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Whenever you see a shiny black Mercedes S-Class go by, the tendency of, as Leona Helmsley might say, the “Little People” is to gaze into the car to see who is driving it, or if the driver is wearing a chauffeur’s cap, who is sitting in the back seat.  As for me, I ask “what is it about these cars that make them look like they belong to the rich and famous?” It’s not the color. There are plenty of shiny black Chevy’s around and nobody gives them a second glance. Besides, the big Benz comes in lots of colors, not just black.  Maybe it’s the clean, graceful lines, or the tight-fitting body panels that make the car look like it was carved from a single block of polished granite. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s that three-pointed star on the hood, one of the most recognized trademarks in the world.

But people of means want more than just looks.  They want substance, and many of them also want exclusivity.  Well, the exclusivity part is easy, just put the price out of reach of the masses and you’ve got it.  But that substance part? That’s the kicker. 

Building a car that is more expensive than most cars on the road, but making it worth the money in every respect is what Mercedes engineers do best.  And the S-Class is their pride and joy. More effort and engineering creativity is lavished on these motorcars than just about any other. There are more expensive production cars than the Mercedes S-Class, but you would be hard-pressed to find anything better — at any price.  Such is the reputation of these fine automobiles.

, The Mercedes Benz S Class Road Test

In general, when a manufacturer designs a vehicle, compromises are usually required to fit the car into a certain price class.  If you want a car that handles well, you may have to sacrifice a soft ride, or if you want good gas mileage, you would use a smaller engine with fewer cylinders, but that would mean slower acceleration, more noise and less smoothness.  But if money were no object, the manufacturer can resolve a problem by just throwing cash at it. 

For example:

  • You want to make the car quieter, but still keep the weight down? Use exotic materials for the structure and insulation
  • You want to maintain a soft ride, but still have excellent handling characteristics? Just add an exotic computer-controlled active suspension system.
  • You want performance and fuel economy and smoothness at the same time?  throw in an exotic V12 engine, but only run it on 6 cylinders when cruising at light throttle.

How good can a car get when money is no object?  Let’s take a look.

Take a ride in an S-Class and you are immediately struck by the level of quality from the bank vault solidity to the expensive feel of the fine leather upholstery. The seats are exceptionally comfortable both front and back with tons of legroom for rear-seat passengers.

$70,000 to $120,000 Premium Luxury Sedan
Who should buy this car:     A person looking for the ultimate luxury sedan with all the status and class
that goes with it
Comparable cars in this class: BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Jaguar XJ
In a Nutshell: Dignified handling that borders on perfection, excellent, but composed ride, comfortable seats, brain-teaser navigation system, rear-seat legroom fit for a basketball all-star, lack of interior storage space, Plenty of smooth, effortless acceleration, imperceptible shifts from the 5-speed automatic, no wind noise to speak of, very little road noise, bank-vault solidity,

Door hardware feels like it will last forever and if you should close one of the doors with too light a hand, just wait a second and watch the door get sucked closed the rest of the way by the power door closers. 

The ignition key is made of plastic and doesn’t look like a key at all. There are no key cuts and one key looks exactly like another. When you put the narrow end of the plastic “key” in a matching slot on the dash, an infrared conversation takes place between the car and the key and, if they like each other, the car will start and everything else will come to life.  The art of lock picking is about to become a thing of the past.

The Mercedes Benz S-Class is a group of four distinct models, all of them 4-door sedans, that share the same body and, for the most part, look identical to the casual observer.  They are differentiated by a small badge on the trunk lid and in some cases, by different wheels and tires, but the primary difference separating these models is the engine.

