Mercedes S-Class review - Engines, performance and drive
Once impressive performance pales beside electric rivals, but ride and handling are typically well-composed
From the driving seat, the S-Class maintains its traditional ability to offer agility and composed handling that belies its size and two-and-a-bit tonne weight. The adaptive air suspension generally glides over challenging road surfaces, but it isn’t quite as sublime as the highly supple ride of the BMW 7 Series.
The big wheels of the S-Class contribute to a fidgety ride at low speeds, plus you’ll hear the odd loud thump over potholes, undermining the serenity - especially in the plug-in hybrid S580e model when trundling around in near-silent EV mode leaves no engine noise to muffle the sound. Things settle down at higher speeds, where it feels more like the S-Class is floating above the road rather than rolling along it.
The plug-in hybrid has another issue that poses a particular problem for anyone driving it as a chauffeur. It takes a very deft foot on the brake pedal to bring this specific version of S-Class to a smooth halt – a much easier manoeuvre in the 7 Series. It’s no easier at higher speeds, because not only does the S580e’s 2.6 tonnes of weight feel like it’s putting a lot of pressure on the braking system, but the car surges as if it can’t work out whether to brake with motor re-gen or the mechanical discs and pads. Non-plug-in hybrid S-Class models have a much easier-to-modulate brake pedal feel.
Car group tests
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Used car tests
The inline six-cylinder engines are hushed even under hard acceleration, but what noise you do hear is not particularly stimulating, so there’s not much to gain from driving an S-Class as if you stole it – the exception being the rapid plug-in hybrid AMG S 63 E Performance.
Driven briskly, the standard S-Class models are impressively poised and responsive to steering inputs, making it easy to place the long bonnet in corners and keep progress neat. There’s a small amount of body lean, as you’d expect, but even during challenging twists and turns at the test track, the big Benz is reassuringly responsive.
Traction is excellent, especially with the 4MATIC four-wheel drive set-up, and the four-wheel steering works together with the adaptive suspension to help keep cornering lines neat. The same also applies during high-speed lane changes where stability is impressive, and excellent aerodynamics mean there’s little in the way of wind noise to unsettle the ambience either.
Engines, 0-60 acceleration and top speed
We’ve tested the S 500 with its inline six-cylinder engine, and although the capacity is just three litres, it makes 442bhp at 6,100rpm – good enough for 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds, and a maximum speed of 155mph. It revs smoothly and produces power in a linear fashion, but there’s little sense of occasion about the acceleration, which happens in a rather matter-of-fact style. Gear changes from the standard 9G-Tronic transmission are all but imperceptible.
Both diesels are also three-litre in-line six-cylinder engines. The less powerful S 350 d produces 309bhp at 3,600rpm and can sprint from 0-62mph in a respectable 5.6 seconds. Moving up to the S 450 d boosts the power to 362bhp at 4,000rpm, and reduces the 0-62mph sprint to just 5 seconds.
If you choose plug-in hybrid power, a six-cylinder engine still sits under the bonnet of the S580 e, only this time it’s mated to a 148bhp electric motor. This powertrain slashes the S-Class’s emissions and sacrifices very little in performance, as the S 580 e will accelerate from 0-62mph in just 5.2 seconds.
If you need speed but still wish to reap (some of) the benefits of a PHEV, the Mercedes-AMG S63 E Performance features a 4.0-litre V8 and a rear-mounted electric motor. This pairing produces a whopping 792bhp and 1,430Nm of torque, which is good for a supercar-worrying 0-62mph time of just 3.3 seconds. Its smaller battery pack compared with the S 580 e means it’ll only travel 20 miles in pure-electric mode..
If you have the money to go for a Maybach version of S-Class, you can choose the S 580 with a 496bhp 4.0-litre V8 or the S 680 with a 603bhp 6.0-litre V12. Both sound a little old school for today’s age of environmental concerns, but you can’t argue with a 4.8 second 0-62mph time for the S 580, or the even more rapid 4.5 second sprint for the S680.
In this review
- 1Mercedes 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
- 2Engines, performance and drive - currently readingOnce 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