The S-Class is the quintessential standard within the automotive industry. In every aspect, from the engineers’ freedom to design parts that best fit the car (vs the other way around), to the quality-focused and data-rich manufacturing process, to advanced technology that takes a decade before being spotted in mainstream vehicles, the S-Class shows what is possible when the reins of cost and development speed are loosened for the better of the car…and those who can afford its (as shown $130k) price tag.
Upon approach, the S-Class needs no trickery or sleight of hand to evoke its top-tier status. Its exterior is classic luxury with a long hood, a flat roof surface, and long horizontal styling curves that this punctuated by many fine details such as the flush door handles, exterior welcome lighting, and trim with premium finishes. Unlike some other recent designs from competing brands, no one will confuse this as anything but the most-valued Mercedes model.
Inside, the cabin blends tech with exceptional craftsmanship and feels refreshingly open yet has clearly defined areas. The S-Class’ low dashboard is centered by detailed air vents that are worthy of their front-and-center location and a tall infotainment screen rises from a mirror-like gloss black center console that serves as an intuitive command center. The rectangular hood-less digital gauge cluster display adds a minimalist flair to the driver’s side while Mercedes says the high-end fashion industry inspired its leather selection and the optional ($1,300) piano lacquer trim with integrated flowing lines demonstrates luxury by way of manufacturing precision.
The standard air suspension contributes to a premium dynamic experience with an added level of practicality. The ride is decidedly smooth and isolated, even with the adaptive dampers set to their sportiest setting, body motions are confidently controlled, and not surprisingly, stable at any speed as the suspension actively lowers the car for improved aerodynamics. At speeds less than 37 mph, the suspension can quickly lift the body 1.2 inches to prevent scraping or to help provide clearance for deep snow.
One of the S-Class’ most notable bits of technology is an optional active suspension (though not present in this example) that can scan the road ahead and predictively adjust its damping settings to minimize body motions, lean into a curve for greater stability, and even lift the vehicle rapidly if an impending side impact is detected for improved energy absorption. However, its $6,500 price tag isn’t insignificant even at this price range, and the standard suspension’s softness feels perfectly in tune with the S-Class’ big car nature.
Just as the suspension embodies a relaxed but capable vibe, this S 580’s turbocharged V8 motivates the large sedan in the same spirit. The standard S 500’s six-cylinder provides sufficient power but the effortless shove, harmonious sounds, and the smooth nature of the 4.0-liter V8 with nearly 500 HP and over 500 lb-ft of torque seem far better suited for a sedan that displays very few compromises. The engine is paired with a 48-volt electrical system that helps deliver a snappy off-the-line acceleration (and improved efficiency) but, once the compressed air arrives in the cylinders, the S 580 expresses its autobahn-like authority and quickly presses into triple-digit speeds with little sign of slowing. The transmission prefers something a little more leisurely as it works well with the engine’s strong mid-range power but lacks the sharp shifts that we all know are possible and satisfying – leaving plenty of room for AMG to spice things up.
Despite its preference for cruising (at any speed), the S-Class isn’t a case where the driver feels excluded from the experience. The driving assist systems concisely convey the S-Class’ surroundings through the optional 3D gauge cluster (a game-changer) and head-up display so one never feels unsure as to how the vehicle will react. The massage seats with active bolsters, the number of controls at your fingertips, an intuitively customizable premium stereo, and an incredibly quiet interior are very effective at providing the best environment for the driver. At night the LED active headlights brilliantly light up the road ahead and an ambient lighting system feeds a calming glow throughout the cabin without having to hide under over-hanging surfaces.
Recognizing some of the stand-out individual features is only part of what allows the S-Class to attain its prominent status, however, it’s also the way in which every interaction with the vehicle seems well thought out. It feels as if the engineers experienced their concepts, had gone back to the CAD station, and added more refinement and capability to the design. This is the level of thoroughness that is demonstrated in this S-Class and its far above its competitors. This is what makes the S-Class a living legend.