Shopping for a new Mercedes-Benz S Class?
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PERFORMANCE | 9 out of 10
a performance treat
passing power is particularly impressive
fuel economy is slightly less than its contemporaries
Kelley Blue Book
feels smaller than it is, even if we wouldn't exactly call it athletic
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.
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"
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class gives you a choice in driving personality: Mother Nature, Mother Lode, or one bad mother.