What Car? says...
If you think big luxury cars are irrelevant to you, remember that, like its predecessors, the latest Mercedes S-Class is rammed full of clever technology that will eventually filter down to more mainstream models.
How clever? Well, with some trims, the seats can move you away from an impending side-on collision, for example. That’s hopefully not something you’ll be showing off to your friends or family, but, fortunately, there is much more than that to impress them within the latest S-Class.
For a start, there's its interior. The giant (12.8in) portrait-oriented infotainment touchscreen and 12.3in driver’s display leave barely a button to be found. And, if you opt for one of the higher trim levels, the S-Class will even give you a hot stone massage.
As with key rivals, a couple of different lengths are available – short and long wheelbase – so rear seat space ranges from generous to absolutely indulgent. Mercedes also gives you a selection of petrol and diesel engines to choose from, ranging from the 282bhp S350d to the 503bhp S580. There’s now a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version too – the S580e – and it's the fastest, yet most frugal car in the range.
Having said all that, the S-Class doesn’t have a monopoly on luxury transportation. You might also decide to waft around in one of its well-appointed rivals, such as the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series or even the Land Rover Range Rover. The question is, should you?
Read on through our S-Class review to find out just how pampering it is, what it's like to drive, how much it will cost you and how it compares with the best luxury cars available.
Regardless of which make and model of car you choose to buy, you could save thousands of pounds by checking out our free What Car? New Car Deals pages. It helps you get the best price without any haggling, and there are lots new luxury car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
The Mercedes S-Class engine range kicks off with the 2.9-litre S350d diesel. Its 282bhp is enough for 0-62mph in 6.4sec, and when you put your foot down, it feels more than strong enough, even in a car of this size. Importantly, considering this is luxury transportation, there's no need to thrash it to make swift progress – although if you want more oomph, there's also the 326bhp S400d, which reduces the 0-62mph dash by a second.
If you’re after something even more urgent, you might want to consider the S500 petrol. Its turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol engine produces a substantial 429bhp, dropping the 0-62mph time to just 4.9sec. Meanwhile, mild-hybrid electrical assistance sharpens up the automatic gearbox's kickdown response and the engine's low-end shove, so it's another engine that feels brisk without trying. The Audi S8 and V8-engined BMW 750i are faster still.
The S580e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is our favourite option. It combines the engine from the S500 with an electric motor and a 28.6kWh battery for a combined output of 503bhp. With a 0-62mph time of just 5.2 seconds, it's properly quick, and its official electric-only range of 63 miles is impressive. Acceleration isn’t particularly sprightly in electric mode, but there's enough oomph for rush-hour traffic and to reach motorway speeds.
Suspension and ride comfort
The S-Class's ride is exemplary on motorways, and the air suspension irons out dips and crests exceptionally well. It's one of the few cars in the world in which passengers can lie back with their heads against the headrest and not have them kicked forwards over bumps. It's perfect, in other words, for tycoons who want to nap while the chauffeur whisks them across the country.
That said, the broken edges of potholes cause a little bit more of a thump than you'd feel in the Audi A8, especially at town speeds. That's more noticeable in the S580e PHEV because the weight of its batteries gives the suspension more to deal with. It’s still more comfortable than the BMW 7 Series, though.
Even without investigating the various drive modes and the S-Class’s sportier settings, you’ll find it's a very capable-handling car. The steering has plenty of reassuring heft and precision, so you can place the long nose easily.
There’s a fair bit of body lean, even with the suspension stiffened up, but you get plenty of grip and reassuring stability – more so than with the Land Rover Range Rover. If for some reason you want your luxury limo to handle more like a sports car, we’d point you towards the 7 Series.
The S400d and S500 come with standard 4Matic four-wheel drive, which offers better traction in slippery conditions.
Noise and vibration
Refinement is hugely impressive if you opt for the Mercedes S500, but the S580e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) is even better. When the PHEV accelerates up to motorway speeds on battery power alone, passengers are treated to a beautifully serene experience with no engine noise or jerky gear changes. When the engine does kick in, the transition from electric to petrol power is almost undetectable.
