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The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a utility player. That sounds odd to the mass market, but for the very wealthy, the S-Class covers a wide range of needs, everything from the efficiency of the $92,000-plus S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC diesel sedan to the ultraluxury performance of the $211,000-plus S65 AMG. It's a range that encompasses the one-percents of all kinds, from celebrities to CEOs.
This year, in spite of an imminent redesign, the S-Class gets no fewer than three new powertrains and new features to go with the shape that's been with it since the 2007 model year. The look's not quite as edgy as the Jaguar XJ, nor as sedate as that of the Lexus LS--and in truth it's had to grow on us over the years. The same cues knit together better on the smaller CLS Class, we think, but they've aged well on the S-Class, even more so inside, where the living-room aesthetic plays up a relaxed feel accentuated by a wide wave of wood trim.
Six distinct models make up the S-Class family. Two are green-tinged: there's the S400 Hybrid, which blends batteries, motors, and V-6 power for seven-second acceleration to 60 mph and 25-mpg highway fuel economy, though powertrain integration just isn't as smooth as the superior S350 BlueTEC turbodiesel, which rates 31 mpg highway, and offers about the same acceleration, though it has standard all-wheel drive. The mainstream S550, with rear- or all-wheel drive, now has a 429-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 and a seven-speed automatic with gas mileage as good as the Hybrid's, in our experience, and ride and handling that rival anything in the class save for the very small-driving Jaguar XJ. At the top of the range are the V-12 S600, with 518 hp; the twin-turbo V-12 S65 AMG, good for a 0-60 mph time of 4.2 seconds; and the S63 AMG, just a tick slower, and outfitted with a twin-turbo, 5.5-liter V-8 with up to 560 horsepower and stop-start technology that keeps gas mileage as high as 21 mpg highway.Regardless of which powertrain you choose, you get essentially the same interior packaging. And that means you get superbly accommodating front seats, a spacious, well-designed cabin, and easy access and entry for those in back, too. All S-Class variants here in the U.S. are long-wheelbase versions—meaning that even with the front seats back all the way, there's still enough back-seat space, and doors open wide for easy access; it's truly limo-like. Whether you get the active suspension system or the base air suspension, the S-Class will soak up even the roughest washboard surfaces or potholed city streets without ever feeling floaty.
Interior tech is among the best in any vehicle, with a number of features aiding, not distracting the driving experience. Active Body Control aids ride and performance, while items like multicontour seats help hold you in place and in comfort. One of the few exceptions is COMAND, an interface that's still a bit involved and distracting—and less intuitive than the systems from most other luxury automakers.
In addition to tech features, traditional luxury and comfort features are here in full force—including a heated steering wheel; a panoramic sunroof; and a power rear sunshade. Even the 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.
- High-speed poise
- Fantastic multicontour seats
- Vast backseat space
- Exotic performance of AMG models
- The agility of a smaller sedan
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- Very, very pricey
- COMAND controller
- Too conservative for some