Released in 1992, the Mercedes-Benz S Class could arguably be one of the last cars built to the 'the best or nothing' motto. The sheer presence, vault-like build quality and incredible attention to detail command it to being a car almost like no other. It was referred to as 'the cathedral on wheels' when it first came out by the press – a result of the US$1 billion development costs that changed the automotive landscape.
I had always been curious to own an example of these and had the opportunity to grab one for a fantastic price. The sheer presence of the car cannot be understated, since it was designed to compete against the Rolls Royce and Bentleys of the era.
Nearly two metres wide and over five metres long (in short wheelbase form, too!) it certainly makes an impression wherever you drive. Compared to its sleek predecessor W126 (which I have also had the pleasure of owning), the W140, while not traditionally 'elegant', set the luxury benchmark to a new level – this level of craftmanship and engineering was a key reason as to why I wanted to own one.
The lengths Mercedes-Benz went to beat the competition was unparalleled at the time. An example of the relentless pursuit of perfection is the double glazed windows – a 3mm air gap between two panes of glass to minimise condensation and to help with sound insulation.
The self closing vacuum system (Mercedes-Benz believed the electronics at the time were too unreliable and noisy, hence vacuum operated switches) in shutting the enormous doors, while holding down the remote button auto opens/shuts the sunroof and windows.
Further creature comforts extend to power front seats with electric steering adjustment and even electrically adjustable rear view mirror – all tied into your memory settings! When the driver places the gear selector into Reverse, two little aerials extend from the boot corners so that you know where your edges are. My sound system still retains the original Bose speakers, however the head unit has been updated to a Sony unit to support Bluetooth connectivity and USB charging to keep up with the times.
The engineering extends to the way the car drives, sitting solid at 100km/h on the M7 across Sydney – no indication of wander or roughness, soaking up bumps and eating up highway kilometres with a gentle waft.
Handling around bends and twists is reassuring, and belies what a car this size should be able to do. The double pane glass keeps out the vast majority of the wind and tyre noise, while opening the sunroof elicits barely a breeze or noise at highway speeds, a testament to the amount of thought that went into this vehicle.
While I can argue the vehicle is a monument to German engineering prowess, my 22-year-old example is not without its pitfalls – some due to age, others from decisions made in Stuttgart.
The transmission, a four-speed type sits at 2700rpm at 100km/h and nearly 3000rpm at 110km/h – coming from a BA Ford Fairlane and BMW 745i, it's quite surprising to cruise at such high revs for a large limousine. The norm for my other cars is around the 2000 mark – a fifth gear was added in 1995 with automatic torque clutch lock-up to alleviate this.
Given the high revving nature of the M104 inline-six on the motorway, the fuel consumption for such a heavy car is surprisingly good. Out of an average 90-litre tank of Premium 95 fuel (100-litre capacity), my range fluctuates between 730 to 820km – an average of 11-12L/100km.
While a solid engine, the 3.2-litre in front can feel a little lethargic and to wring all the power you need to sink the boot or drop it a gear to move the two-tonne beast with haste.