The Mercedes-Benz S-Class continues to represent the pinnacle of technological inclusions and motoring design. The V12 S600L sits at the top of the pile.
But assessing a limousine of this nature is not a matter of whether you actually need one, it’s a matter of why you would buy one if you had the means.
The S-Class range itself isn’t for the faint of heart or light of wallet. Forgetting the AMG variants, there’s a broad range of variants and price points to choose from if you’re a well-heeled businessman or perhaps even a family buyer wanting to ferry the kids around in what remains the ultimate expression of luxury in sedan form.
There’s the S300 Hybrid ($196,500 plus on-road costs), the S350 BlueTec ($216,700), the S350L BlueTec ($224,200), the S400L ($321,300), the S500 ($286,600), the S500L ($311,800) and this, the S600L, which starts from an eye-watering $417,500.
Taking the head-kicking AMG variants out of the equation, the 600L we have here is the best of the best in the ‘normal’ S-Class range.
Comparison seems somewhat futile given the S-Class remains the clear benchmark for this kind of vehicle. The S600L’s most logical opponent is the BMW 760Li, which starts at $391,175.
Our test vehicle is optioned up with the warmth comfort package ($1150), designo black piano lacquer trim ($4125), Burmester high-end 3D surround sound ($9900) and heat insulating dark tinted glass ($900). That brings the grand total of our test S600L to a whopping $430,605.
As you’d expect, the S-Class range is loaded with the best of everything, and the 600L sitting atop the model tree even more so. Key standard features for our test model include the Air Balance package and the revered Magic Body Control active suspension system.
The S600L also gets head-up display, magic vision control, heated windscreen washer, Night View Assist Plus and Pre-Safe. Seat Heating Plus looks after the driver, passenger and the two outer rear seats while Splitview and a six-disc CD/DVD changer takes care of the entertainment.
It’s hard to argue the case for a vehicle costing more than 400 large when the sibling that comes in under 200 grand will do effectively the same job. That said, the private buyer with the means to purchase an S-Class won’t want to be seen in the same variant as every hire car driver in town, and there’s a special sense of theatre that comes with the knowledge you have a V12 engine under the bonnet.
There is a small group of Benz buyers who will accept nothing less, as the company told us recently.
What an engine it is too. The bi-turbo 5980cc 12-cylinder delivers a silky smooth 390kW and 830Nm. It’s not entirely relevant in this class but nonetheless, the S600L is rapid – 0-100km/h comes up in 4.6 seconds. Peak torque is available between a low 1900 and 4000rpm, meaning you can use the surge of grunt from the big V12 to get up to speed easily. Roll-on overtaking on the freeway barely wakes the engine from its tick over slumber.
Drive comes via a 7G Tronic seven-speed gearbox to the rear wheels. There’s stop/start as standard, and running on 98 RON, Mercedes-Benz quotes an ADR combined figure of 11.3L/100km. On test, we covered just over 300km and the indicated figure was 20L/100km – perversely not too bad for a beast the size of the S600L. As a rough comparison, the S600L was more efficient around town than the HSV Maloo GTS I tested late last year.
Unlike other markets, the Australian buyer profile for S-Class is somewhat unique, with Mercedes-Benz reporting that the overwhelming majority of owners drive their own vehicle rather than being driven by a chauffeur. That means here, more than anywhere, there’s special emphasis on the driving experience.
So what’s it like from behind the wheel? Soothing. It’s a soft word yes, but it really is a calming experience driving the S600L. Traffic and idiotic drivers don’t seem to annoy you as much when you’re cruising around town in such comfort and insulation. There’s no doubt that professional drivers would covet the S-Class as the ultimate ‘office’. The cabin is so quiet, you don’t need the impressive audio system blaring to hear your music. Even at a low volume you can hear every nuance of your favourite album.
Wind noise, road noise, and even general traffic noise from the maelstrom around you are non-events, and you’re left to simply appreciate the quality of the vehicle you’re controlling. The cabin is luxurious as you’d expect, but every element is beautifully executed, fit and finish is near perfect and every surface you come into contact with is trimmed to the highest standard. The boot is a bit small, though.
Driving a few family members and friends around over a week behind the wheel, we noted their feedback on the back seat experience left yours truly wondering whether hiring a driver might be a better option, if you had the means for such a car. Reclined in the sumptuous seat, window shade up, entertainment playing on the crystal clear screen, wireless headphones taking care of the audio, there’s a lot to like about the ‘back seat experience’ in an S-Class. With the backrest reclined and the seat base tilted as well, you can imagine drifting off to sleep on a longer drive quite easily.
