The mainstream model of the lineup is S550, powered by a 382-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8. It comes with a seven-speed automatic and either rear- or all-wheel drive, and can spool up to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds. But for those looking for something not only better-performing, but more exclusive, there's the (circa $150k) rear-drive S600, its 510-hp twin-turbo V-12, its 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds, and its peaceful whir during any sort of ordinary commuting. The V-12's automatic has manual-shift programming and the engine is so torquey that it hardly needs to be worried with shifting, but its transmission has only five gears instead of seven.
Either of these S-Class models handle quite well—and probably considerably better than you might think; and that's at least in part due to a host of electronics. 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. We would advise, though that the electric power steering in the S550 feels somewhat lifeless compared to the hydraulic-boost system that other versions get. In any case, there's plenty of feedback when you're rounding tight corners at speed, but little 'feel' of the road; the steering's weighting is just a little too artificial.
For those craving a near exotic-car level of performance (and exclusivity), but with practicality that's on par with other S-Class models, there are two blistering AMG models. The S63 AMG installs the in-house tuner's 6.2-liter V-8 worth 518 hp, and a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds, while the S65 AMG, topping $200k, throttles the turbo V-12 for a stupendous 604 hp, twists out a 4.3-second time from 0-60 mph, and hurtles on to a limited top end of 186 mph. The S63 uses the same seven-speed automatic as the S550, while the S65 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. These AMG cars are more different than ever at high speed and on a twisty road because AMG has reworked the electronics for the Active Body Control and employed a torque-vectoring system for quicker turn-in and a more confident corner exit.
The Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid, which was new last year, provides the slowest performance of any model in the S-Class lineup, but its fuel economy figures, of up to 25 mpg highway, are a much better fit for the socially conscious. The Hybrid 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 (about 7.2 seconds to 60). It's a mild hybrid system, but the S400 Hybrid can run on electric power only at low speeds and shuts of the engine sometimes at stoplights.