Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Volvo S60
- S-Class' return to splendour
- Stunning high-tech cabin presentation
- Outstanding ride and handling capabilities
- Price of entry prohibitive for most
- 3D instrumentation can make you woozy
- A tad conservative in design
- Stunning looks
- Great safety kit
- Good value
- Not as fun as some
- Real world fuel use question marks
It's only in the running for the title of world's best luxury car. No biggie here, then.
Like Rolex and Concorde, S-Class has become a byword for ultimate, and deserved or not, the Mercedes-Benz defines its segment despite the best efforts of the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Lexus LS and (sadly now-defunct) Jaguar XJ, as well as pointing the way forward with new technologies that eventually trickle down to more proletarian models.
Replacing the half-million selling W222 unveiled in 2013, the W223 is the latest in a long line since the first W187 Ponton debuted in 1951, and includes the famous ‘Finnies' and Stroke-8 models that followed immediately afterwards, but it is the 1972 W116 that really set the template.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
That’s because this is the Volvo S60 2020 model, which is all new from the ground up. It’s striking to look at, svelte inside, and smartly priced and packaged.
So, what’s not to like? If I’m honest, the list is short. Read on to find out more.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Mercedes-Benz set out to restore the S-Class' place amongst the greatest sedans in the world.
In the heavily-optioned, near-$250K-plus S450 as well as the extended S450L at $300K as tested (the sweet spot of the range for now), we reckon the Germans have succeeded, pushing safety, comfort and technology boundaries, in a package that is true to the heritage of the series.
Tax-fuelled sky-high prices will certainly keep the S-Class niche in Australia, but the car is more than good enough to dominate its tiny corner of the upper-large luxury car sphere.
The best new car in the world? We reckon it's highly likely. Mission accomplished, Mercedes.
The new-generation Volvo S60 is a really likeable car. It follows the brand’s recent form in offering impressive, luxurious and comfortable models that also happen to offer extensive equipment and strong safety levels.
It is somewhat hamstrung by an ownership plan that can’t match its rivals on cost, but buyers could consider that they’re getting more car for their initial money, anyway.
Most Mercedes models have followed the Russian Doll-style cookie-cutter styling theme, and the heavy family look continues with the W223.
Still, the flush door handles do add a touch of Tesla-esque modernity, while the elegant silhouette and clean lines are in keeping with the luxury aspirations. Larger in every dimension compared to the old W222, the S450 is some 71mm-longer in wheelbase (3106mm) than before while the LWB's has stretched out by 51mm (3216mm), benefiting proportions as well as interior packaging.
AMG-branded wheels look sporty but – in the S450 at least – they're perhaps a tad too gangster. A set of flush alloys would give it a more-modern and techier appearance, in our opinion.
Overall, however, the S-Class ‘7' possesses the prerequisite richness of design. It isn't as bold and mould-breaking as models like the W116 were back in their day, but the styling is still a success.
By the way, the latest S-Class is the first Mercedes to employ the MRA2 longitudinal platform, which is rich in lightweight steels (50 per cent aluminium), is correspondingly stronger than before but also 60kg lighter.
With a drag co-efficiency rating as low as 0.22Cd on some overseas grades, the W223 is one of the most aerodynamic production vehicles in history.
Svelte and Swedish it may be, but this is also one sexy looking sedan. The R-Design model is particularly attractive, as it gets a muscly body kit and bigger 19-inch wheels.
All models have LED lighting across the range, and the ‘Thor’s Hammer’ theme Volvo has been sticking with over the past few years works a treat here, too.
At the back there’s a really tidy backside, with a look that you could confuse for the bigger S90… apart from the badge, of course. It’s one of the best looking cars in the segment, and that largely comes down to the fact that it appears more resolved and luxurious looking than its rivals.
It carries its size well - the new model is 4761mm long on a 2872mm wheelbase, it’s 1431mm tall and 1850mm wide. That means its 133mm longer (96mm between the wheels), 53mm lower but 15mm narrower than the last model - and it’s built on the brand’s new Scalable Product Architecture - which is the same underpinnings from the range-topping XC90 to the entry-grade XC40.
