2008 Mercedes-Benz S Class Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 18, 2008

Hark! The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is loaded with top safety and comfort-oriented technologies and is one of the best luxury sedans in the world.

The automotive experts at TheCarConnection.com collected some of the best information on the Web in reviews covering the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Then TheCarConnection.com's editors added their own perspectives from firsthand driving experience with the S-Class.

The flagship S-Class was redesigned for 2007, with a more formal exterior design and an intriguing interior design; it also picked up a longer wheelbase for a roomier cabin. The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class lineup adds one more model; the V-8-powered S550 with 382 horsepower, the 510-hp V-12 S600, and the 604-hp V-12 S65 AMG models are joined by a new V-8 AMG model, the 518-hp S63 AMG.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class V-12 models come with a five-speed automatic transmission, while V-8 models get a seven-speed automatic; both have Touch Shift manual control. The S550 is also offered in an all-wheel-drive model.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S63 and S65 AMG models bring a host of additional performance and appearance upgrades, including the Active Body Control suspension, a SpeedShift transmission system, high-performance tires, a sport exhaust, aerodynamic lower bodywork, Drive-Dynamic ventilated multicontour seats with exclusive leather upholstery, and special gauges.

Review continues below

The standard S550's powertrain provides plenty of power to move the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class with authority, but the S600's V-12 kicks in an extra measure of omnipresent torque and is especially quiet and refined. The added weight of the engine in the S600 is felt, though it doesn't handle with quite as much agility. The S550 can get to 60 mph in less than 5.5 seconds, but the S600 can make it in a mere 4.5 seconds.

The S-Class's interior is very spacious and well designed. The shift control is located along the steering column, which frees up the center console area compared to other vehicles, and the instrument panel has a simple but very elegant design, with a broad, sweeping horizontal theme and impressive-looking wood veneers. The latest version of Mercedes-Benz's COMAND screen-based interface replaces the clutter of smaller controls in the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but it's not always as intuitive as it could be.

All of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class models have a very absorbent, well-settled ride that manages to soak up small potholes with little jarring inside the cabin and remain remarkably quiet. Yet thanks to a host of electronics, the S-Class also handles quite well. The standard Airmatic suspension has adaptive damping to adjust quickly to rough roads or fast driving on switchbacks.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class offers a panorama-style roof, Active Body Control (ABC) suspension, and heated/ventilated front seats with built-in massager. Other standout features of the S-Class include "smart" cruise control, called Distronic Plus, which can slow the car as traffic dictates, making it possible for the driver to "set and forget" the cruise control over a wider variety of operating conditions. There's also a new Night View system, which allows the gauge area to turn into an infrared camera view of the road ahead, and concert-hall-quality 14-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound stereo.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has not been crash-tested in the United States, but it enjoys a longstanding reputation as one of the safest vehicles in the world; safety features include front and rear side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, active head restraints, adaptive brake lights, and the Pre-Safe system, which prepares safety equipment for an anticipated collision. Anti-lock brakes and stability control are also standard, along with a hill-start assist system to keep you from rolling backward when facing uphill.

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2008 Mercedes-Benz S Class

Styling

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class oozes with luxurious style.

Given its hefty price tag, one expects a head turner, and the 2008 Mercedes Benz S-Class doesn't disappoint. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com are filled with praise for the style of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, inside and out.

As Kelley Blue Book says, the Mercedes-Benz 2008 provides a "polished, sleek shape," with its sloping front end and its classic Mercedes grille. Cars.com also singles out the front end of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz for its sleek style, stating that its "strong visual presence is highlighted by a sleek front end." The front end of the Mercedes-Benz 2008 isn't its only exterior appeal; Edmunds praises the "aggressive wheelwell flares and a wedgelike profile that's emphasized with a rising character line," and Automobile likes the "chrome/bright trim around side windows and on side of body." Motor Trend feels the latest S-Class "continues to set the standard" for full-size luxury sedans, while Car and Driver likes its “handsome exterior design,” and ForbesAutos calls it “elegant.” Cars.com reports the optional AMG Sport Package “gives the S-Class some of the look, if not the performance, of a high-performance AMG version of the S-Class.”

