2010 Mercedes-Benz S Class Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
March 6, 2010

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class goes from exclusive to earth-friendly to exotically fast-in just a couple hundred thousand dollars.

The S-Class four-door spans a wide gulf at the top of the Mercedes range. The largest Benz sedan short of the princely Maybach 57 and 62, the S-Class nudges $90,000 in its least expensive form and more than doubles that in AMG tune. Across the spectrum, the S-Class models share plenty of good things, from the latest safety technology to serenity at high speeds to a very spacious backseat fit for anyone with more than a "Mr." or "Mrs." prefix in their name. New in 2007, with a facelift this year, the big S-Class cruises in the pack of top-rated luxosedans along with the BMW 7-Series, the Audi A8, the Lexus LS, and the Jaguar XJ. AMG versions can rightly be compared with the Bentley Continental, Rolls-Royce Ghost, and Aston Martin Rapide.

The S-Class has veered from bank-vault thick lines in the early 1990s to a more feminine sculpting late last decade to the current shape, a more masculine mix of crisp creases and subtle arcs. It's not entirely cohesive, but the S-Class' sheetmetal conveys great road presence, especially from the rear quarters, where the perfectly blistered fenders intersect with a rising bumper line. This year the sedan gets a reshaped grille, new and smoother front bumpers, new rear bumpers, and LED turn signals in the headlamps. AMG versions also wear a new grille (louvered on the S65), deep air dams, and new 19- and 20-inch wheels. Hybrid versions can be identified by their round fog lamps and daytime driving lights. Aesthetics are calmer and more relaxed inside the S-Class, where a wide, ornately grained wave of wood bridges the cabin, capped by a large LCD screen for secondary controls and adorned by a minimum of buttons and switches. Gauges are lit in bright white. The shift control sits on the steering column, which frees the dash from the clutter that afflicts some competitive cars. Only a glitch or two, like the tacked-on ergonomic pad behind the COMAND controller, disrupts the cabin's design clarity.

Five distinct models make up the S-Class range; two offer V-8 engines, two have V-12s, and one melds V-6 and electric power. The mainstream model is the $92,000 S550, powered by a 382-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8. Coupled to a seven-speed automatic and driven by either the rear or all four wheels, it can spool up to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds while earning an EPA-rated 15/23 mpg. That's abundant, somewhat thirsty power, but it pales in comparison to the rear-drive S600's $150,000 price tag, its 510-hp twin-turbo V-12, its 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds, its peaceful whir-and its 11/17 mpg fuel economy. The V-12's five-speed automatic has manual-shift programming, but could use more gears for no other reason than total world domination. Thanks to a host of electronics, these S-Class sedans handle quite well. The standard air suspension gets adaptive damping in the S600, which tailors ride quality to suit rough roads or fast-change switchbacks. Even without it, the S-Class has a very absorbent, well-settled ride that manages to soak up small potholes with little jarring inside the cabin, while remaining remarkably quiet. One note: The base S550 adopts electric power steering that can feel relatively lifeless compared to the hydraulic-steering systems in other versions.

Review continues below

Two AMG models flip the S-Class' intensity switch to exotic mode. The $134,000 S63 AMG installs the in-house tuner's 6.2-liter V-8 worth 518 hp, a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds, and fuel economy of 11/18 mpg. The $202,000 S65 AMG throttles the turbo V-12 for a stupendous 604 hp, ekes out a 4.3-second time from 0-60 mph, hurtles to a limited top end of 186 mph, and gulps premium gas at the rate of 11/17 mpg. The former uses the same seven-speed automatic as the S550, while the latter gets the five-speed automatic; both adopt AMG's SpeedShift controls, with three shift modes (Comfort, Sport and Manual) for near-total control of power changes. New algorithms for the AMG cars' Active Body Control settles the suspension more firmly in crosswinds, while a torque-vectoring system applies brakes to inside wheels to give the sports sedans better, quicker turn-in. Adaptive braking primes the pedal and pump so that drivers can call on full brake force more quickly, too.