The interior design is what you’d expect if you’ve seen any new Volvo from the past three or four years. Take a look at the interior pictures below.
For the beginning of our day with the S-Class, we were chauffeured from home to a mansion in Kew, a blue-chip Melbourne suburb. Our heavily-optioned S450L featured most of the aforementioned extras – including the Business Class Package and Rear Entertainment Package – and the experience was predictably, sumptuously memorable.
Reclining individual rear seats with easy-reach tablets, armrests offering access to all multimedia and available climatised and massaging cushions and backrests... we're no longer in our normal ride, Toto.
Yet, all these trinkets and gizmos are mere add-ons, that can turn a stretched Caprice into a flash hen's night carriage if enough money and glitz is thrown at it.
No, the new S-Class must impress in an altogether less tangible and more philosophical manner, involving all the senses, and not just what we see, hear and touch. It must appeal beyond the superficial. Otherwise, it is not a large Mercedes-Benz luxury sedan in the classic manner.
This is a Herculean task for the Stuttgart designers and engineers. By and large, though, the Three-Pointed Star has succeeded in achieving something special.
In its perception of peerless quality and engineering, the W223 is striving to move forward and look back simultaneously to the glory days of the seminal W126 (1980-1991). This is through meshing traditional virtues like solidity and quality materials while dazzling its passengers with technology that is still friendly enough to want to enhance your experience.
You can sink into the soft lounge seats, watch the world pass by silently outside and never be aware of the road underneath or the engine ahead. Double glazing, exquisite and aromatic fabrics and materials and lush tactile surfaces work their magic inside the car, while an airtight and aero body, solid platform, air suspension and a muted yet muscular powertrain all do their thing underneath. The atmosphere is special and rarefied. That's what an S-Class needs to be and that's what is happening in our $299,000 (as tested) S450L.
The same more-or-less applies up front, as the same trim, leather, wood and technology surrounds the driver and passenger. The spectre of the car that is surely The Car of the Last Decade – Tesla's Model S – is evident in the portrait touchscreen and sparse, almost wallflower dashboard design and layout. No big imposing architectures here.
Yet, while the American upstart actually takes stuff away, the S-Class packs the cabin with subtle features that – like when the planes stopped flying last year and the birdsong subsequently returned – only become obvious once the cabin's design simplicity clears all the white noise for you to be in a better frame of mind to enjoy them.
Take the haptic interface, for example, as it is perhaps the best we've experienced; the sense of well-being garnered from the cumulative effects of profound seat comfort (the massaging function was never switched off), cocooning micro climate environmental control, orchestral levels of audio entertainment and the theatre of light and vision performed by the two available screens; it is an automotive experience like no other. And the eye-tracking 3D-effect navigation set within the electronic instrumentation. No need for cinematic glasses to get the effect. The driving position itself, by the way, is also first class.
Room to stretch and grow for sure, and in every direction. But room for improvement? You betcha.
Your tester had a headache after a little while staring at that woozy 3D map. The central vents – four at the front, two in the rear – look and feel cheap, leaving us mentally redesigning them; they are frightfully out of place here; the carryover column-stalk auto lever should have been binned in 2005. And, even though the digital instruments have a number of options, none are elegant enough for the S-Class. That's an especially subjective criticism, clearly, but one that – in the context of classic Mercedes luxury sedan contenders – is justified given how timeless the Bruno Sacco era of Daimler design was. Look him up, kids.
Still, after a couple of hours behind the wheel, with our senses reset to calm, it is obvious that the S-Class cabin is a unique and wonderful place – as it should be at a cool quarter-of-a-million dollars.
PS At 550 litres (20L more than before), the boot is massive and luxurious enough to sleep in.
Volvo’s current design language is common from the XC40 through to the XC90, and the ’60 Series’ range also gets the same premium treatment.
