New & Used Mercedes-Benz S-Class: In Depth
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The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the brand’s flagship model that’s also one of the most iconic luxury vehicles on the planet. Mercedes considers the S-Class to be the biggest and best example of luxury that the brand can build. Redesigned for 2014, the S-Class competes with the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, and the Lexus LS.
See our 2015 Mercedes-Benz S-Class review for more information, including photos, fuel economy ratings, and pricing with options.
Handling, performance, technology, style and quality are all top-notch, despite hit-and-miss reliability over the years. In terms of sheer opulence, the S-Class has few, if any, rivals in its class. Priced from about $90,000 to more than $150,000, the S-Class competes most directly with the Jaguar XJ, BMW 7-Series, Audi A8, and Lexus LS. All-new for 2014, with coupe models added to the line for the 2015 model year, the current sixth-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class is packed with technology aimed at not only entertaining and coddling, but protecting the vehicle’s occupants.
The current S550 features a twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V-8 engine rated at 455 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic all-wheel drive. An AMG version of the sedan is also available, boasting 577 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque from a twin-turbocharged V-8 engine. All-wheel drive is standard on the AMG as well, enabling the big engine to accelerate the large sedan to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds. The sixth generation of the S-Class also sees the return of the coupe model to the family; S-Class coupes had been called CL-Class models in recent years. The coupe is also available in AMG form, using the same powertrain as found in the sedan. An even more berserk form of the AMG sedan, the S65 AMG, is also available, sporting a twin-tuborcharged 6.0-liter V-12 engine rated at 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque; despite the added power, the S65 AMG is slightly slower to 60 mph than the S63 AMG, due to its rear-drive-only arrangement.
An S-Class hybrid, dubbed S550 Plug-In Hybrid, will arrive here for the 2016 model year; it's already available in Europe and elsewhere. The most efficient S-Class features a twin-turbocharged V-6 paired with an in-transmission electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack. Electric-only range is about 20 miles, and it should achieve fuel economy that beats even diesel rivals from Audi and BMW. The S hybrid employs some clever tricks to get maximum economy, including the use of GPS to determine when a particular driving mode is the most efficient choice.
In addition to the nearly self-driving capabilities represented by the latest in Distronic Plus systems, the sixth-generation S-Class also offers top-of-the-line luxury in the form of the First Class Rear Suite option package, which adds top-notch finishes, materials, and features to the car’s second row.
Fifth-generations S-Classes retained their position at the top of the large luxury sedan market even through the end of production. They were sold as the S350 BlueTEC diesel; the S400 Hybrid; as the S550 with either rear- or all-wheel drive; in S63 or S65 AMG performance trim; and as the S600, the ultimate V-12-powered flagship. It was also offered in short- and long-wheelbase form.Though the S-Class can trace its roots to some of the same W-sedan models of the 1950s and 1960s as the E-Class, its true history begins with the 1972 debut of the classically styled W116, the first car to be called an S-Class. Available with a range of six- and eight-cylinder engines, the first S-Class was one of the first cars to offer airbags, anti-lock brakes, a passenger safety cell, and a turbodiesel engine. The second-generation S-Class, the W126, took over from the W116 in 1980, featuring a completely redesigned, more modern, aerodynamic exterior and a an updated chassis. Aluminum-block engines lightened the car, and coupe models were re-introduced to the range at the middle of the car's cycle. In 1991, the W140 once again led the Mercedes design theme update, bringing an even fresher face and more aerodynamic shape. Some of the extensive features available include double-pane glass, self-closing trunk and doors, and rear-parking markers.
The W220's debut in 1999 marked a change in direction for the S-Class, shrinking in overall exterior size while offering more interior space than the W140. Unfortunately, despite--or perhaps because of--extensive safety, technology, and performance options, the W220 S-Class suffered from a poor reputation for reliability. Nonetheless, it marked the introduction of some of Mercedes-Benz's most innovative safety technology, including the debut of the PreSafe system, a collision avoidance and response system.
The W220 led directly to the W221, introduced in 2005, the fifth S-Class generation. New technology advances included Night View Assist, the most advanced iteration of Mercedes collision avoidance systems, and, as of 2010, daytime LED running lights. A facelift included LED tail lights and restyled front and rear fascias. Reliability and quality were not been an issue with the W221 the way it was with the W220, with the S-Class winning numerous comparison tests against its competition from BMW and Audi. This generation of S-Class also spawned the Maybach cars, a revived lineup of ultra-luxury sedans that were sold in very limited numbers in the U.S. through the 2012 model year.
Six variants of the sixth-generation S-Class were available, including the S350 turbodiesel and the S400 Hybrid, both six-cylinders; the S550 and the S63 AMG, both twin-turbo V-8s; and the S600 and S65 AMG, both V-12s. The S350 BlueTEC made 240 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque, and offered standard all-wheel drive. The S400 Hybrid was the first production lithium-ion hybrid to go on sale in the world, further entrenching the S-Class's reputation for advanced technology. Its 3.5-liter V-6 engine and electric motor combined for a total output of 295 horsepower. A seven-speed automatic gearbox sent the power to the rear wheels.
The S550 sedan was available with 4Matic all-wheel drive, and featured a 429-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 engine paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission. The S63 had a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 536 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, with thrilling acceleration and all kinds of adaptive electronics for ride and steering. At the top of the range in price and prestige was the S600, powered by a 510-horsepower, 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 engine that routed its power through a five-speed automatic transmission, and the S65 AMG, which got its power from a 625-horsepower, 6.0-liter twin-turbo V-12 engine that churned out a massive 738 pound-feet of torque via a five-speed automatic. All of that power enabled the big sedan to rocket to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds.
In 2013, for the sixth-generation car's final model year, Mercedes-Benz included more standard features in the least expensive versions, including active multi-contour front seats, Keyless Go, parking guidance, and a rearview camera.
Mercedes is planning to add an additional model at the top of the seventh-generation S-Class range. As a sort of followup to the now-dead Maybach line, there will be a new mega-luxurious version of the S that should better compete with models such as Rolls-Royce's Ghost. It will be priced far above even the most expensive AMG models and may or may not bring back the Maybach name in some way. The new top S-Class is expected within the next year or so.