The six-cylinder diesels, meanwhile, rumble a little when you put your foot down and send slight vibrations through the steering column and floor on occasions. You will also notice a small shimmy as they start and stop in traffic.
There is some road roar and wind noise at 70mph but, as you'd expect, the S-Class is far from rowdy on motorways. We wish the brake pedal in the S580e was more consistent, though. The pedal's resistance tends to change as you slow down, making it harder to brake smoothly. A PHEV Audi A8 is better in this respect, and is a little quieter at a cruise.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
The Mercedes S-Class gets an electrically adjustable driver’s seat as standard (including four-way lumbar adjustment) and a steering wheel that powers in and out, as well as up and down. Handily, both the seat and wheel have memory functions. The seat is also wonderfully cushioning and extremely supportive, so it's really easy for you – or your driver – to get comfortable. While you're driving along, weary arms will find sanctuary resting on the perfectly positioned centre and door armrests.
The 12.3in digital instrument panel is clear, easy to read and able to show a wide variety of information. That is, unless you select the 3D mode that's available with AMG Line Premium trim; this can make you a bit cross-eyed. The display, and any other features operated from the steering wheel, can be tricky to use, because the controls are touch-sensitive. It’s far too easy to accidentally operate something when you’re twirling the wheel. Premium Plus trims add a clear head-up display, so you can check your speed and other information without taking your eyes off the road.
You’ll need to use the giant central touchscreen (we’ll talk about this more in the infotainment section) to operate everything else, including the temperature controls. Although it’s handy that the temperature adjustment icons are always displayed, you do have to look away from the road to find them. The BMW 7 Series, which has physical controls, is more user-friendly.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
There’s sufficient all-round visibility to make this behemoth of a car less daunting to drive than you might expect. It helps that even the entry-level AMG Line trim gets front and rear parking sensors plus a rear-view camera as standard. Semi-autonomous parking and a 360-degree camera are standard on all other trim levels.
Another bonus is the super-bright adaptive LED headlights, with main beams that can stay on without blinding other drivers. They are standard until AMG Line Premium Plus trim, which swaps them for Ultra Range LED lights with a maximum range of 650 metres; that's a truly illuminating fact for you.
Sat nav and infotainment
All trims get the giant portrait-orientated touchscreen, which is angled upwards to make it easier to see and use. The infotainment system includes augmented sat-nav (showing direction arrows on a live camera feed), wireless mobile phone charging (including in the rear on upper trims), eight USB-C ports and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone mirroring. With the top trim, you also get a removable 7.0in tablet in the rear armrest.
The graphics are sharp and the system is generally responsive to your commands, apart from being a bit clunky if you're scrolling through lists. The menus are easy enough to get used to after a bit of practice. The 'Hey Mercedes' natural voice recognition will operate a multitude of functions, but not all of the time; as with all voice activation systems, it's imperfect. It may feel antiquated, by comparison, but the 7 Series' rotary controller between the front seats is by far the easiest way to use complicated infotainment systems safely while driving.
You can store a number of driver profiles that retrieve your preferred settings. These are recalled using a PIN code, the fingerprint pad or facial recognition. Even the entry-level S-Class gets a nine-speaker stereo, with AMG Line Premium trim upgrading that to a 15-speaker, 710-watt Burmester system. It sounds punchy and clear, if a little harsh in the mid-range.
The quality of the S-Class interior is impressive (and improved over the previous model), with rich materials, including supple Nappa leather, real wood veneers, metal inserts and squishy plastics. What few buttons and switches there are work precisely, and the steering column stalks feel sturdy.
It’s certainly closer than ever to the 'hewn from solid rock' feel of the Audi A8, although its arch-rival still has an edge. There’s no doubt that the S-Class wins on razzamatazz, though. The glitzy, 64-colour ambient lighting, which runs across the tops of the doors and the dashboard, helps here.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Mercedes S-Class is a big, wide car, so space up front is, unsurprisingly, plentiful. There’s lots of leg, shoulder and head room for two large adults, even with a panoramic glass roof fitted.