The cabin is lovely to look at, and the materials used are all beautiful - from the leather on the steering wheel and seats, to the wood and metallic elements used on the dashboard and centre console. I still love the knurled finishes used on the engine starter and controls, even a few years after this look debuted.
The media screen is familiar too - a 9.0-inch tablet-style vertical display - and it does take a little learning to figure out how the menus work (you have to swipe side-to-side for detailed side menus, and there’s a home button down the bottom, just like a real tablet). I find it perfectly usable, but I do think the fact the ventilation controls - air con, fan speed, temperature, air direction, seat heating/cooling, steering wheel heating - all being through the screen is a little annoying. I guess a small saving grace is the de-mister buttons are exactly that - buttons.
There is a volume knob with a play/pause trigger as well, which is great. And there are controls on the steering wheel as well.
The storage in the cabin is okay, with cup holders between the seats, a covered centre bin, bottle holders in all four doors, and a rear flip-down armrest with cupholders. Now if you’re reading this review you must have a thing for sedans. That’s cool, I won’t hold it against you, but the V60 wagon is clearly the more practical pick. Even so, the S60 has a 442-litre boot space, and you can fold the rear seats down for extra room if you need it. The opening is a decent size, but there is a slight intrusion at the top edge of the boot that can limit the size of things that’ll fit as you slide them in - our bulky pram, for instance.
And keep in mind, if you choose the T8 hybrid, the boot size is a little compromised by battery packaging, with 390 litres.
Price and features
Right now, only two S-Class models are available – the S450 from $240,700 plus on-road costs and the 110mm extended-wheelbase S450L (LWB) for another $24,900 on top. Most buyers overwhelmingly opt for the latter.
Despite what the numbers may suggest, both are powered by a 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder turbo petrol engine, delivering 270kW of power and 500Nm of torque to all four wheels via a nine-speed torque-converter automatic. Greater choices are coming later, including an all-electric version known as the EQS.
Almost every conceivable safety item is standard on the S-Class, including world-first rear-seat airbags located behind the front seats in the LWB model, taking the surround-airbag count to 10.
You'll also find route-based Speed Adaptation (adhering to the posted speed limits), Evasive Steering Assist (a sophisticated form of crash mitigation), adaptive cruise control with active stop/go, Active Lane Change Assist that automatically moves the car into the lane you indicate to), Mercedes' PreSafe crash-preparation tech that primes all the safety systems for impact, electronic stability program that encapsulates all the active driver-assist tech, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking front and rear (including for cyclists and pedestrians), Traffic Sign Assist, Parking Package with Active Parking Assist and 360-degree camera and tyre pressure monitors.
On the equipment front there is the latest iteration of Mercedes' MBUX multimedia system with (another) world-first 3D display, complementing an OLED central display, powered closing doors, leather upholstery, air suspension, leather upholstery, velour floor mats, a multi-beam LED headlight system with adaptive high beams, heated and folding exterior mirrors, heat and noise-insulating acoustic glass for front side windows, dark privacy glass for rear windows, sunroof, roller sunblinds for rear windows, metallic paint and 20-inch AMG alloy wheels on runflat tyres.
Want cutting-edge multimedia? There's MBUX II's augmented reality for navigation and fingerprint scanner, as well as a more natural-speech Mercedes-Me Connect voice activation with global search.
Plus, predictive navigation with live traffic, parked vehicle locator, vehicle tracking, emergency call, maintenance management and tele-diagnostics, digital radio, Burmester 3D surround-sound system with 15 speakers and 710W amplifier, remote door locking/unlocking, geofencing, speed-fencing, valet parking, head-up display, Smart Phone integration with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, wireless charging, ambient lighting, two-zone climate control, poplar wood trim, electric adjustment for front seats, steering column with memory function, climatised front seats, keyless entry/go with flush-fitting door handles offering hands-free access (including for the electric boot),
Besides the ‘forward facing' airbag for the rear-seat occupants, the S450L also scores electrically adjustable rear seats with memory and automatic rear climate control.