Distinct from all these models, the $88,000 S400 Hybrid is new for 2010. It pairs a lithium-ion battery pack with 20-hp-equivalent electric motors, a 275-hp V-6 gas engine, and a seven-speed automatic to provide relatively brisk acceleration and much better fuel economy than the V-8 S550. With 0-60 mph acceleration of about 7.2 seconds, it's the slowest and most fuel-conscious S-Class, with EPA figures of 19/26 mpg. The only thing missing from the S-Class experience with the Hybrid, aside from some steering feel lost to its electric power steering, might be engine noise at parking lot speeds, when the Hybrid runs on battery power alone.

No matter which drivetrain fits, the S-Class' seats will accommodate four adults very, very well. The cabin's spacious and well designed, with tall and wide door openings for easy access. While the standard front seats are power-adjustable, leather-trimmed, and suitably wide and firm, we like the dynamic multicontour seats even more. They're padded with air bladders that inflate and deflate at your command-or even in a massage-like order-to keep backs and shoulders in alignment on long road trips. With those front seats raked and powered all the way back, there's still admirable rear-seat legroom because all S-Classes sold here are of the long-wheelbase variety. The backseats are sculpted comfortably, too, and can be heated and contoured, and trimmed in sueded fabric in AMG models. The S-Class' glovebox and console are large enough for small handbags and bigger electronic gadgets; the fold-down armrest in back has its own hidden stowaway space and a pass-through to the 16-cubic-foot trunk that holds suitcases and golf bags aplenty. Space is rarely at a premium. The S-Class' cabin has some of the richest textures and finishes, particularly the lush wood trim applied to the dash, doors, and consoles. It's all fitted tightly, with few flaws visible in the various Hybrids and AMGs we've driven over the past three years.

The 2010 S-Class hasn't been crash-tested by either NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) or the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). Still, it enjoys a long-standing reputation as one of the safest vehicles in the world, but we'll revisit its high safety rating when more data is released. The S-Class has comprehensive safety features, such as front and rear side airbags; full-length side curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction and stability control; active head restraints; adaptive brake lights; and the PRE-SAFE system, which tightens seatbelts and locks doors when it senses an imminent collision and can now apply full braking force to mitigate injury and damage from accidents. New features include Attention Assist, which detects sleepy drivers and asks them to pull over for a rest via a coffee-cup icon; Nightview Assist PLUS, which uses infrared sensors to highlight unseen objects ahead on dark roads; Lane Keeping Assist, which alerts drivers wandering out of their driving lane and nudges them gently back on track; blind-spot alerts; adaptive cruise control; and automatic high beams. Visibility is excellent in the S-Class, though parking safety's improved with the available rearview camera and front and rear parking sensors.

The 2010 S-Class hardly can be outdone in its exhaustive luxury and entertainment features. Even the "base" S550 has a wood and leather steering wheel; active ventilated and heated front seats; new wheels; ambient lighting; and a power trunk lid. Its audio and navigation systems are upgraded to include Bluetooth; Sirius and HD radio; USB and SD ports; better voice recognition; 4GB of music storage; and Zagat travel information. A sunroof is standard, along with a power tilt/telescope steering wheel, 14-way power heated front seats, and leather upholstery. The S400 Hybrid shares all this gear, minus the automatic high beams and front-seat ventilation. Options include Active Body Control on rear-drive S550s; both versions can be fitted with keyless entry and push-button start, better seats, parking sensors, and a rearview camera. Those features are made standard on the S600 and on the AMG sedans, which also wear 20-inch wheels, distinct aero-add-ons, and a sport-trimmed steering wheel. Optional on the S400 Hybrid, S550, and S63 AMG are a rear-seat entertainment system; four-zone automatic climate control; and multicontour rear seats. All those features are standard on the S600 and S65 AMG. Other features offered on various models include a heated steering wheel, a panoramic sunroof, and a power rear sunshade.

Of all its features, the COMAND screen-based interface is the most improved and the most in need of improvement. The latest edition refines some of the knob-driven system's navigation, but it's not always as intuitive as it could be. We're not convinced it's a better idea than simple buttons and switches, either.

