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 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class review for more information, including photos, fuel economy ratings, and pricing with options.
Even in its final year in production, the S-Class retains its position at the top, long the leader in technology, safety, and features. Today it's 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's also offered in short- and long-wheelbase form.
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.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 current S-Class generation. New technology advances include Night View Assist, the most advanced iteration of Mercedes collision avoidance systems, and, as of 2010, daytime LED running lights. The facelift that came this year also included LED tail lights and restyled front and rear fascias. Reliability and quality have 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 current S-Class are 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 makes 240 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque, and has 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 combine for a total output of 295 horsepower. A seven-speed automatic gearbox sends the power to the rear wheels.
The S550 sedan is available with 4Matic all-wheel drive, and features a 429-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 engine paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission. The S63 has 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 are the S600, powered by a 510-horsepower, 5.5-liter twin-turbocharged V-12 engine that routes the power through a five-speed automatic transmission, and the S65 AMG, which gets its power from a 625-horsepower, 6.0-liter twin-turbo V-12 engine that churns out a massive 738 pound-feet of torque via a five-speed automatic. All of that power enables the big sedan to rocket to 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds.
In 2013, for the current car's final model year, Mercedes-Benz has included more standard features in the least expensive versions, including active multi-contour front seats, Keyless Go, parking guidance, and a rearview camera.
The S-Class will be replaced by a new vehicle in 2014. As many as six new versions will be spun off from the new architecture--including, possibly, a new coupe to replace today's CL-Class. The latest spy shots of the 2014 S-Class show a smoother, less busy design, and a new interior is expected--as is a raft of new safety gear including lane-keeping assist that can steer the car in traffic at low speeds.
A new version of the S-Class is expected to take over for the Maybach as well. The new ultra-luxury model won't be sold under a different brand, but it will far exceed today's S-Class in terms of positioning, with a price tag something more like that on the Rolls-Royce Ghost.