Key options – and the list is massive – include an $8700 Rear Entertainment Package, that brings rear-multimedia access, rear tablets with wireless headsets and rear-seat wireless smart phone charging, an AMG Line pack with a body kit, different alloys and larger front brakes ($6500), Business Class Package that includes aircraft-style reclining rear seating and tray tables ($14,500), Nappa leather ($5000), augmented-reality HUD ($2900), 21-inch wheels ($2000) and four-wheel steering ($2700). There's also a $14,500 Energising Package with contoured seating, heated-everything and massaging seats.
Please keep in mind our test cars featured many such extras. Tick all the boxes and you can add nearly $100,000 to the price of your S-Class.
So, is the S450 good value? Given some of the breakthrough safety and luxury features it offers, it is unique. Too bad the Federal Government's Luxury Car Tax makes them so much more expensive than they need to be.
The S60 sedan range is attractively priced, with entry level variants undercutting some of the big name competitors.
The starting point is the S60 T5 Momentum, which is priced at $54,990 plus on-road costs. It has 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and tail-lights, a 9.0-inch multimedia touchscreen supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as DAB+ digital radio, keyless entry, auto dimming rear vision mirror, auto dimming and auto folding wing-mirrors, dual-zone climate control and real leather trim on the seats and steering wheel.
The next model up the range is the T5 Inscription, which lists at $60,990. It adds plenty of additional gear, with 19-inch alloy wheels, directional LED headlights, four-zone climate control, a head-up display, a 360-degree parking camera, auto-parking assist, wood interior highlights, ambient lighting, heated front seats with cushion extensions, and a 230-volt power outlet in the rear console.
Stepping up to the T5 R-Design gets you more grunt (info in the engine section below), and there are two options available - the T5 petrol ($64,990) or the T8 plug-in hybrid ($85,990).
Extra equipment for R-Design variants includes ‘Polestar optimisation’ (a bespoke suspension tune from Volvo’s performance division), 19-inch alloys with a unique look, a sporty exterior and interior design pack with R-Design sports leather seats, paddle-shifters on the steering wheel, and mesh metal interior finishes.
There are some packs available, including the Lifestyle Pack (with panoramic sunroof, rear window blind and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon stereo), the Premium Pack (panoramic sunroof, rear blind and a 15-speaker Bowers and Wilkins stereo), and the Luxury Pack R-Design (nappa leather trim, blonde head-lining, power adjustable side bolsters, front massage seats, heated rear seat, heated steering wheel).
Engine & trans
Where are the V8s?
Right now, the only W223 you can buy is powered by an all-new 2999cc 3.0-litre in-line direct-injection six-cylinder turbo petrol engine dubbed the M256, complete with double overhead cams, an electric compressor intercooler and assistance from a 48-volt mild hybrid system and integrated starter-generator, adding 16kW and 250Nm to the 270kW of power at 6100rpm and 500Nm of torque from 1600-4500rpm.
Top speed is limited to 250km/h, while the 0-100km/h sprint-time takes just 5.1 seconds in both models. Impressive for a two-tonne-plus luxury limo.
All of the Volvo S60 models use petrol as part of their propulsion method - there is no diesel version this time around - but there are a few details when it comes to the petrol engines used in the range.
The T5 engine is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo motor. But there are two states of tune offered here.
The Momentum and Inscription get the lower state of tune - with 187kW of power (at 5500pm) and 350Nm of torque (1800-4800rpm) - and it uses an eight-speed automatic with permanent all-wheel drive (AWD). This powertrain’s claimed 0-100km/h sprint time is 6.4 seconds.
The R-Design model takes a higher tune of T5 engine - with 192kW of power (at 5700rpm) and 400Nm of torque (1800-4800rpm). Still eight-speed auto, still AWD, and a little quicker - 0-100km/h in 6.3sec.
At the top of the range there’s the T8 plug-in hybrid drivetrain, which also uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine (246kW/430Nm) and pairs it to an electric motor with 65kW/240Nm. The combined outputs for this hybrid drivetrain equate to a phenomenal 311kW and 680Nm, and that makes its 0-100km/h time of 4.3sec all the more believable.