8

2010 Mercedes-Benz S Class

Styling

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class grabs eyeballs with artful sheetmetal and soothes them with a luxury liner's worth of wood and leather cabin trim.

The S-Class four-door spans a wide gulf at the top of the Mercedes range. The biggest Benz sedan-short of the princely Maybach 57 and 62-the S-Class spills over the $90,000 mark in its least expensive form and more than doubles that in AMG tune.

It works hard for that money with styling that percolates with emphatic curves and precisely drawn lines. The S-Class has veered from bank-vault thick lines in the early 1990s to a more feminine sculpting late last decade to the current shape, a more masculine mix of crisp creases and subtle arcs. It's not entirely cohesive, but the S-Class' sheetmetal conveys great road presence, especially from the rear quarters, where the perfectly blistered fenders intersect with a rising bumper line.

This year the sedan gets a reshaped grille, new and smoother front bumpers, new rear bumpers, and LED turn signals in the headlamps. AMG versions also wear a new grille (louvered on the S65), deep air dams, and new 19- and 20-inch wheels. Hybrid versions can be identified by their round fog lamps and daytime driving lights.

Aesthetics are calmer and more relaxed inside the S-Class, where a wide, ornately grained wave of wood bridges the cabin. It's capped by a large LCD screen for secondary controls and adorned by a minimum of buttons and switches. Gauges are lit in bright white. The shift control sits on the steering column, which frees the dash from the clutter that afflicts some competitive cars. Only a glitch or two disrupts the cabin's design clarity. Were you nodding in agreement at the tacked-on ergonomic pad behind the COMAND controller? Yes. Yes, you were.

More Opinions
Automobile: "I know several people who aren't huge fans of the S-class's styling, what with its sculpted fenders and such"
Cars.com: "strong visual presence is highlighted by a sleek front end"
Edmunds: "aggressive wheelwell flares and a wedge-like profile"
Kelley Blue Book: "understated elegance is the theme on the inside"
Cars.com: "beautiful burl walnut wood graces the dash, doors and center console"
Edmunds: "meticulously crafted interior"
Cars.com: "leather instrument panel cover and classy chrome power window buttons"

9

2010 Mercedes-Benz S Class

Performance

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class gives you a choice in driving personality: Mother Nature, Mother Lode, or one bad mother.

Five distinct models make up the S-Class range; two offer V-8 engines, two have V-12s, and one melds V-6 and electric power.

The mainstream model is the $92,000 S550, powered by a 382-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8. Coupled to a seven-speed automatic and driven by either the rear or all four wheels, it can spool up to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds while earning an EPA-rated 15/23 mpg. That's abundant, somewhat thirsty power-but it pales in comparison to the rear-drive S600's $150,000 price tag, its 510-hp twin-turbo V-12, its 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds, its peaceful whir-and its 11/17 mpg fuel economy. The V-12's five-speed automatic has manual-shift programming, but could use more gears for no other reason than total world domination.

Thanks to a host of electronics, these S-Class sedans handle quite well. The standard air suspension gets adaptive damping in the S600, which tailors ride quality to suit rough roads or fast-change switchbacks. Even without it, the S-Class has a very absorbent, well-settled ride that manages to soak up small potholes with little jarring inside the cabin, while remaining remarkably quiet. One note: The base S550 adopts electric power steering that can feel relatively lifeless compared to the hydraulic-steering systems in other versions.

Two AMG models flip the S-Class' intensity switch to exotic mode. The $134,000 S63 AMG installs the in-house tuner's 6.2-liter V-8 worth 518 hp, a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds, and fuel economy of 11/18 mpg. The $202,000 S65 AMG throttles the turbo V-12 for a stupendous 604 hp, ekes out a 4.3-second time from 0-60 mph, hurtles to a limited top end of 186 mph, and gulps premium gas at the rate of 11/17 mpg. The former uses the same seven-speed automatic as the S550, while the latter gets the five-speed automatic; both adopt AMG's SpeedShift controls, with three shift modes (Comfort, Sport and Manual) for near-total control of power changes. New algorithms for the AMG cars' Active Body Control settles the suspension more firmly in crosswinds, while a torque-vectoring system applies brakes to inside wheels to give the sports sedans better, quicker turn-in. Adaptive braking primes the pedal and pump so that drivers can call on full brake force more quickly, too.

