Car group tests
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Used car tests
Could this seventh-generation S-Class be more of a stop-gap, and that Mercedes has diverted its best resources to develop 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 a Luxury Car of the Year award winner in favour of the BMW i7.
Even though the black pump continues to fall out of favour with UK drivers, Mercedes still expects most S-Class buyers to go for diesel power. There’s the choice of two six-cylinder diesels: a 308bhp S 350 d or 361bhp S 450 d 4MATIC. The latter is the first four-wheel drive S-Class to be officially sold in the UK.
A single petrol-powered S 500 model is also available. This six-cylinder engine produces 442bhp and 560Nm of torque, and a 0-62mph time of 4.7 seconds makes it the fastest non-AMG S-Class.
There are two plug-in hybrid models to choose from for those seeking to lower their emissions, but the differences between them are surprisingly broad.
The S-Class best-suited to company car drivers is the S 580 e, which produces the lowest emissions of the range and offers up to 68 miles of pure-electric driving. At the other end of the plug-in S-Class scale is the AMG S 63 e Performance; this comes with a 4.0-litre V8 and an electric motor to produce a total output of 792bhp. Its primary focus is power rather than efficiency.
The current S-Class lineup consists of three core trim levels: AMG-Line Premium, Long AMG Line Premium Plus and Long AMG Line Premium Plus Executive. Long refers to the long-wheelbase model (an option on the base AMG-Line Premium trim), which increases the S-Class’ length from an already notable 5,210mm to 5,320mm.
Standard kit includes 20-inch alloys, Nappa leather upholstery, soft-close doors, heated front and rear seats, driver and passenger memory settings, keyless go, wireless charging, a 360-degree camera system, and remote parking.
Moving up to Premium Plus throws in Mercedes’ augmented reality head-up display, digital headlamps, massaging front seats, heated armrests, and larger 21-inch wheels. Executive versions include electric rear blinds, rear seat control of front passenger seat adjustment, an extra rear footrest, and a removable tablet that pops out of the central armrest.
Although the standard lineup has AMG in the name, the full-fat, high-performance Mercedes-AMG S-Class is the S 63 E Performance. It’s available in either Touring or Night Edition trims, and comes with many of the S-Class’ signature luxuries.
At the top of the range are two Mercedes Maybach derivatives identifiable by unique forged wheels and chrome grille treatment. These versions have a truly opulent spec, including airline-style rear tray tables, TV tuner and massaging rear seats in the most expensive First Class edition.
Prices start north of £90,000, so the Mercedes S-Class faces a range of premium rivals that includes the BMW 7 Series and Audi A8 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 £170k+ Mercedes-Maybach may also consider options such as the Bentley Flying Spur saloon or Bentayga SUV.
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 costsAll engines offer reasonable economy, but the plug-in hybrid S 580 e is the best option for company car drivers
- 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