- Forceful, smooth powertrains
- A true first-class seating experience
- Attention to the finest details
- Available all-wheel drive
- More safety features than ever
- Steering lacks feedback
- Hybrid drives heavy
Coupe, Cabriolet, and Maybach versions—and even a Plug-In Hybrid—make the 2016 Mercedes-Benz S-Class far more diverse and adventurous than it used to be; it's now not just a flagship sedan, but a family of flagships.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is no longer the flagship of the German automaker's lineup; it's a complex set of flagships, with coupe, cabriolet (convertible), and sedan versions, and powertrains including all-wheel drive versions, high-performance AMG versions, and even a new S550e plug-in hybrid.
Although not everyone will pick the same model, or the same build, the S-Class remains the one to get when you value technology, engineering, and some of the most advanced active safety and occupant protection in the world—perhaps a bit more than lavish, hand-crafted displays of wealth and "bespoke" exclusivity.
Last year a new coupe joined the lineup; and for 2016 there's an S-Class Cabriolet, including an excellent three-layer soft top, a wondrously complex climate-control system, and the much-loved Airscarf system, which wafts just the right amount of warm air to your neck, allowing you to enjoy chilly yet beautiful spring or fall (or winter) days. And yes, even the cabriolet can now be equipped with all-wheel drive.
The coupe remains a stunner, flaunting a striking profile and a unique roofline compared to the sedan. Details are familiar but bolder, with arching character lines that look crisper, and a tauter, more horizontal look to the rear styling. In front, the S-Class Coupe gets details that are much like those of the Sedans, with a more upright, broad-set grille, angular full-LED headlamps (which can host 47 Swarovski crystals), and large air intakes.
Inside, the coupe and sedan are more in sync, although they're not identical. We'd say it's the same design in the Coupe, only mapped to a slimmer form. In both cases, it's radically different than the layout of the previous, fifth-generation S-Class, with a clean, twin-tier horizontal look adorned with high-contrast materials, round vents, and more brightwork and accents.
The S550 models have a twin-turbocharged 4.6-liter V-8 engine, teamed to a 7-speed automatic with paddle shift controls and a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive (dubbed 4Matic) for sedans, or all-wheel-drive only for coupes. These models make 449 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque, and It's the epitome of a luxury-flagship powertrain, an effortless performer, in tandem with the standard air suspension.
One of the best—among the S-Class' many features—is the available stereo camera that predicts the road surface ahead of the S-Class, giving it adaptive control over the ride quality in a way that works so well (provided it's in Comfort mode) that it feels rather magical.
While the S-Class was first launched in just one guise: the S550, with a twin-turbo V-8, it's been joined by a high-performance S63 AMG 4Matic model, and flagship S600 and S65 AMG models. The S63 AMG gets a larger, 5.5-liter twin-turbo V-8, making 577 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque (and all-wheel drive)—and the quickest 0-60 mph acceleration in the lineup, at 3.9 seconds—while the rear-wheel drive S65 AMG has a twin-turbo V-12 making 621 hp and 738 lb-ft.
The new S-Class Coupe in particular emphasizes driving enjoyment, though its luxury-first nature dissuades you from sports car-style shenanigans.
And there is, by the way, another model that takes off in a dramatically different direction. The Mercedes-Maybach S600, priced around $190,000 to start, brings an opulent look aiming at Rolls-Royce, pushes all of the technology and feature buttons at once, and adds 8 inches in total length for a truly limousine-like cabin.
Meanwhile, the S550e Plug-In Hybrid offers a fresh take on the S-Class family, to please those who might want to impress their dinner guests with all-electric motoring, perhaps, if for short distances. The S550 will go for 12 miles in all-electric mode, and with an 85-kw electric motor system packaged with the transmission, its powertrain makes a combined 436 horsepower and it can dash to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. Or in "normal" driving, it'll return 26 mpg combined.
For those who would rather be driven, the First Class Rear Suite option for sedan models is just that—as close as you'll come to the front of the plane while you're riding in the back of the car. If anything, the finishes used in the S-Class are more beautifully crafted than ever. The tiny knobs that control its round vents aren't as sensually pleasing as the chrome pulls on a Bentley, but the quilted leather dash and silver-toned trim are as glamorous as anything Mercedes has ever made.
In many respects, the S-Class is aiming to be a little more charming this time, to counter the stoicism we can count on it to have, generation after another. Inside, this new approach is most evident, and it takes a real cynic to find fault with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class' passenger comforts. The ergonomics are occasionally fiddly, yet you'll find superb front seats, easy access for those in back, and a fillip of first-class accoutrements.
From blind spots to surround-views, there are camera and/or radar sensors for everything, it seems. The adaptive cruise control can steer its way along in stop-and-go traffic, or order a stop from a brisk pace when it senses a pedestrian or an animal in the road. Don't expect it to be tested by either of the U.S. safety agencies, but do expect these models to have some of the best real-world records for protection, as it's always been.
The whole Mercedes lineup has become less and less clinical, and in these latest models it's taken a new, very plush form. The new S-Class' pillowed, scented, remote-controlled, app-enabled, silver-graced cabin is its most sensually appealing ever. Every cubic inch is filled with systems to nurture passengers, and it's fitted with reclining rear seats, airline-style work trays, dual, 12.3 high-resolution screens for the driver and the car's infotainment systems. The seats have a warm-stone massage mode; Burmester sound systems are a pricey but achingly gorgeous upgrade.
On the new S-Class Cabriolet, you'll find many of the same features, but most notably the excellent AirScarf neck-level heating system—a must for any chilly spring or fall day when you want to put the top down.
The primary gasoline version in the lineup, the S550, scores 17 mpg city, 26 highway, 20 combined, according to the EPA. Add 4Matic all-wheel drive and the score drops just slightly to 16/26/19 mpg for the sedan; the S550 4Matic Coupe rates 16/24/19 mpg.