The S-Class's interior is very spacious and well designed; it’s “ostentatious and comfortable,” according to ForbesAutos. The outside is just a prelude to a car that "defines luxury motoring," ConsumerGuide declares. The instrument panel has a simple but very elegant design, with a broad, sweeping horizontal theme and impressive-looking wood veneers. Kelley Blue Book agrees, saying "understated elegance is the theme on the inside" of the Mercedes-Benz 2008, while noting the "amber ambient lighting" that rings the front of the cabin. Cars.com contends the interior of the S-Class "offers a level of power, luxury, technology and prestige" worthy of its hefty price tag.

At the wheel, the first obvious departure from the norm is the shift control located along the steering column, which frees up the center console area compared to other vehicles. The latest version of Mercedes-Benz's COMAND screen-based interface replaces the clutter of smaller controls in the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but it's not always as intuitive as it could be, as will be discussed more in the Features section of this review.

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2008 Mercedes-Benz S Class

Performance

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a powerful driver, standing out among its class.

According to reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, the performance appeal of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is equal to its style.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class provides a total of four different engine options. The S550 comes with a 5.5-liter V-8 with 382 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque; the S600 has a 5.5-liter V-12 twin turbo, with 510 hp and 612 pound-feet of torque; the S63 has a 6.3-liter V-8 with 518 hp and 465 pound-feet of torque; and the S65 AMG gets a powerful 6.0-liter V-12 turbo, which creates a whopping 604 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Even the smallest of the available engines in the 2008 Mercedes-Benz creates a driving machine that maintains "stunning performance," says Edmunds: “Zero-to-60-mph times range from the low-4-second to low-6-second range -- seriously quick by any standard, let alone when one is referring to a large luxury sedan.” Cars.com agrees that even the base engine is "powerful and makes this big sedan lunge forward when you mash the gas pedal to the floor," and Kelley Blue Book highlights its "effortless power." The smallest engine on the S550 achieves 0-60 in just under 6 seconds: “Mercedes-Benz cites a zero-to-60-mph time of 5.4 seconds for the S550, which is stunning considering the sedan's 4,465-pound curb weight,” Cars.com reports. On the other end of the range, the 6.0-liter V-12 turbocharged engine powers into the 4-second range, which explains why Cars.com calls driving that version of the Mercedes-Benz 2008 a "performance treat." ForbesAutos notes that in the S-Class, acceleration is “brisk but smooth.”

All of the trims use automatic transmissions; the V-12 engines are paired with five-speed transmissions, while the V-8 models use seven-speed transmissions. ConsumerGuide is impressed with the automatics’ performance: "downshifts are quick," and "passing power is particularly impressive." Cars.com points out that the seven-speed transmission in the S-Class "performs in a purposeful, quiet way."

Mercedes offers an all-wheel-drive option on the S550.

As Kelley Blue Book puts it, "fuel economy is slightly less than its contemporaries, but that's probably not a major purchase issue." Most of the powerplants get EPA-estimated 11 mpg city and 17 mpg highway; the 5.5-liter V-8 achieves a slightly better 14/21 mpg on the rear-wheel-drive version and 14/20 mpg on the all-wheel drive.

All of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class models have a very absorbent, well-settled ride that manages to soak up small potholes with little jarring inside the cabin and remain remarkably quiet. Yet thanks to a host of electronics, the S-Class also handles quite well—and gets tauter and more responsive in AMG editions. The standard Airmatic suspension has adaptive damping to adjust quickly to rough roads or fast driving on switchbacks. Edmunds states that overall, "handling and ride dynamics are impressive." ConsumerGuide likes the combination of comfort and control, saying "the suspension offers Sport and Comfort firmness settings; Sport makes the ride slightly more taut but at little sacrifice in comfort"; they also appreciate how the S-Class models' "suspension automatically adjusts for firmness and load leveling." Cars.com contends that even though the 2008 Mercedes-Benz measures in at 17 feet, it's "pretty easy to maneuver through heavy, fast-moving highway traffic and feels rock-solid doing so." ForbesAutos notes its “secure handling,” while Car and Driver adds, “All models are nimble for big cars, but the S63 AMG adds a new level of athleticism to the line.”

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2008 Mercedes-Benz S Class

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class provides top-of-the-line comfort and quality, just as one would expect of a luxury car.

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has a cabin outfitted to the highest levels of luxury, according to reviewers from around the Web.

ConsumerGuide says that, overall, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class "affords outstanding room and comfort." The front seats are spacious, and an optional set of “Drive-Dynamic” seats have amenities such as "fan ventilation, automatic-inflating side bolsters, and a relaxing massage function." These “Fancy adjustments wouldn't mean much if the seats weren't comfortable, but they are, in a large, soft, leather easy-chair type of way,” Cars.com reports.