The four models that make up the Mercedes Benz S-Class are:

  • The S430, the bargain of the lot at $72,515, comes with a silky smooth 4.3 Liter V8 producing 275 HP, more than enough power for comfortable, effortless cruising and adequate for all but the most power-hungry among us (of which there are many)
  • The S500 at $81,865, has a larger 5 Liter V8 with 302 HP and a few more standard features like Xenon HID Headlights and heated seats, both of which are optional on the S430
  • The S55 AMG at $101,165 is the sports sedan of the bunch with a powerhouse, hand-assembled  5.5 liter V8 engine producing 355 HP that is specially tuned for speed and power. The suspension and brakes are also upgraded for performance duty, with a few additional options thrown in to make the almost $20,000 premium over the S500 a bit more palatable.
  • The S600 at $117,565, is the ultimate “Money is no object” car with a 362 HP V12 engine that provides turbine-smooth acceleration with seemingly limitless power on tap.  The S600 is considered by many in the know to be the best car in the world. Sure, you can spend more, and you may get more exclusivity for that extra cash, but you won’t get a better car.

The prices shown are for the base car without options or the required Gas Guzzler Tax and there are plenty of options to choose from, but we’ll touch on that later.

The instrument panel of the big Benz is a gadget lover’s dream come true, but it is also a technophobe’s worst nightmare.  This is one area where more engineering needs to be done, especially in ergonomics, the science of making technology easy to use.  Sure, given time all the buttons, switches and displays with the strange symbols and multiple purposes will make sense, but not until after a commitment is made to pour through a couple of hard cover books and spend some quality time parked in the driveway with the car running.  To some, myself included, this would be considered an enjoyable journey of discovery, but I know people who would rather tape a picture of their family over the COMMAND display screen in the center of the dash and crank up their Walkman for entertainment as they drive to work.

Once you learn the operation of all the wonderful gadgets at your disposal, this car becomes a pleasure to drive.  You will know how to electrically fold the outside mirrors for added clearance in tight places, lengthen or shorten the seat cushion for maximum comfort, remotely retract the rear headrests for added visibility when backing up, change the radio station by voice command, set the wipers and lights to come on automatically when needed, switch the vanity mirrors on the sun visors from normal to magnifying, have the navigation system find an address anywhere in the country and take you there turn by turn, and have the car come to you from the far side of the parking lot when you whistle for it (just kidding about that last one).

, The Mercedes Benz S Class Road Test

That was only a partial list of the standard features found on all S-Class models.  Some of the options are quite the jaw droppers, from 4 zone climate control with individual temperature adjustments for all passengers with a window seat, to the radar cruise control where you set a speed and give the car its head.  The system will maintain the set speed unless there is a slower moving car ahead in which case it will slow down, maintaining a set distance, even if the car ahead applies brakes to slow down. The Benz will apply up to 20% braking and will beep at you if more is required.  You can almost hear it say “Get back in the driver’s seat! You are the one that is supposed to be driving”

Another option is front and rear parking sonar to give you advance warning when bumpers are about to kiss, or if there is a child standing behind the car when you are about to back up.  Then there is the Keyless Go option where the key is replaced by a credit card like transmitter that you never remove from your pocket or purse. You simply walk up to your car and as you approach, the doors magically unlock.  Then you simply press a button on top of the gear shift selector to start the car (no, this is not the ejector seat button). The same button also serves to shut the car off. 

Aside from the gadget-type options, there are also options like designer interiors with matching paint treatments that can add close to $10,000 to the price of your Benz and allow you to carry royalty without them wrinkling their nose at their surroundings.

This is a connoisseur’s car of the first magnitude.  The ride is magical in its smoothness on uneven, poorly paved roads.  If you opt for the ABC (Active Body Control) system, the ride improves and you get handling that will keep pace with many sports cars.  When you switch the ABC system to Sport Mode, the ride stiffens up slightly and cornering becomes almost completely flat. Another switch allows you to increase ground clearance to let you negotiate bad or snow-covered roads.

, The Mercedes Benz S Class Road Test

I took an S600 equipped with standard ABC on some winding back country roads that were poorly paved and, in some cases, banked the wrong way on the curves.  I wanted to see how fast I could go before this car would exhibit any undignified moves, but no matter how fast I pushed the big V-12, the only undignified moves came from my passenger who was no longer interested in seeing where the handling limits of this car were.

