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What Car? says

4 out of 5 stars

For It's superbly engineered, has lots of kit and the diesels are exceptional

Against S-Classes are costly to run and there are niggling faults on the oldest cars

Verdict Probably the best luxury barge in the world

Go for… S320 CDI

Avoid… S600 Limousine

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Saloon
  • 1. Don’t buy an S-Class if the air-con isn’t working. Overhauling it will leave precious lilttle change from £2k
  • 2. If you hear a tinkling noise from under a 320 CDI, walk away. The catalytic converter is breaking up, and it's very expensive to replace
  • 3. The engines and transmissions last for ages if they're loked after, but the electrics can go haywire
  • 4. The S320CDI is our favourite model, and there should be plenty to choose from
  • 5. The cabin is super-comfortable and quiet - a very relaxing place to spend a long journey
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Mercedes-Benz S-Class Saloon full review with expert trade views

When it was launched, critics hailed the S-Class as among the very best executive saloons you could buy, regardless of price. It’s a big car with a huge cabin, but it's also sleeker and less daunting than the slab-sided previous model. Inside, it's supremely comfortable and all models have generous equipment levels, which most first owners added to from a long list of options.

The big Merc drives neatly for its size and responds well, feeling much smaller than it really is. The standard seven-speed automatic gearbox is superb and wind noise is shut out effectively thanks to the double-glazed side windows.

As if all that wasn't enough, the version of the S-Class that replaced this one looks only subtly different, meaning even the earliest examples of this model still look up to the minute. Last, but not least, its value dropped sharply from new, making older ones surprisingly cheap to buy.

Trade view

James Ruppert

For most appeal needs Comand system and ideally a S320 CDI

James Ruppert
Used car guru

Whichever luxury car you’re after, the brief is the same: buy the ones with the smallest engines. Every model has decent performance and even the smallest version delivers nine-tenths of what you’d get if you bought the flagship version – but at a knockdown price.

The S320 CDI diesel is our first choice, followed by the smallest petrol, the S280. These were the best sellers, so there should be lots around.

Other models include an S350, S500, S600 and the performance flagship, the thundering S65 AMG, which offers no less than 612bhp. Of these, only the S350 is anything like a sensible choice.

Each model has a single trim level, with loads of equipment that includes leather seats, climate control and the Comand system that runs the sat-nav, stereo, phone and other gadgets. However, the list of extras for the car is so long that we’ve not seen two identically equipped.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Expect a big bill when the S class goes wrong

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

Considering the expensive beast the S-Class can be, owning costs actually aren’t too bad, because some models (particularly the most expensive ones) lose value quite sharply in the first couple of years. An S600, which cost a cool £92k new, is worth barely half that by its third birthday, so buying nearly new isn’t advisable. By contrast, an S320 diesel retains two-thirds of its original value at the same marker.

Servicing is costly if you use a main dealer, but it will at least entitle you to Merc’s Mobilo-life package, which provides breakdown assistance and a corrosion warranty for an astounding 30 years from new. But, if you're not too bothered by that, use a good independent Merc specialist and pay only half as much for labour.

Insurance for the 280 and 320 diesel is group 15 and 16, which is reasonable, but the remainder are within a rather less palatable group 19 or 20. Fuel economy runs from an excellent 35mpg for the diesel to a potentially frightening 19mpg for the S65.

Trade view

James Ruppert

For most appeal needs Comand system and ideally a S320 CDI

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The What Car? Reliability Index paints a poor picture of the S-Class and puts average repair costs at a whacking £600. However, that figure also encompasses the previous model, and we would expect this model to be much better.

There's no doubt it's a tough car, and the engines and transmissions last indefinitely if cared for, although the electrics can go haywire.

Equally, you should shop carefully because a few bills are horrible. Don’t buy one, for example, if the air-con isn’t working, no matter how cheap the car is. Overhauling the chilled air system won’t leave much change from £2k.

Another worry if you buy a 320 CDI is a tinkling from under the car that grows as revs rise. It indicates that the catalytic converter is breaking up - replacing that to ensure an MoT pass will cost well into four figures.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

Expect a big bill when the S class goes wrong

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct
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