The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the car that other limos benchmark themselves against, and for good reason.
As the flagship Mercedes sedan, the S-Class is a technological tour-de-force that’s introduced significant firsts since it was introduced in 1972.
Technology including airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability control and radar cruise control are all innovations the model has introduced over its lifespan and are incorporated into the latest model. It wraps its breakthroughs in an elegant body, a luxurious leather interior and combines it with a world-class driving experience.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has a strong presence with bold bi-xenon adaptive headlamps and elegant lines. It’s a massive car that measures more than five metres long and is 1.87m wide, but it’s on par with both its BMW and Audi rivals. The styling is conservative, yet by no means bland, and it’s instantly recognisable as a member of the Mercedes stable.
You’ll find one of the most luxurious cabins of any car on sale when you open the S-Class’s sturdy doors, but it’s also one of the highest quality. Push any one of the dash buttons and it feels strong and well made, while there’s also the Mercedes Comand infotainment system, with its eight-inch colour display operated by the silver dial mounted in the centre console. It feels excellent to rotate, with a solid clicking feel, as do the steering-column mounted stalks.
The systems are well designed, too, with the cruise control, for example, one of the simplest to operate of any car at any price. The sat-nav is simple to operate and has clean, clear graphics, while there’s also Gracenote hard-drive music storage as well as Bluetooth and iPod connectivity.
It’s also extremely quiet, with double-glazing for the side glass and almost no wind noise as you glide along, even at freeway speeds. Regardless of which engine you choose, the S-Class is so well insulated that you won’t hear it at cruising speeds.
The front seats – which have a massaging function as well as adjustable bolsters to hold you in – are both well made and supportive, with masses of adjustment. The steering column is electrically adjustable, so a good driving position is easy to set up, while rear passengers benefit from loads of legroom, with long wheelbase versions able to accommodate the tallest of occupants.
You may expect such as luxurious car to handle poorly, but the Mercedes-Benz S-Class tackles a winding road with aplomb. It doesn’t feel heavy or cumbersome, even with the smaller engines, as the air suspension delivers one of, if not the most comfortable of rides, making the S-Class the benchmark for luxury cabins.
There are three modes – Comfort, Sport and Efficiency – which alter the body roll and suspension softness, while also changing the shift pattern of the seven-speed automatic transmission.
If you choose the either the S63 or S65 AMG versions, there’s a Sports Plus setting that takes firmness a step further to turn the S-Class into a genuine sports sedan. The electronic air suspension comes into its own around corners, adjusting according to steering input, speed and body angles to firm up and soften the chassis when needed. There's minimal body roll and a good change of direction, while the steering is accurate and the brakes are strong across the range.
The pick of the range isn’t one of the V8s, which offers 386kW in the S63 AMG, or the flagship 463kW V12-powered S65. The 3.0-litre V6 diesel in the S350 BlueTEC, with 190kWbhp and 620Nm of torque, may not be as fast as these but it’s brisk, smooth and economical with an impressive 7.0L/100km to make it the best all-round performer. There’s also a 3.5-litre petrol V6 with 225kW, but the diesel’s torque makes it a smoother drive.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is also big on safety features, with eight airbags and fatigue monitors to prevent the driver falling asleep. There’s also radar cruise control, as well as Emergency Brake Assist, Lane Departure Warning and slow-speed collision avoidance systems to make it arguably one of the safest cars in the world.
Practicality is impressive, too, with details such as the ‘step-less stops’ that allow the door to remain open at any angle. There’s also a 560-litre boot, which is bigger than that offered in the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 and the Jaguar XJ, but the rear seats don’t fold down which limits its versatility.
The S-Class may be the benchmark, but it’s also more expensive than its rivals. The BMW 7 Series starts at around $7000 less, with both costing more than the Audi A8, which is newer and has more up-to-date infotainment including its own wireless hotspot.
Still, the S-Class remains the standard in its class, with technology, comfort, quality and status that its rivals are yet to match.
An all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class launches in 2013.