And then there’s the fuel consumption…
With the aid of the mild-hybrid system, the S450 returned a combined average of an impressive 8.2 litres per 100km, which translates to 187 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre. 95 RON premium unleaded (or higher) is recommended. In the urban run it consumes 11.3L/100km (11.5 for S450L), and just 6.4L/100km (6.5 for S450L) in the extra-urban result.
At 76 litres, the fuel tank will allow a combined average range of about 927km between refills.
The official combined fuel consumption of the S60 varies depending on the powertrain.
The T5 models - Momentum, Inscription and R-Design - all use a claimed 7.3 litres per 100 kilometres, which on the surface appears a little high for a vehicle in this segment.
But there’s a great evener in the T8 R-Design, which uses a claimed 2.0L/100km - now, that’s because it has an electric motor that can allow you to drive without petrol for up to 50 kilometres.
In former times, as the Germans say, a ‘450' on the boot indicated V8 power. In the W116 S-Class era it was one of the world's most evocative badges when ‘SEL' was also attached.
As mentioned earlier, though, it's the M256 3.0-litre turbo-petrol with a 48-volt ‘mild hybrid' electrical system that's doing the driving, to all four wheels. The real V8 W223 will probably surface later this year or in early 2022 with the S580L flagship. Bring it on.
This is not to say that S450 isn't good enough. With that electrified assistance, the blown straight six is smooth and swift off the line and rapid as the auto seamlessly steps up through all nine gears. Because it's so hushed and refined, it doesn't feel 5.1s to 100 clicks quick, but watching the speedo says otherwise – acceleration is assertive and strong right up way past the legal speed limit.
All that's missing is the burbling soundtrack of a classic Benz bent-eight. Oh well. Outstanding economy is a price we're literally willing to pay in lieu.
Even more impressive is the S450's ability to hustle along mountain roads like an overgrown sports sedan.
Now, for Australia, all S-Classes are fitted standard with an adaptive ‘Airmatic' air-suspension set-up, including air springs and self-levelling tech. In Comfort up to 60km/h, the ride height can be raised by 30mm, or lowered by 10mm under the standard 130mm baseline in Sport at any velocity, while in Sport+ it falls another 17mm.
With that in mind, yes, the standard air suspension performs a magnificent job smothering out most surface imperfections around town. Yet its real other party trick is to tighten up the chassis when corners get interesting and Sport mode is selected. Aided by progressively weighted and reassuringly responsive steering, the Mercedes tips into turns with precision and poise, slicing through with virtually no discernible body lean or understeer.
Now, we're not talking a leisurely drive on rural highways here, but Healesville's famous Chum Creek Road, where even a Porsche Cayman would feel like it's had a strenuous dynamic workout. The S-Class can be hurried along with confidence and finesse, displaying outstanding handling and roadholding for a 5.2-metre long limo. And the fact that the ride quality only suffers marginally when the red horns are out is all the more remarkable.
Back in the cut-and-thrust of inner-city peak-hour traffic, the Benz in Comfort mode continued to reveal its driver-orientated yet passenger-focused twin-personalities, zipping in and out of gaps while remaining comfy and composed inside.
Only when parking in tight spots are you truly aware that the W223 is longer than a Mazda CX-9. The optional four-wheel-steering system is claimed to slash the turning circle to A-Class hatchback levels. 10.9 metres is the claim.
The 2021 S-Class never ceases to amaze and delight.
The Volvo S60 is a really nice car to drive.
That might seem a little lacking in terms of descriptive wording, but ‘really nice’ sums it up so well.
We mainly spent our time in the sporty T5 R-Design, which is impressively quick when you engage Polestar mode, but never leaves you feeling like you’re at the ragged edge. In normal driving, with Normal mode engaged, the engine response is more measured, yet still sprightly.
