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What shoppers want in a luxury flagship is actually quite different depending on whether they're merely affluent, very wealthy, or among the business elite--or whether they're looking to arrive in high style, make a green statement, or keep their luxury quite understated. The 2013 S Class lineup reflects that silver-spoon reality and has models for all of those image needs and luxury expectations, and packs it all with some of the top safety and in-car technology in the world.
Ranging from the efficiency of the S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC diesel sedan, or the new S400 Hybrid, to the ultraluxury performance of the $211,000-plus S65 AMG, the S-Class does encompass the one-percents seemingly in every way it can.
Although a redesign is still imminent--due next model year--the S Class carries into 2013 with seven different models, all with a different powertrain. And while the details are different between models, they share the familiar S Class shape that's been offered since the 2007 model year. It's one of the softest, most organic designs among large luxury sedans, although it's not nearly as sedate as that of the Lexus LS. And the living-room look inside does well in maintaining a relaxed feel--enhanced by the wide swath of beautiful wood trim.
Of all the distinct models that make up the S Class family, and the two most affordable have green appeal: 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.
With rear- or all-wheel drive, S 550 models have a 429-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 and a seven-speed automatic transmission, with real-world gas mileage nearly as good as the Hybrid's, in our experience. Ride and handling in these models rival anything in this class, except for the nimble-feeling XJ. that rival anything in the class save for the very small-driving Jaguar XJ. At the top of the range are the V-12 S 600, with 518 hp; the twin-turbo V-12 S 65 AMG, good for a 0-60 mph time of 4.2 seconds; and the S 63 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.
Interior packaging is pretty much the same regardless of which model you choose: supremely accommodating, with superb front seats, a spacious, well-designed cabin, and easy access for those in back. All U.S. S Class models are long-wheelbase versions, so even when you have the front seats back all the way, there's still enough back-seat legroom. Doors are long and open wide, so it feels limo-like. And ride quality is absorbent without ever feeling floaty, whether you get the active suspension system or the base air suspension.
And to make the cabin feel special, and worthy of the price, the S Class interior incorporates some impressive technology to aid the driving experience and improve comfort, but not distract. Active Body Control helps keep the ride composed, while items like multicontour seats help hold you in place and in comfort. COMAND, an interface that's still a bit involved and distracting, is the only exception.
The 2013 S Class offers all the traditional luxury and comfort features, plus modern tech extras, with highlights including a heated steering wheel; a panoramic sunroof; and a power rear sunshade. A sunroof is standard, along with a power tilt/telescope steering wheel; 14-way power heated front seats; and leather upholstery; S 400 Hybrid models have nearly as much, minus only the automatic high beams and front-seat ventilation. Even the S 550 has a wood and leather steering wheel; active ventilated and heated front seats; new wheels; ambient lighting and a power trunk lid. And this year, Mercedes-Benz has included active multi-contour front seats, Keyless Go, parking guidance, and a rearview camera in all S Class models.
- Fantastic multicontour seats
- High-speed poise
- Backseat space
- Scorching performance of AMG models
- As agile as smaller sedans
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- Price starts high, goes much higher
- Unintuitive COMAND menu system
- Conservative look and feel