In back, the S-Class caters to two. Cars.com actually goes so far as to call it a "massive backseat" that “offers tons of legroom and a backrest that's angled backward for optimal comfort” and sports “power-adjustable rear seats,” though they note the rear bench is designed for two people, not three. Edmunds likes the room in the backseat of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz and believes this is what makes it a "favorite of wealthy dads and heads of state alike." ConsumerGuide remarks that, even with intrusion from the sunroof casing, "only the very tall will find headroom lacking." Car and Driver reports, “All models are big, posh, and capable.”

Even though you wouldn't guess it from the shape of the rear end of the S-Class, the trunk is actually large, and ConsumerGuide says it is "usefully shaped, nicely finished, and includes an underfloor storage bin." Kelley Blue Book points out that inside, "storage spots are numerous," and calls the trunk a "trip-friendly luggage swallower."

The interior of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is designed with the driver and passengers in mind, with ease of use for controls and top-quality materials. Cars.com notes that luxury still applies to the design of the interior controls, pointing out the "leather instrument panel cover and classy chrome power window buttons" and the “Beautiful burl walnut wood” that “graces the dash, doors and center console.” The aural quality of the S-Class is just as one would expect, and ConsumerGuide says, "travel is serene, with little road or wind noise."

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2008 Mercedes-Benz S Class

Safety

The 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class sports the latest safety features, but has undergone no independently measured crash tests.

TheCarConnection.com finds that reviewers are impressed with the safety features of the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not yet tested this S-Class sedan for crashworthiness; the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has also skipped over the S-Class to date.

Still, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has many standard safety features, including side curtain airbags, front and rear side airbags, an anti-lock braking system, and traction control, reports ConsumerGuide.

The Pre-Safe system is Mercedes’ way of mitigating an impending accident. As Cars.com explains it, "by monitoring the braking, steering and stability systems, Pre-Safe can ready occupants for a collision by tightening the seat belts, adjusting the position of the front passenger seat and available power rear seats, and closing the windows." An even more advanced version of Pre-Safe requires the optional Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control, which brakes and accelerates the Mercedes-Benz 2008 as needed to avoid accidents.

An additional optional safety feature on the 2008 Mercedes-Benz is Night View Assist, which can see "almost 500 feet ahead of the car and display the view in the instrument panel," according to Cars.com. This creates more visibility for the Mercedes-Benz 2008 than most vehicles enjoy, allowing drivers to see what awaits them in the dark.

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2008 Mercedes-Benz S Class

Features

Buyers of 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class cars will not be disappointed in the luxurious features offered, both standard and optional.

There are many standard luxury features on the 2008 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, as well as a variety of optional features. The “long list of comfort and convenience features assures bragging rights among even the most jaded enthusiast,” ForbesAutos says.

All S-Class sedans come with features such as “a navigation system, hands-free cell phone communication, a Harman Kardon audio system and of course, rich leather and wood trim,” Edmunds reports. That "fine-sounding 14-speaker, 600-watt harmon/kardon(r) surround-sound system,” Kelley Blue Book states, “plays CDs, DVDs and MP3s.”

Also standard in the S-Class is the Mercedes COMAND system, which uses a knob controller and an in-dash screen to control secondary functions, much like similar systems from BMW’s iDrive and Audi’s MMI. Kelley Blue Book contends that it takes a only a modest amount of study time to learn to operate the "COMAND system, through a turn-and-push, aluminum knob on the center console," which then allows the driver to utilize the one control for navigation, radio, phone, and other settings. Most other reviews grouse about using COMAND and the confusion that ensues; Cars.com says COMAND is “one of the more user-friendly versions” of these systems, but all the “high-tech features can be confusing,” ForbesAutos reports, and “some may still complain that it's not as user-friendly as it could be.” Car and Driver asks rhetorically, “How many electronic gizmos are too many?”

Different trim levels offer specific equipment levels above the standard lavishness. As Edmunds points out, the "AMG versions add 20-inch alloy wheels, an active suspension, larger brakes, sport seats and specific interior and exterior styling tweaks."

Optional features on the V-8 S-Class include "ventilated and massaging front seats, heated and ventilated rear seat, and keyless access and starting," according to ConsumerGuide. Most options become standard on the 12-cylinder versions, Edmunds reports.

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