You can feel the difference between the R-Design version with the T5 engine and the non R-Design models, which run a 5kW/50Nm deficit. Those models offer better than adequate grunt, and you might find you don’t really need the extra punch.
The R-Design’s engine is smooth and revs freely, and the transmission is a smart thing, too, shifting almost imperceptibly and never really setting a foot wrong in terms of gear selection. The S60’s all-wheel drive system allows easy progress and plenty of traction, while the R-Design’s 19-inch wheels with Continental tyres offer heaps of grip.
The steering isn’t as engaging as in some other luxury mid-size models - it’s not quite as much a point-and-shoot weapon as a BMW 3 Series, for instance - but the steering wheel is easy to turn at low speeds, offers decent response at higher speeds, though it’s not overly engaging if you’re an enthusiastic driver.
And the ride is mostly quite comfortable, though sharp edges at lower speeds can upset things - that comes down to the 19-inch wheels. The T5 R-Design model we drove is fitted with Volvo’s Four-C (four corner) adaptive suspension, and in Normal mode there was slightly less stiffness over patchy sections of road, while the Polestar Mode made things a little more aggressive. The other models in the range have non-adaptive suspension. The S60 T8 R-Design we drove at launch was a little less comfortable, feeling a bit more easily upset by bumpy sections of road - it is considerably heavier, and it also misses out on the adaptive suspension.
The cornering stability from the suspension is impressive, with very little body roll through faster corners, but just be mindful that a Momentum - which has 17-inch wheels - could be a better pick if you often drive on rougher roads with varied surfaces.
The W223 S-Class has not been crash-tested yet by ANCAP or European affiliate EuroNCAP, so does not have a star rating. However, Mercedes-Benz claims it has striven to create one of the safety vehicles on the planet. Who are we to argue?
Almost every conceivable safety item is standard on the S-Class, including world-first rear-seat airbags located behind the front seats in the LWB model, taking the surround-airbag count to 10.
You'll also find route-based Speed Adaptation (adhering to the posted speed limits), Evasive Steering Assist (a sophisticated form of crash mitigation), adaptive cruise control with active stop/go, Active Lane Change Assist that automatically moves the car into the lane you indicate to), Mercedes' PreSafe crash-preparation tech that primes all the safety systems for impact, electronic stability program that encapsulates all the active driver-assist tech, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking front and rear (including for cyclists and pedestrians, at speeds from 7km/h to over 200km/h), Traffic Sign Assist, Parking Package with Active Parking Assist and 360-degree camera and tyre pressure monitors.
The Active Lane Keeping Assist works in a speed range of between 60km/h and 250km/h while Active Steer Assist helps the driver follow the lane at speeds of up to 210km/h.
Volvo is synonymous with safety, so there’s no surprise that the S60 (and V60) scored the maximum five star Euro NCAP crash test rating when tested in 2018. They haven’t been put through the ANCAP ringer yet, but a maximum five-star score is a given.
Standard safety equipment for all S60 models includes auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear AEB, lane keeping assist with lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with steering assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors (plus 360-degree surround view standard on all but Momentum grades).
There are six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), plus there are dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points and three top-tether restraints, too.
Unlike many luxury brands that persist with a sub-par three-year warranty, Mercedes-Benz offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Intervals are every year or 25,000km, with a capped price service plan starting at $800 for the first year, $1200 for the second year and $1400 for the third year, totalling $3400. Alternatively, there is a Service Plan starting at $2700 for the first three years (saving $700 from the normal capped-price service plan), $3600 for four years and $5400 for five years.
Volvo covers its models with the equivalent of the ‘standard’ level of cover in the luxury segment - three years/unlimited kilometres. It will also back its cars with the same cover for roadside assist for the duration of the new car warranty. That doesn't move the game on.
Servicing is due every 12 months or 15,000km, and customers can now purchase a three-year/45,000km inclusive service plan for about $1600 - which is considerably more affordable than the previous service plans. Volvo has made this change based on the feedback of customers and reviewers (and because the other brands in the market offered more aggressive plans), so that's a plus.