Mercedes S-Class saloon - Engines, drive & performance
Plentiful power and sophisticated air suspension makes the big Mercedes effortlessly fast
- Incredibly refined
- Class-leading technology
- 62-mile electric range for PHEV
- High running costs
- Only one petrol engine
- Expensive to buy
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 because in 2021 (if the law permits it) the S-Class will be the first car with Level 3 autonomous driving, where the driver can take their hands off the steering wheel on the motorway.
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 either rear- or four-wheel drive 4MATIC guises. Like every S-Class, a nine-speed automatic gearbox is standard. With 282bhp, even the slowest S-Class is no slouch, breezing from 0-62mph in just over six seconds.
Using the same 2.9-litre straight-six diesel, but more highly tuned, the 325bhp S 400 d manages the same in 5.4 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.
The S 500 4MATIC petrol is the most potent version from launch, with 429bhp thanks to its turbocharged engine - yet it has less pulling power than the S 400 d: 520Nm versus 700Nm for the diesel. Regardless, it still gets to 62mph from rest in 4.9 seconds.