The "eco" light goes on with the $88,000 S400 Hybrid, which is new for 2010. It pairs a lithium-ion battery pack with 20-hp-equivalent electric motors, a 275-hp V-6 gas engine, and a seven-speed automatic to provide relatively brisk acceleration and much better fuel economy than the V-8 S550. With 0-60 mph acceleration of about 7.2 seconds, it's the slowest and most fuel-conscious S-Class, with EPA figures of 19/26 mpg. The only thing missing from the S-Class experience with the Hybrid, aside from some steering feel lost to its electric turn-wheels-box, might be engine noise at parking lot speeds. That's when the Hybrid rolls on battery power alone.

More Opinions
Cars.com: S550's 5.4-second acceleration "is stunning considering the sedan's 4,465-pound curb weight"
Edmunds: "Zero-to-60-mph times range from the low-four-second to low-six-second range-seriously quick by any standard"
Kelley Blue Book: "effortless power"
ConsumerGuide: "downshifts are quick"
Cars.com: automatic "performs in a purposeful, quiet way"
Automobile: 4Matic a "priceless feature for those who live farther out in the sticks"
Cars.com: "pretty easy to maneuver through heavy, fast-moving highway traffic"
Edmunds: "steering is fairly quick and precise"
Car and Driver: cars without ABC have "gulp!-electric-assisted steering...it's nowhere near as smooth and satisfying"
ConsumerGuide: "Sport makes the ride slightly more taut but at little sacrifice in comfort"
Car and Driver: "brakes are super-strong and offer lots of feel"
Edmunds: "most competing luxury sedans are more fun to drive"
Car and Driver: S63 AMG "adds a new level of athleticism to the line"
Kelley Blue Book: Hybrid "isn't the fastest S-Class going"
New York Times: "stop-start function is above average, but not seamless"
Edmunds: Hybrid matches mileage of the Lexus LS 600h "while costing almost $20,000 less"

10

2010 Mercedes-Benz S Class

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is designed to be a luxury car-and it lives up to its calling.

No matter which drivetrain fits, the S-Class' seats will accommodate four adults very, very well. The cabin's spacious and well designed, with tall and wide door openings for easy access.

The standard front seats are power-adjustable, leather-trimmed, and suitably wide and firm. We like the optional dynamic multicontour seats even more. They're padded with air bladders that inflate and deflate at your command-or even in a massage-like order-to keep backs and shoulders in alignment on long road trips.

With those front seats raked and powered all the way back, there's still admirable rear-seat legroom because all S-Classes sold here are of the long-wheelbase variety. The backseats are sculpted comfortably, too, and can be heated and contoured, and trimmed in sueded fabric in AMG models.

The S-Class' glovebox and console are large enough for small handbags and bigger electronic gadgets; the fold-down armrest in back has its own hidden stowaway space and a pass-through to the 16-cubic-foot trunk that holds suitcases and golf bags aplenty. Space is rarely at a premium.

Quality oozes from whatever pores haven't been varnished or paneled over inside the S-Class' cabin. It wears some of the richest textures and finishes you'll see in a German car: case in point, the lush wood trim applied to the dash, doors, and consoles. It's all fitted tightly, with few flaws visible in the various Hybrids and AMGs we've driven over the past three years.

More Opinions:
Automobile: "the warm, welcoming feel of the cabin"
ConsumerGuide: "affords outstanding room and comfort"
Edmunds: "Space is plentiful"
ConsumerGuide: "only the very tall will find headroom lacking"
Cars.com: "large, soft, leather easy-chair type" seats have "fan ventilation, automatic-inflating side bolsters, and a relaxing massage function"
Edmunds: backseat is a "favorite of wealthy dads and heads of state alike"
Automobile: "I can't imagine anyone not being comfortable in the Benz's enormous back seat."
Cars.com: "massive backseat"
Kelley Blue Book: "storage spots are numerous"
Kelley Blue Book: trunk is a "trip-friendly luggage swallower"
Edmunds: trunk "offers 16.2 cubic feet of space, more than enough for golf clubs and a few suitcases"
ConsumerGuide: trunk is "usefully shaped, nicely finished, and includes an underfloor storage bin"
Edmunds: "materials quality is beyond reproach"
ConsumerGuide: "serene, with little road or wind noise"

9

2010 Mercedes-Benz S Class

Safety

We're believers in Mercedes-Benz safety; when crash scores are available, we'll adjust accordingly.

