Mercedes-Benz S-Class Road Test: Smooth Operator

Real Estate

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is as elegant as you’d imagine, but is more fun to drive than you might expect.Mercedes-Benz

“Smooth” is the best word we could come up with to describe the recently refreshed Mercedes Benz S-Class. The flagship of the line is handsomely styled on the outside with one of the most elegantly cast interiors in the business. It’s an effortless performer that can be muscled up in higher performance iterations. While most buyers choose the four-door versions, the coupes and convertibles are worthy reward cars to let the world know you’ve arrived.

We recently took both an S560 sedan and convertible out for a week’s test and came away saddened by the fact we had to send them back after too-brief an affair.

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is appropriately stately looking on the outside, with just enough creases and gentle curves running front to rear to keep its profile interesting. Different body styles and AMG versions receive specific front grille treatments, with the sedans delivering the more-conservative choice.

The S-Class’ interior makes a far stronger visual statement than the exterior, with an interesting amalgam of traditional and high-tech touches. There’s classic yacht-inspired round air vents sharing dashboard space with dual high-resolution screens that are joined horizontally. The left screen is used as the vehicle’s configurable instrument panel, while the right display is devoted to the vehicle’s infotainment system. The latter is operated – unfortunately, not intuitively – by either an operating knob or a small touchpad on the center console.

It should go without saying that the S-Class’ interior starts out rich and can be made even more so via optional leather and trim treatments. Our tester was properly dapper, dressed in black piano wood trim with horizontal striping, and mahogany/silk beige Nappa leather with a diamond perforation pattern covering the seats and dashboard. Front and rear seat comfort and passenger room is beyond question, though the coupe and convertible’s back seats are close quarters for taller riders.

The S-Class treats its occupants to one of the most elegantly cast interiors in the business.Mercedes-Benz

Our loaner came fitted with the optional multi-contour heated/cooled front seats that treats occupants to no fewer than five massage programs. It also includes adjustable side bolsters with a selectable function that inflates them as necessary to help hold front passengers upright through the tightest turns, but it quickly becomes annoying. Available heated front and rear armrests elevate the experience for those suffering cold winter climates.

Gadgets and gizmos are too plentiful to list here, and include a full range of connectivity features and an available 1,190-watt sound system from the audiophile company Burmester features door-mounted speakers that rotate and extend into position when the ignition is engaged. Standard top-shelf features include soft-close doors that pull themselves tight and a built-in fragrance atomizer. A somewhat silly “Energizing Comfort” feature adjusts mood lighting, audio programming and massaging seats according to selectable “wellness” modes. Mercedes’ “Magic Sky Control,” enables the available panoramic moonroof in the sedan to switch from light to dark transparency at the push of a button.

The versions we drove came with a 4.0-liter 463-horsepower twin-turbo V8 that’s both strong and smooth. We found it to be free of vibration and harshness no matter how hard we pushed it. Having 516 pound-feet of torque on hand helps propel the S560 to 60 mph in around five seconds, which is quick for such a big and heavy vehicle. The car’s whisper-quiet interior keeps engine, road and wind noise to a minimum, even at full throttle. While some drivers might prefer a more pronounced engine/exhaust note, we appreciated the S-Class’ serenity.

For those keeping score, there’s also a 3.0-liter 362-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 in the base S450, with a 4.0-liter 603-horsepower twin-turbo V8 in the AMG S63, and a 6.0-liter 621-horsepower twin-turbo V12 in the AMG S65. (There’s also two over-the-top Maybach spinoffs not reviewed here that deliver added pure poshness at staggeringly high prices.) Most versions include a nine-speed automatic transmission, though the S65 comes with a seven-speed version. Mercedes’ “4Matic” all-wheel drive is available across the line and comes standard with the AMGs.

The S-Class’ handling proved to be nothing short of amazing, especially for what is one the largest and heaviest cars on the road. Our tester came with Mercedes’ “Magic Body Control” system that minimizes leaning through the curves for effortless cornering, and it works as advertised. There’s selectable operating modes that include a sport setting that enlivens things for added response. A standard air suspension system virtually makes pavement irregularities disappear and completely takes the edge off of potholes. As if that’s not enough, a “Road Surface Scan” function uses cameras to monitor the road ahead and adjusts the suspension automatically to anticipate bumps in the car’s path.

Assorted driver-assistance features bring the S-Class a notch closer to a self-driving car. When properly equipped, the car keeps itself centered within a lane, accelerates to a preset speed and brakes accordingly according to traffic flow. It can change lanes on its own when the turn signal is activated. But it’s not fully autonomous driving, as the driver has to keep hands on the wheel, or at least touch it every few seconds to let the system know he or she is paying attention.

Starting at $91,000 and reaching well over the $250,000 at the top of the line, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is unapologetic as a truly expensive car. At that, it gives an affluent owner his or her money’s worth in terms of performance, styling, accommodations, and available amenities. One could even consider it something of a bargain compared to uber-luxury models from Bentley and Rolls-Royce at around twice the price.

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