The S-Class’s engine line-up ranges from the 3.0-litre V6 diesel in the S350 d (there’s a long-wheelbase version of this model, too) to the ludicrously powerful, twin-turbocharged 6.0-litre V12 under the bonnet of the S65 AMG.
All of them feel brisk but for most buyers, the S350 will be more than enough. It has plenty of torque at low revs, so never feels as if it’s struggling to gain pace. In fact, it can propel the S-Class from 0-62mph in just 6.8 seconds – impressive for the entry-level engine in a large limousine. All this and it’s reasonably efficient, too.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class ride comfort
Occasional low-speed jitters fail to spoil a great set-up
The S-Class’s ride quality isn’t perfect. Around town, for example, you may feel larger imperfections coming through to the cabin at low speeds. At speed on open roads, the ride is supple and fabulously comfortable, even with the standard air suspension set-up. V8-powered models can be ordered with Magic Body Control. This system uses a stereo camera mounted in the windscreen to scan the condition of the road surface ahead, and pre-adjust the suspension to deal with it. It’s astonishingly effective, to the point that it’s disappointing it’s available only on the more expensive versions of the S-Class.
Depending on the model, wheel sizes range from 18in to 20in. Fortunately, the larger wheels don’t harm the ride quality in any way.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class handling
As agile as a car of this size and type needs to be
You don’t necessarily buy a car like the S-Class for its B-road agility but, in fact, on this measure, the big Mercedes doesn’t disgrace itself. It does a good job of keeping body roll in check and the steering (it’s speed-sensitive on AMG models) is pleasantly weighted. As you might expect, the S-Class is very composed at high motorway speeds. It’s not a hugely involving drive on twistier roads but it still manages to be surprisingly wieldy.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class refinement
An incredibly quiet cruiser
The V6 S350 is one of the most refined diesel cars we’ve ever driven. The V8 S500 and sporty S63 editions emit an aggressive yet muted growl under hard acceleration, before fading back to near-silence once cruising. The four-cylinder diesel hybrid is the noisy one in the line-up, especially when idling, and when being revved hard.
Regardless of its engine, every S-Class is superb at shutting out wind noise on the motorway. You’re only likely to be disturbed by occasional road noise. Noise-insulating glass is standard on all models bar the entry-level SE Line.
You can only get an automatic gearbox with the S-Class: a smooth and responsive seven-speed or nine-speed unti, depending on the engine you select. S63 and S65 versions get a sportier version of the same transmission.
This 3.0-litre V6 diesel has enough power and torque for the S-Class never to feel slow, yet it’s supremely smooth and refined. It’s also efficient, with CO2 emissions of just 148g/km in long-wheelbase SE Line form. True, the hybrid editions are more efficient again, but they’re considerably more expensive.
S300 Bluetec Hybrid
This edition mixes a 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel engine with an electric motor. It sounds promising on paper and the S300’s CO2 emissions of just 120g/km in long-wheelbase form give this edition real company car appeal. However, in practice, the four-cylinder motor needs to be revved too much, and its noise and vibration are simply too intrusive for a luxury car such as the S-Class.
S500 Plug-in Hybrid
The S500 has a twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine mixed with an electric motor and battery that can be charged from a plug socket. It offers a small amount of electric-only running (less than 20 miles) and is pretty fast when required, with a 0-62mph time of just over five seconds. It’s only available in long-wheelbase form and with the more expensive AMG Line trim, but it does have an appealing CO2 emissions figure of just 65g/km that can make it attractive to company car choosers.
Tuned by AMG, Mercedes’ performance division, the S63 has a monster of an engine: a twin-turbocharged 5.5-litre V8. It’s powerful enough to take the long-wheelbase S-Class from 0-62mph in just 4.4 seconds. It’s really expensive to buy, though, and will be costly to run, too.
The S600 uses a 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged V12 petrol engine. Its colossal performance makes this particular S-Class an extremely rapid cruiser but apart from a mildly aggressive burble under hard acceleration, you’d be hard pushed to know there’s an engine there at all, such is the V12’s smoothness and refinement. It’s one for those with deep pockets, though, with a sky-high list price and relatively poor economy and CO2 figures.
Just in case the S63 AMG wasn’t enough for you, Merc’s performance boffins created the S65. It gets a retuned version of the 6.0-litre twin-turbo V12 that features in the S600. It trims but a tenth of a second off the S63’s 0-62mph time, although the V12 is a bit smoother. You pay a huge amount of extra cash for these small gains, though.