On the other side of the coin, read an interview with any corporate high flyer and the recurring bugbear is time – or lack thereof. Now, a vehicle is more than just a mode of transport in much the same way as air travel is fast becoming online at all times. With the Wi-Fi hotspot feature, the S600L is a genuine office on wheels for the businessman or woman needing to work on the move. Connect your device and you’re ready to work. The Mercedes-Benz system is fast and reliable, likewise the Bluetooth telephone system and audio streaming.
The S-Class offers up a level of technicality that few brands can match and as such, it will take you (no matter how technologically adept you might be) quite some time to figure out all the menu systems and various controls that monitor the vehicle. The menu system is easy enough to access via the huge central screen, but you will frequently find yourself forgetting exactly where a feature was once you’ve worked it out. The ambient lighting for example, is easy to control, but I had to stop and think the first few times I wanted to go back into the menu system to adjust it.
The driver's screen, which is as big as the control screen next to it, supremely easy to read and customisable to suit whatever display the driver prefers. Some might lament the absence of traditional gauges in the modern car, but the S-Class is an example of everything that’s great about the technological shift.
Make no mistake that the S600L is a big vehicle physically. There’s nothing diminutive about the S-Class whichever way you look at it. With that said though, it doesn’t feel quite as big as it is from the driver’s seat. There’s a lightness and deftness to the controls, the steering is perfectly weighted and well balanced and the V12 engine delivers a serious turn of speed. Off the mark especially, the big engine can get the S-Class away from the lights rapidly.
The active suspension system is a revelation in real world terms. The S-Class manages to deliver on the promise of a proper luxury ride – exactly what buyers and passengers at this end of the market expect. Front or back seat, driver or passenger, you’re never uncomfortable. Selecting the optional ‘Sport’ mode sharpens up the throttle response and the steering too, in addition to firming up the ride. It’s never uncomfortable, even when you shift into this mode, though Economy mode is cushier.
This review started by saying that no one needs a Mercedes-Benz S600L. While that remains the case after a week behind the wheel, it doesn’t mean it's hard not to want one. It’s an exceptional vehicle that showcases everything the German marque is capable of and it remains the pinnacle of the luxury sedan segment.
While there’s no doubt that other variants in the range do the same thing for a lot less money, the S600L is the S-Class you’d buy if money were no object. The monster engine and inclusion of every gizmo and gadget you can think of makes it hard to resist. The S-Class remains as good as it gets in this segment and the S600L is the ultimate expression of the ultimate luxury sedan.
The S-Class Owners Speak
During the course of my week behind the wheel, I sat down with two long-term S-Class owners to get their feedback on the new 600L. I also wanted to get an insight into what drives the buying decision for real world owners.
Both are private, family buyers who occasionally drive business colleagues around, although the focus is mainly on family. One is onto his third S-Class, the other three years into the ownership experience of his first. They are also dyed in the wool large sedan owners too, having worked through a variety of sedans including a Holden Statesman Caprice (both owners) before working their way up to the S-Class.
I found it interesting that both owners also insisted that S-Class ownership is as much about the technological prowess of the model as it is the real-world driving experience – the S-Class has always been at the forefront of motoring tech, and it seems owners know and are attracted to that.
Both commented on the reliability and the Mercedes-Benz service experience first up, in that they wouldn’t hesitate to buy this new S-Class if it still suited their needs. “It’s important when you spend this much money, that the dealer actually cares about the customer,” one said.
Both agreed that ‘lesser’ S-Class models – the S350L BlueTec for one and the S500L for the other – were the smarter purchase, although the S600L appealed due to its range topping status and the likelihood there won’t be many on the road. “The V12 badges give it a sense of exclusivity," one said.
The driving experience is definitely a factor for both owners (given neither has a driver), but above and beyond that there’s the cabin experience as a whole. Both loved the S600L’s whisper quiet cabin either up front or in the back seat, and the way the S-Class manages to waft along the road regardless of how poor the surface is beneath it.
Interestingly, both owners commented on the rear seat screens not being as ‘integrated’ as they would like. That minor gripe aside though, the cabin received praise for everything else.
The new S-Class definitely left a positive impression with perhaps its toughest audience – existing owners. The most resounding message I was left with as I drove away, was that they would both like to see the S-Class continue to set the standard in the luxury limousine segment as it has done for so long now.