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In-depth reviews

Mercedes S-Class saloon - Engines, drive & performance

Plentiful power and sophisticated air suspension makes the big Mercedes effortlessly fast

Carbuyer Rating

4.5 out of 5

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Engines, drive & performance Rating

4.5 out of 5

The Mercedes S-Class has always been a pioneer, introducing features like advanced anti-lock brakes and adaptive cruise control. The new model is little different, being at the forefront of technology like Level 3 autonomous driving, where the driver can take their hands off the steering wheel on the motorway – where legally permitted.

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For now, we can only judge what it's like to drive with both hands on the wheel. It's certainly quiet, largely thanks to the attention Mercedes has paid to the car's aerodynamics, helping it cut cleanly through the air. Handling also impresses because the S-Class feels surprisingly agile for such a large vehicle. It has precise steering and almost no body lean, but the standard version feels tuned first and foremost for comfort. The only negative is the occasional thud from the large alloy wheels if you hit a pothole.

When driving quickly, the optional active body control (ABC) system helps keep the S-Class from pitching. The biggest change for this generation, though, is the four-wheel steering. This technology is available on quite a few cars and SUVs, but none have anything like the 10 degrees of rear steering of the S-Class - affording it the same turning circle as a Mercedes A-Class

Mercedes S-Class diesel engines

Mercedes is still expecting diesels to be popular in the S-Class, and the range starts with the S 350 d in rear-wheel drive. Like every S-Class, a nine-speed automatic gearbox is standard. With 308bhp, even the slowest S-Class is no slouch, breezing from 0-62mph in just 5.6 seconds. 

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Using the same 3.0-litre straight-six diesel, but more highly tuned, the 362bhp S 400 d manages the same in five seconds and every S-Class is electronically limited to 155mph. Its refinement is perhaps even more impressive than its performance; despite feeling faster than a lot of petrol engines, it's quieter than some of them too.

Petrol engines

The S 500 4MATIC petrol was the most potent version from launch, with 442bhp thanks to its turbocharged engine – yet it has less pulling power than the S 450 d: 560Nm versus 750Nm for the diesel. Regardless, it still gets to 62mph from rest in 4.7 seconds.

Hybrid engines

While it wasn’t available from launch, we wouldn’t be surprised if the S 580 e plug-in hybrid becomes the most desirable S-Class on sale. It’s powered by a 3.0-litre petrol engine with 362bhp and a 148bhp electric motor, so despite being long-wheelbase as standard, it can get from 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds.

If being sensible isn’t your top priority, then there’s also the plug-in hybrid Mercedes-AMG S 63 e Performance. This replaces the regular petrol engine with a highly-tuned 4.0-litre V8 with two turbochargers, along with an electric motor. Combined power is a heady 792bhp, slashing its 0-62mph time to 3.3 seconds, and making this the quickest S-Class ever sold.

Speed isn’t everything, though, and the S 63 e Performance we tested had occasional hesitations as the car juggled power from the V8 engine, electric motor and nine-speed automatic gearbox. We also found its brakes tricky to modulate, but this is an issue we’ve been reassured is being sorted for customer cars. Considering the car’s size, body control is impressive and there’s a reassuring heft to the steering.

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Which Is Best?

Cheapest

  • Name
    S350d 313 AMG Line Premium 4dr 9G-Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £94,195

Most Economical

  • Name
    S580e 4Matic L AMG Line Premium 4dr 9G-Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £118,795

Fastest

  • Name
    Maybach First Class S680 4Matic 4dr 9G-Tronic
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £220,505

Andy is Carbuyer's managing editor, with more than a decade of experience helping consumers find their perfect car. He has an MA in automotive journalism and has tested hundreds of vehicles.

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