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Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2017 review

EXPERT RATING
8.1
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has done more than any other car to improve vehicle safety, and this mid-life update goes some way towards restoring it to its rightful place at the top of the tech tree.
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When Mercedes-Benz released the new E-Class in 2016, it was touted as the brand’s new technology leader – which, to anyone who knew the history of the oldest carmaker on the planet, sounded a bit rich.

You see, the car that’s actually done more than any other to improve vehicle safety over the last 50 years has been the S-Class, with many of the technologies we now take for granted, in even the cheapest cars on the market, coming from it.

The sixth-generation (W222) was launched in 2013, and this mid-life update goes some way towards restoring the S-Class to its rightful place at the top of the technology tree.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2018: S500 L
Safety rating
Engine Type4.7L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency9.2L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$279,180

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

Physically, the S-Class hasn't changed much from the pre-facelift version, apart from the addition of revised LED headlights and a new grille.

That said, it's still pretty hard to miss an S-Class on size alone, while the long, almost coupe-line sweep of the roofline is another distinctive feature.

Inside, the S-Class's pair of 12.3-inch screens – one for the dash and one for the centre console – have been aligned together under the same glass cover, while a new steering wheel with additional controls has allowed Merc to dispense with its ubiquitous cruise control stalk.

Otherwise, it's still the same amazingly opulent four-seat, four-door as before. It's available in long- and short-wheelbase versions as before, as well.

How practical is the space inside?   7/10

In the normal sense, the S-Class is not the most useful sedan on the market. While it has hectares of space for passengers in the rear seats, there's room for only two of them (you can fit ISOFIX seats to them, if you're interested), and all that space in the cabin means the boot, at 510 litres in capacity, is smaller than you'd expect.

The boot has a 510 litres capacity but is smaller than you'd expect. (image credit: Tim Robson) The boot has a 510 litres capacity but is smaller than you'd expect. (image credit: Tim Robson)

Up front, though, the big sedan manages to avoid the fate of being just a limousine. The driver is catered for as well as they would be in an E-Class, with ergonomic tweaks like moving the adaptive cruise control switches playing their part.

As well, the sheer volume of cool toys – heated armrests? really? – takes the S-Class to another level. 

  • The S-Class's pair of 12.3-inch screens have been aligned together under the same glass cover, while a new steering wheel with additional controls has allowed Merc to dispense with its ubiquitous cruise control stalk. (image credit: Tim Robson) The S-Class's pair of 12.3-inch screens have been aligned together under the same glass cover, while a new steering wheel with additional controls has allowed Merc to dispense with its ubiquitous cruise control stalk. (image credit: Tim Robson)
  • The S-Class is not the most useful sedan on the market despite having hectares of space for passengers in the rear seats, you can only sit two of them. (image credit: Tim Robson) The S-Class is not the most useful sedan on the market despite having hectares of space for passengers in the rear seats, you can only sit two of them. (image credit: Tim Robson)

It's not perfect; there's simply not enough storage up front for day-to-day detritus, though a pair of cupholders and bottle holders in the doors help a little. 

But if you're looking for a luxurious way to travel at ground level, the S-Class is a logical choice.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

By all measures, a car that starts at $220,000 shouldn’t really be lumped in the 'good value' category. It's about more than that, though. 

The S-Class sits at the top of Mercedes-Benz's passenger car tree, and attracts a particular and loyal clientele, where picking up a new $300k sedan is normal. This level of tech does not come cheap.

The local line-up is set to change, according to Mercedes-Benz Australia, though final specs and prices  aren't expected to drop until late 2017.

From a current roster of 12, the range is set to be trimmed to nine; the short-wheelbase (SWB) S350d will open the batting, with the long-wheelbase (LWB) S400d coming next. Both will use Mercedes-Benz's new 3.0-litre in-line six cylinder turbocharged diesel.

The range is set to be trimmed to nine from 12, kicking off with the short-wheelbase (SWB) S350d, followed by the long-wheelbase (LWB) S400d. (image credit: Tim Robson) The range is set to be trimmed to nine from 12, kicking off with the short-wheelbase (SWB) S350d, followed by the long-wheelbase (LWB) S400d. (image credit: Tim Robson)

The LWB S450 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged petrol will be joined by the S500 in LWB and SWB versions. The S560e plug-in hybrid will also be a LWB car. 

Finally, the twin-turbo V8-powered S560 will be available in both wheelbase lengths, while the S63 AMG and V12-powered S650 Maybach will carry over.

Prices are expected to rise a little when the cars land in December; the range currently kicks off at $220,995 (before on-road costs) for the S350d and tops out at a spectacular $448,325 (plus on-road costs) for the Maybach.

To list all the specs and features would take an age, but as a snapshot, every S-Class comes with 'Magic Body Control'-equipped air suspension that can adjust the car’s shocks and springs in milliseconds before it hits a bump.

Its sat nav system, too, is tied in the car's amazing 'Distronic Plus' adaptive cruise control system and other driver aids like automatic lane changing and self-steering (for limited periods) to help the S-Class basically drive itself in traffic.

You can also park your S-Class via an app on your phone… while you're standing outside it.

So yes, it's got auto lights and wipers, Apple CarPlay, inductive phone chargers and all that other good stuff, too.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

We'll have to wait until later in the year to get a final read on exact specs, but we do know that three new engines will grace the engine bay of the S-Class when the car arrives towards the end of this year.

Two of them are brand new, based on Mercedes-Benz's new in-line six-cylinder engine configuration, which has been designed to complement the brand’s in-line four-cylinder program. 