Despite the performance potential of these cars, most will be driven at no more than 10% of their potential, so it is important that ride and overall comfort are equally as impressive as their awesome performance envelope.   They definitely are. Inputs of the throttle, brakes and steering are precise, accurate and smooth, giving the driver a sense of security and control that is as good as anything I have driven. Despite the compliant ride, there is no sense of float or instability no matter what kind of road surface I threw at it.

It doesn’t matter which of the four models that you choose, you will get that vault-like structure the Mercedes S-Class is famous for as well as a comfortable but stable ride with virtually no wind noise.  Road noise is dependant on which model you choose and the tires that come with the package. The S55-AMG comes with aggressive performance rubber that grips the road like the tires were dipped in Crazy Glue, but at the expense of road noise transmitted into the cabin.  The S55-AMG also has an exhaust note coming from the large chrome pipes protruding from under the rear bumper and they make no secret of this car’s adventurous nature.

, The Mercedes Benz S Class Road Test

The S-Class is very quiet overall, but not quite as silent as the benchmark Lexus LS430.  However, any sound that the big Benz emits has a rich, soothing quality that serves to enhance the owner’s experience rather than detract from it.

The S600 interior is a bit more upscale than the rest with surfaces like the dash, rear package tray, console, and door armrests, typically covered in molded vinyl, are instead covered in finely stitched leather.  Even the headliner is special with a suede-like material called Alcantara, that feels, looks and is expensive. And there is still the optional “designo” interior package that will add over $7,000 to the S600’s six-figure price tag.

There are actually two designo packages and they are available on all S-Class models.  The designo Espresso Edition and the designo Silver Edition. The Expresso Edition features a special Mocha Black paint and brown Napa Leather seats and hand-shaped and finished natural elmwood trim, while the SilverEdition uses a special Silver paint treatment with Shell Leather seats and Natural Maple wood.

However you option an S-Class out, these cars are a class act that will give new appreciation for the state of the art in automotive design, engineering and craftsmanship.  They also will make an unmistakable statement about your station in life. For better or worse, this car tells the world that you have arrived. 

How would I improve this car?

  • Replace the COMMAND system with something more intuitive (like the one from the Lexus)
  • Move to a DVD based navigation system
  • Move the 6-disk cd changer to the dash

How does the S-Class fit your driving style? 

Conservative drivers This is as good as it gets.  Smooth absolute control, all the power you’ll ever need even on the S430   A comfortable back seat with a ballroom floor 

Sporty drivers Handling and stopping power is as good as it gets for a sedan, (or any car for that matter)   Opt for the Sport Package if the best is still not good enough.

Fast drivers will think they died and went to heaven (assuming they are sensible drivers and don’t actually wind up there).  The S55 AMG is the ultimate car for this driver and will give you near Corvette like performance without sacrificing the comfort of a luxury sedan.


  S430 S500 S55 AMG S600
Engine Type 4.3-liter V8, 5.0-liter V8, 5.5-liter V8, 5.8-liter V12,
SOHC 24-valve. (3 Valve per cylinder) dual spark plugs & dual coils per cylinder, high-pressure die-cast alloy cylinder block, alloy heads.
Horsepower 275 @ 5,500 RPM 302 @ 5,500 RPM 355 @ 5,500 RPM 362 @ 5,500 RPM
Torque 295 lb-ft @ 3,000-4,000 RPM 339 lb-ft @ 3,000-4,000 RPM 391 @ 3000 RPM 391 @ 4100 RPM
Fuel Recommended        Premium 91 Octane Unleaded.
Transmission Electronic 5-speed automatic with driver-adaptive control.
Tires – Standard 225/60R16 98H, all-season, front & rear 225/60R16 98H, all-season, front & rear 245/45RYR18 Front & 275/40 YR18 rear 225/55R17 97H front & rear
Tires – Sport 245/45RYR18 Front & 275/40 YR18 rear 245/45RYR18 Front & 275/40 YR18 rear   245/45RYR18 Front & 275/40 YR18 rear
Overall Length     203.1″
Wheelbase 121.5″
Width 73.1″
Turning Diameter 37.7 ft Curb to Curb 37.7 ft Curb to Curb 39.7 ft Curb to Curb 37.7 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 4,133 lbs. 4,133 lbs. 4,186 lbs. 4,488 lbs.
Fuel Tank 22.2 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon EPA city 17,


hwy 24. 

