The luxury limousine benchmark ups its game.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is not a car you can easily ignore. Seemingly from time immemorial, the S-Class has been the benchmark in luxury travel, with every iteration setting new standards of opulence, technology, and safety. The Sonderklasse gained its name in 1972 with the W116 iteration of the Mercedes-Benz flagship, and the five successors after it have all lived up to that ‘special class’ moniker.
The sixth-generation S-Class, unveiled in 2013, paved the way for a new generation of Mercedes-Benz models, and its graceful lines were paired with class-leading technology, ensuring that the S-Class remains the luxury cruiser to which all others are measured. We take a look at the seemingly-unbeatable S-Class, designed to remain steadfast among a slew of competitors, and see if there’s a chink in its armour.
“The S-Class benefits from imposing styling with neat design details. Yet despite its vast external dimensions, the Mercedes disguises its bulk well thanks to its sweeping roofline and carefully sculpted lines cut into the flanks.” - AutoExpress
Compared to the muscular previous-generation, the sixth-generation S-Class bears an elegant and lean design that looks more like a bloated CLS than a full-size limousine. There are sweeping character lines that run the whole length of the car, and blend into each other purposefully at the rear. The graceful aesthetic of the rear, which can even be described as ‘soothing’ to the eye, is in sharp contrast to the imposing front end, that manages to be assertive without being overly aggressive. Of course, there are AMG upgrades to turn the aggression up to eleven, turning the S-Class into something we’d call quietly aggressive.
The S-Class may not have the same athleticism as the Jaguar XJ or the stoic and unflustered Audi A8, but it certainly looks special. This S-Class was the first car in the world to feature LED lighting exclusively in every aspect, making the big Benz very recognisable at night. The S-Class definitely looks more purposeful than the Porsche Panamera, a contender that commands a significant portion of the market, though the latest version from Stuttgart means Porsche isn’t going anywhere without a fight.
Engine & Drivetrain
“The diesel is likely to dominate among Australian buyers although there are fewer reasons to shun the V8…” - CarsGuide
The S-Class range in Australia consists of petrol, diesel, and hybrid options. The range starts with the S300h BlueTec Hybrid, with a 2.1-litre 150kW diesel engine paired to an electric motor, similar to the smaller E-Class BlueTec Hybrid. Moving up, you get the S350d which packs a more powerful 190kW 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel. If you’re willing to trade fuel consumption for (a little more) refinement, the S400 with its 3.0-litre 245kW engine will likely appeal.
Above this, there’s the properly-quick S500 that packs a 4.7-litre V8, capable of 335kW while consuming only 9.2-litres/100km (or so Mercedes-Benz claims). All S-Classes come standard-fit with a 7-speed automatic gearbox, that’s been largely considered to be faultless.
“This is Mercedes sticking it to Audi, Jaguar, Bentley and just about everyone else on material quality, and with glittering success.” - AutoCar
When you consider that this is an out-and-out luxury limousine, it becomes imperative that the cabin be as inviting as possible. The S-Class doesn’t disappoint, by blending design and technology effortlessly to create one of the most breathtaking modern automotive interiors to date. Where previously the line between luxury limousines like the S-Class and super-luxury barges like the Bentley Flying Spur were pretty clearly defined, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class closed the gap and blurred that line. The level of luxury, quality, and attention to detail is so extreme that Mercedes-Benz themselves organised a media preview in early 2013 ahead of the model’s launch just to show off the cabin. It’s that good.
The biggest feature (somewhat literally) are the dual 12.3-inch widescreens that inhabit the dash, with the one in front of the driver taking the place of traditional dials and binnacles. The other houses Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND system, which allows drivers to configure just about every aspect of the S-Class to their liking. The seats are so comfortable they beggar belief, and all pews (sans the middle seat at the back) can be specified to offer a massage function. A Burmeister sound system features here too, which means that a spa-experience can be had if one were to pair that hot-stone massage with some whale songs.
The standard-length S-Class offers plenty of space front and rear, though we do recommend that if your S-Class will likely be chauffeured most of the time, the long-wheelbase model ought to be considered. There’s also a first-class rear seat pack, which sees two individual seats separated by a centre console extension in the rear, which offers better reclining angles and increased comfort for rear passengers.
Behind the Wheel
“It’s all about astounding quietness and ride suppleness.” - TopGear
If you’re looking at an S-Class, you’d undoubtedly know that Mercedes-Benz has always prioritised comfort and refinement above all else with their Sonderklasse, and the current model is no different. It pushes the standards of luxury further with this one, though the intelligent dampers means that it never feels like a handful. The steering wheel is devoid of sensation, but it imbues a sense of stability and heft that is expected of a car like this.