The alloy two engines aren't just similar; they are almost identical, with the 3.0-litre petrol six, for example sharing the same bore, stroke and inlet valve angle as the four. The new 3.0-litre diesel is almost the same, but has slightly different bore and stroke numbers to account for its steel pistons.

It's a massive cost saver for the company, but it hasn’t compromised economy or performance. The turbo-diesel comes in two tunes, with the S350d getting a 210kW/600Nm version. From the S400d up, the engine puts out 250kW/700Nm, and both are linked to a nine-speed automatic transmission.

The S400d 3.-litre six cylinder engine puts out 250kW/700Nm. (image credit: Tim Robson) The S400d 3.-litre six cylinder engine puts out 250kW/700Nm. (image credit: Tim Robson)

The 3.0-litre in-line six, meanwhile, uses Mercedes-Benz’s new take on hybridisation. It features an electric compressor (think of it as a small supercharger linked to the engine by electricity and you'd be close) to add lag-beating boost to the large primary turbocharger. 

It needs a lot of grunt to run, so Merc has installed a 48-volt electrical system in the S-Class, which is fed by a small generator between the engine and gearbox. A Merc engineer told CarsGuide it’s much safer than a traditional electric hybrid set-up, thanks to the lower voltage.

That same generator also contains a 1kWh lithium ion battery that captures converted kinetic energy captured when the S-Class is coasting down the road, and can feed up to 14kW/250Nm back into the powertrain.

It makes 320kW/520Nm in top-spec, 270kW/500Nm in entry-level spec, and both are backed by a nine-speed auto.

The third new engine isn't exactly new, but rather a re-engineered version of Mercedes-AMG's 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine. It's good for 345kW/700Nm, and also uses Merc's new nine-speed transmission.

How much fuel does it consume?   8/10

Over a 200km dash across Switzerland, in an S560 powered by the new twin-turbo V8, we saw a dash-indicated, combined cycle fuel economy figure of 9.2L/100km, against Mercedes-Benz's claim of 7.9L/100km.

Our time in the S400d was too brief to note a meaningful fuel figure, but Mercedes-Benz claims both versions of the diesel will return 5.1L/100km.

Both versions of the six-cylinder petrol engine, meanwhile, are rated at 6.5L/100km.

The S-Class has a 70-litre fuel tank.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

Think of the S-Class as a ground-bound executive jet, and you're getting close. From the driver's seat, two features stand out; the incredibly composed ride and close to absolute silence inside the cabin. 

At over five metres long and almost 190mm wide (about 75mm wider than an average sedan), the S-Class is a big rig to drive through a city, but it does so with relative ease thanks to relaxed steering and good visibility.

At speed, the big saloon is serene and unflustered – and it really doesn’t matter what powerplant is under the bonnet. The new in-line six-cylinder diesel was the surprise of the test; with 320kW/520Nm it was always going to be pretty handy, but even with a kerb weight of over 2100kg to deal with, it's able to hustle the S400d along in refined style.

The new in-line six-cylinder diesel has over 2100kg to deal with, but is able to hustle the S400d along in refined style. (image credit: Tim Robson) The new in-line six-cylinder diesel has over 2100kg to deal with, but is able to hustle the S400d along in refined style. (image credit: Tim Robson)

The detuned 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 is also a thing of beauty, giving the S560 a genuinely powerful presence when the time comes to make a pass or push up to autobahn velocity.

It's worth pointing out that while left-hand drive models can be specced with Merc's '4Matic' all-wheel drive system, Australian cars will be rear-drive only, as were both of the cars we briefly tested.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   10/10

There may not be a safer car on the road today than the S-Class, with innovations including dual-stage front airbags that can detect the severity of a crash and deploy only as required, as well as front belts that will tighten in the event of a crash via a three-stage pyrotechnic system, and a belt force-limiting device.

As well, the cabin is protected by a mix of high-strength steel and unique building techniques focused on providing the strongest safety cell possible.

Mix all that with Mercedes' frankly amazing 'Distronic' driver aid systems, and the S-Class's maximum five-star ANCAP score is a mere formality.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

Mercedes-Benz offers a range of maintenance plans to new buyers, including 'Silver Service' and 'Platinum Service' plans that can be purchased to cover a car for up to five years or 125,000km. 

A three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty also applies to the S-Class.

Verdict

If nothing else, Mercedes-Benz's flagship S-Class should still be regarded as a rolling example of forward-thinking safety advancements – visible and hidden - that will one day make it into cars we can all afford.

The debut of the astonishing new in-line six-cylinder engines and the rapid advancement of Merc's autonomous driving technology means this good gear will soon roll down the line into other MB products – and that is a very good thing, indeed.

And from our limited testing, the S400d may well be the pick of the litter, thanks to that astonishing new in-line six cylinder turbo-diesel engine.

Does the Mercedes-Benz S-Class still represent the pinnacle of modern motoring to you? Or has it passed its prime? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing guides

$142,800
Based on 7 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$139,800
Highest Price
$144,800

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
S500 4.7L, PULP, 9 SP AUTO $239,100 – 302,280 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2018 S500 Pricing and Specs
S65 6.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $303,900 – 384,230 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2018 S65 Pricing and Specs
S560 4.0L, PULP, 9 SP AUTO $173,700 – 219,670 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2018 S560 Pricing and Specs
S 600 6.0L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $321,600 – 406,560 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2018 S 600 Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8.1
Design8
Practicality7
Price and features7
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption8
Driving8
Safety10
Ownership8
Tim Robson
Contributing Journalist

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