EPA city 16,


hwy 23. 

EPA city 16,


hwy 23. 

EPA city 15,


hwy 22. 

Acceleration 0 to 60 6.9 Seconds 6.1 Seconds 5.7 Seconds 5.9 Seconds
Base Sticker Price $71,850 plus $645 destination charge $80,200 plus $645 destination charge & $1,000 gas guzzler tax $99,500 plus $645 destination charge  & $1,000 gas guzzler tax $115,200 plus $645 destination charge & $1,700 gas guzzler tax

Mercedes Benz S-Class Rear Wheel Drive Premium Luxury Sedan

Standard Equipment – All Models

  • 5-speed Automatic Transmission with manual control
  • Airmatic Air Suspension with Adaptive Damping System (ADS)
  • Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
  • Automatic Slip Control (ASR)
  • Premium Leather Upholstery
  • 14 Way Power Driver and Front Passenger Seats, each with 3 Position Memory
  • 4-way (tilt/telescoping) power steering column
  • Dual Zone Climate Control – driver and front passenger
  • Hand-polished Calyptus wood trim on dash, console, doors and shift gate.
  • COMAND Cockpit Management and Data system integrates navigation, Bose AM/FM stereo/weather band radio, concealed autoreverse cassette player, and controls for CD changer and phone with a 5″ color-LCD in-dash screen.
  • CD navigation system
  • TeleAid telecommunications service
  • Pneumatic door and trunk closing assist
  • headlamp high-pressure washers
  • power retractable mirrors
  • Front and rear ventilated disc brakes

The S500 Adds:

  • Glove-soft Nappa leather seating surfaces. Premium leather on the remainder of seats, center armrests and door trim inserts.
  • Hand-polished Burl walnut trim on dash, console, doors and shift gate
  • Heated Seats, Front
  • Xenon High-Intensity Discharge Headlamps
, The Mercedes Benz S Class Road Test

The S55 AMG Adds:

  • 355 HP 5.5-Liter Engine Hand-Assembled by AMG
  • Active Body Control(ABC) with automatic Level Control and Sport Mode
  • Sport Package includes AMG Monoblock 18-inch alloy wheels & High-Performance Tires
  • AMG Aerodynamic Enhancements incl. Front Spoiler and Special Aero Rocker Panels
  • Trunk Mounted 6-disk CD Changer
  • Active Ventilated/Multicontour Front Seats with Massage feature
  • Larger Brakes

The S600 Adds:

  • Fine Stitched Leather covering for the Dash, Package Tray, Console, and doors
  • Wood and Leather Steering Wheel and Shift Knob
  • Suede-Like Alcantara Headliner
  • Four Heated and Power-Operated Seats,
  • Four-Zone Climate Control
  • Digital Cellular Phone with Voice Control
  • Parktronic Sonar Parking Assist Front & Rear
, The Mercedes Benz S Class Road Test

Major Available Options

  • Xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps
  • Active Body Control (ABC) Suspension
  • 4-Zone Climate Control
  • Active Ventilated Rear Seats
  • Distronic Adaptive Cruise Control
  • Electronic Trunk Closer
  • Four Place Multicontour Power Seating Package
  • Heated Rear Seats
  • Keyless Go
  • Parktronic Sonar Parking Assist System
  • Power Rear Seats
  • Rear Side Window Roller Shades
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System
  • Sport Package
  • Comfort Package
  • Designo Espresso Edition
  • Designo Silver Edition

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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