There are no bad eggs in the engine range, though the V6 diesel is a standout. With 190kW & 620Nm on offer, this engine is enough to propel the S-Class from rest to 100km/h in just 6.8-seconds, despite hauling nearly 2-tonnes of German bulk. There’s none of the typical diesel turbo lag here, with seemingly relentless power all the way through the rev range. The seven-speed automatic gearbox employed here ensures that progress is smooth and power is readily available, with little hesitation to kick down should more power be wanted or shift up when cruising.
The S-Class, in its never-ending pursuit of refinement, offers a system that prepares the suspense for the road ahead. Dubbed ‘Magic Body Control’ (MBC), this system will scan the surface ahead of the car, and adjust the suspension accordingly. The smooth ride that’s always been a hallmark of flagship Benz saloons is not just present and correct, but is now at a level of sophistication that hasn't been seen before. It’s remarkable.
Safety & Technology
“The Mercedes S-Class helped pioneer everything from padded door trim to stability control, so it's only natural that this latest version comes packed with safety equipment.” - Telegraph UK
The current S-Class does not stray from its rich heritage of offering class-leading safety technology. Where predecessors brought about advances like anti-lock brakes and stability control, the current S-Class does its level best to live up to their benchmarks. 6-airbags come as standard here, as does the marque’s ‘PRESAFE’ pre-collision technology, which prepares the car for an impact should it become an eventuality. This will close the windows and sunroof, prime the airbags and seatbelt pretensioners, and move the passengers into the optimal position for maximum safety.
‘Attention Assist’ also features here, a system that monitors the alertness of the driver and displays a warning if its thinks attention levels are low. Optional kit includes things like infra-red headlights to see in the dark, intelligent LED headlights, and a certain degree of autonomous driving capability.
As for non-safety tech, the S-Class isn’t lacking in any area. There’s a near-perfect Burmeister audio system to be found in this car, as is electric leather pews all round, an intelligent COMAND infotainment system, adjustable interior mood lighting (which is nothing short of gorgeous), Bluetooth and wifi connectivity. Accuse the S-Class of being of the pace, you cannot.
The S-Class has long been considered to be the king of luxury limousines, and with this latest iteration, it’s clear to see why. No other S-Class before it has offered this level of refinement, technology, and outright luxury, and it will likely retain its spot at the top of the luxury-limo sales tree. With more style, grace, and poise, the S-Class really is the undisputed champion.
Choosing the right S-Class shouldn’t be too hard, we think. But our recommendation sits with the midling S350d, in either standard-wheelbase or long-wheelbase spec depending on requirements. As standard the S350d offers generous kit and leaves few wanting in the way of modern conveniences and features. The fuel economy on offer also means that an S350d will probably leave enough cash lying around to populate the car with some of the more desirable options, which while aren’t cheap, aren’t outrageously-priced either.
Those who want a little more in the way of driver involvement may want to consider the Jaguar XJ, which has been acclaimed for its handling and agility, while a point between agility and comfort can be found in the new BMW 7-Series or even the Audi A8.
CarAdvice - 10/10 - “… and so it is, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the best luxury car in the world.”
CarsGuide - 4.5/5.0 - “I've just driven over a large speed hump at 40km/h and would not even have known it was there. Instead of braking a little, as normal, then allowing the suspension to rise as the front wheels hit to minimise the jolt, I just kept the speed steady and did not feel a thing. The car erased that hump from the roadscape. It did not exist. In this class, unlike most others, it still has the edge on its rivals: BMW's 7 Series and Audi's A8. The previous generation, which debuted eight years ago, sold half a million. And you thought the large sedan was going out of fashion.”
WhatCar? - 5.0/5.0 - “The Mercedes S-Class is the best luxury car around. It's great to drive, and has all the quality and space you could want.”
AutoCar - 5.0/5.0 - “Where the Mercedes-Benz S-Class leads, the rest of the car-making world follows. And on this evidence, it will continue to do so for some time.”
The Car Connection - 9.2/10.0 - “Although not everyone will pick the same model, or the same build, the S-Class remains the one to get when you value technology, engineering, and some of the most advanced active safety and occupant protection in the world—perhaps a bit more than lavish, hand-crafted displays of wealth and "bespoke" exclusivity.”
TopGear - 9.0/10.0 - “Mercedes throws everything it knows into the new S-Class. The results are nothing short of astounding.”
AutoExpress - 5.0/5.0 - "The Mercedes S-Class is the ultimate luxury limo and a fantastic showcase for cutting-edge technology.”
Telegraph UK - 9/10 - "The Mercedes S-Class is the best luxury car on sale today. It’s quieter, classier and more comfortable than rivals, and comes bristling with technology, plus the diesel version does all this while using remarkably little fuel."