The wide, deeply padded front centre armrest has plenty of storage underneath. The armrests, including those on the doors, are heated in the top two trims. You’ll also find a couple of generously proportioned cupholders for the largest takeaway coffees, plus big door bins.
The doors open very wide, allowing the most generously proportioned driver and passenger to get in and out with their dignity intact. To aid the process further still, the steering wheel rises out of the way automatically on all versions.
Passengers in the back of the S-Class should have no complaints about the space on offer, especially with the long-wheelbase body style that’s optional with AMG Line Premium trim and standard on every model above. It's roomier and more comfortable than the Audi A8, thanks to more head room and a better seating position. On the upper models, the soft, padded headrests are a joy to behold.
All models come with a three-person rear bench and a sizeable fold-out armrest, while long-wheelbase models include electric adjustment for the outer seats.
If you opt for the most expensive AMG Line Premium Plus Executive, you'll get an electrically extendable footrest that pops out from beneath the front passenger seat, plus sun blinds on all the rear windows.
Seat folding and flexibility
The good news is that the S-Class's front passenger gets the exact same range of seat adjustments as the driver, including lumbar adjustment. The passenger also gets hot stone massaging if you order the AMG Line Premium Plus trim.
The bad news is that you can’t fold down the rear seats, but there is a ski hatch for your… well, you know. If you want luxury with more versatility, we'd suggest looking at the Land Rover Range Rover.
Boot space is good for a luxury saloon, at around 550 litres. That's bigger than the A8's boot and enough for a few large cases. All versions have an electric, gesture-controlled bootlid.
Luggage capacity in the S580e PHEV is reduced slightly due to the fact that the boot floor sits higher up to accommodate the lithium-ion battery pack underneath, but it's still more generous than the boot in the A8 L 60 TFSI e.
As with passenger space, if you need to carry a lot of luggage, look at the Range Rover. Its boot is truly vast, and the rear seats can be folded down to create a van-like load bay.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
No Mercedes S-Class is cheap, but the S350d costs significantly less than other variants as a cash buy. All versions except the S580e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) are in the top (37%) company car tax bracket so that's definitely the version to go for if you're lucky enough to have the S-Class on your company car options list.
With its official 63 miles of electric-only range and 18g/km of CO2 emissions, it sits in a much lower benefit-in-kind tax band than the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series PHEVs. It also has a gobsmacking 353.1mpg figure, although you'll need to charge it up regularly to get close to that.
The S-Class holds on to a bit more of its value over three years than the 7 Series and significantly more than the A8. The Land Rover Range Rover has much stronger resale values, though.
Equipment, options and extras
The entry-level AMG Line gets plenty of kit, including 19in alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, metallic paint, heated front and rear seats, four-zone climate control, nappa leather and soft-close doors. That's on top of all the other infotainment, parking aids and driver aids we've already covered.
We’d recommend moving up to AMG Line Premium, though. For a start, that gives you the option of the long-wheelbase model with electrically operated, ventilated rear seats. It also adds 20in alloys and a panoramic sunroof, plus the Burmester sound system we wrote about in the infotainment section.
Move further up the range and you'll add more kit but receive a big invoice in return. By the way, you can't add any individual options to S-Classes any more.
Mercedes placed joint 22nd out of the 30 manufacturers included in our 2021 What Car? Reliability Survey. That's some way behind BMW (13th) and a few places behind Audi (18th) but Range Rover manufacturer Land Rover finished in 29th place.
The latest S-Class comes with a three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty and breakdown cover.
Safety and security
Euro NCAP has not yet tested the S-Class for safety, but you do get loads of safety equipment as standard. That includes automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-keeping assistance (to make sure you stay within the white lines on the road) and blind-spot monitoring that can warn you of approaching traffic as you open the doors.
If you opt for Premium Plus trim, the front seats can push you towards the centre of the car in the event of a side collision.
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|RRP price range||£92,550 - £217,200|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||7|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid, petrol, diesel|
|MPG range across all versions||20 - 64.2|
|Available doors options||4|
|Warranty||3 years / No mileage cap|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,566 / £15,876|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£3,132 / £31,752|