The 2010 S-Class hasn't been crash-tested by either NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) or the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).

Still, it enjoys a long-standing reputation as one of the safest vehicles in the world. We'll revisit its high safety rating when more data is released.

The S-Class has comprehensive safety features, such as front and rear side airbags; full-length side curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction and stability control; active head restraints; adaptive brake lights; and the PRE-SAFE system, which tightens seatbelts and locks doors when it senses an imminent collision and can now apply full braking force to mitigate injury and damage from accidents.

New features include Attention Assist, which detects sleepy drivers and asks them to pull over for a rest via a coffee-cup icon; Nightview Assist PLUS, which uses infrared sensors to highlight unseen objects ahead on dark roads; Lane Keeping Assist, which alerts drivers wandering out of their driving lane and nudges them gently back on track; blind-spot alerts; adaptive cruise control; and automatic high beams.

Visibility is excellent in the S-Class, though parking safety's improved with the available rearview camera and front and rear parking sensors.

Automobile: night vision "reminds me too much of the bumper camera view on a racing video game"
Cars.com: night vision can see "almost 500 feet ahead of the car and display the view in the instrument panel"
Cars.com: "Pre-Safe can ready occupants for a collision"

10

2010 Mercedes-Benz S Class

Features

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class coddles and entertains passengers on a five-star, seven-diamond scale.

The 2010 S-Class hardly can be outdone in its exhaustive luxury and entertainment features. Even the "base" S550 has a wood and leather steering wheel; active ventilated and heated front seats; new wheels; ambient lighting and a power trunk lid. A sunroof is standard, along with a power tilt/telescope steering wheel; 14-way power heated front seats; and leather upholstery. The S400 Hybrid shares all this gear, minus the automatic high beams and front-seat ventilation.

Options include Active Body Control on rear-drive S550s; both S550s and the S400 Hybrid can be fitted with keyless entry and push-button start, better seats, parking sensors, and a rearview camera. Those features are made standard on the S600 and on the AMG sedans, which also wear 20-inch wheels, distinct aero-add-ons, and a sport-trimmed steering wheel.

Optional on the S400 Hybrid, S550, and S63 AMG are a rear-seat entertainment system; four-zone automatic climate control; and multicontour rear seats. All those features are standard on the S600 and S65 AMG.

Other features offered on various models include a heated steering wheel; a panoramic sunroof; and a power rear sunshade.

For 2010, the S-Class' audio and navigation systems have been upgraded to include Bluetooth; Sirius and HD radio; USB and SD ports; better voice recognition; 4GB of music storage; and Zagat travel information. They're still controlled by the COMAND screen-based interface. It's the most improved S-Class feature-and the most in need of improvement. The latest edition refines some of the knob-driven system's navigation, but it's not always as intuitive as it could be. We're not convinced it's a better idea than simple buttons and switches, either.

More Opinions:
Kelley Blue Book: Hybrid "driver can monitor power flow by way of an instrument cluster animation graphic"
Cars.com: COMAND is "one of the more user-friendly" interfaces
Kelley Blue Book: Splitview "allows the driver and the front passenger to view different content on the same screen at the same time"
Automobile: "I really hated Mercedes COMAND controller at first, but after a weekend, I'd say it's better than iDrive and much, much better than Audi's MMI"
Kelley Blue Book: "fine-sounding 14-speaker, 600-watt harman / kardon surround-sound system plays CDs, DVDs and MP3s"
Edmunds: "AMG versions add 20-inch alloy wheels, an active suspension, larger brakes, sport seats and specific interior and exterior styling tweaks"

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