Mercedes S-Class Saloon Review
The Mercedes S-Class is a supremely classy luxury car that’s relaxing to drive and has a very comfortable interior. However, it has fewer high-tech features than some alternatives
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
- Elegant styling
- Gorgeous interior
- Very relaxing to drive
What's not so good
- Lacks some high-tech features
- Small choice of engines
- Fiddly infotainment system
Mercedes S-Class Saloon: what would you like to read next?
The Mercedes S-Class is one of the very best luxury cars you can buy. Beneath those elegant looks is a car that’s wonderfully comfortable and relaxing to drive, and its classy cabin is built from high-quality materials, with a minimalist look that sets it apart from the likes of the BMW 7 Series and the newer Audi A8.
There has been a Mercedes S-Class for well over 40 years, and this model is the sixth generation. It went on sale in 2013, but was updated in 2017 with a revised infotainment system, new LED headlights and a new six-cylinder 3.0-litre diesel engine.
Sure, the Audi A8 might feel a touch better built and come with a few more high-tech features, but the Mercedes’ interior is very stylish and just as comfortable to sit in. There’s more electric seat adjustment than anyone could ever need and the longer L models have enough legroom in the back for the Big Friendly Giant to stretch out.
If you need to carry three passengers in the back, there’s more room across the rear seat of the Mercedes than in the BMW; and, if your family has the luxury of being ferried around in an S-Class, fitting a bulky child seat is pretty easy thanks to the huge rear doors.
Plenty of handy storage pockets help keep its cabin looking neat and tidy, too. And, when you need to move some luggage, you’ll find the S-Class’ boot space is about the same as the 7 Series’ and noticeably bigger than the A8’s – provided you don’t add the optional fridge, that is.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news, particularly when it comes to the Mercedes’ infotainment system. Its two 12.3-inch displays aren’t as sharp as the A8’s triple-screen layout and the iDrive system in the 7 Series is much easier to use. Thankfully, you do get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring and, as you might expect, sat-nav is standard.
The S-Class might look nearly identical to the cheaper E-Class, but its quality shines through – like seeing a band live instead of listening to them on the radio
There are a couple of high-performance models at the top of the range, but for most people, the choice will be between the 3.0-litre diesel or petrol engines. Of these, the 286hp S350d diesel is the best all-rounder – it’s fast enough for long motorway journeys and reasonably frugal around town.
Whichever version you choose, the S-Class is wonderfully relaxing to drive. Every version comes with a smooth nine-speed automatic gearbox and adaptive air suspension, and on top of that, you can even add a Driving Assistance pack that can pretty much drive the car for you on the motorway and in stop-start traffic.
The S-Class might not be quite as high-tech as the BMW 7 Series or the new Audi A8, but it’s still well worth considering if you rate style over cutting-edge technology in your luxury saloon.
The S-Class takes cues from the smaller C and E-Class saloons but bumps desirability up to 11. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for its rather frustrating infotainment system
Few cars have the S-Class’ back-seat space but even though you’re paying a lot of money for this uber-luxurious limousine you’ll have to spend extra for heated rear seats
The S-Class has loads of rear legroom but for special jobs – perhaps you’re chauffeuring the more vertically superior members of the Game of Thrones cast – you’ll want the extended-legroom L models
The Mercedes S-Class isn’t just massive on the outside, it’s hugely spacious inside. There’s seemingly endless seat adjustment in the front and absolutely loads of headroom so you’ll have no trouble getting comfortable.
Jump in the back seats and things get even more relaxing. Even in the standard Mercedes S-Class there’s acres of leg room but extended wheelbase L models feel like they’ve been designed with the Harlem Globetrotters in mind. You get loads of head and leg room and the seats are fabulously supportive. For even more comfort, you can upgrade to the ultra-luxurious Executive Pack for extra heating, cooling and electrical adjustment features.
If that seems a little steep, the more modest Rear Seat Reclining package might be more suitable. It comes with almost as many settings for you to tweak but does away with the extensive temperature controls.
If you need to ferry three rear-seat passengers at once, the Mercedes S-Class will be a better bet than the 7 Series. Its central rear seat isn’t quite as comfortable as the outer two but it’s reasonably soft and there’s more space for your central passenger’s feet than you get in a 7 Series.
Fitting a child seat’s reasonably easy, too. The Isofix anchor points are tucked neatly behind a folding leather-trimmed flap and there’s plenty of space to lift in a bulky seat base. The S-Class’ relatively low roofline means you might have to stoop down to strap in a child if you’re very tall, however.
The Mercedes S-Class’ front door bins are big enough to hold a 1.5-litre bottle and a drinks can each and there’s a slot for storing your phone or a pair of sunglasses under a folding flap in the centre console. Pull a tab at the base of this tray and you’ll find a couple of large cupholders hidden neatly out of sight.
There’s space for a few more one-litre bottles under the folding central armrest, in the glovebox and in the rear door bins. You’ll find two extra cupholders in the rear armrest and behind that there’s room for an optional fridge. Well, where else are you going to put the champagne?
The Mercedes S-Class’ 510-litre boot is only very slightly smaller than the 7 Series but it’s a touch more spacious than the new A8’s load bay. Unfortunately, the Mercedes’ boot opening is slightly tighter than in the Audi or BMW and there’s a sizeable boot lip which can make loading bulky items rather difficult.
On a more positive note, you get an elasticated net on both sides of the Mercedes S-Class’ boot to help keep smaller items secure and there’s enough underfloor storage to tuck a soft bag away out of sight – unlike in the 7 Series. The plastic handle for lifting the boot floor feels cheap and tacky, however, and the plastic tether hooks scattered throughout the boot aren’t a patch on the 7 Series’ smart chrome items.
You can’t fold the back seats down in the Mercedes S-Class, 7 Series or the A8 but at least the Audi comes with a handy sliding ski hatch if you need to carry some winter sports kit and a few passengers in the back.
Avoid the optional back-seat fridge if you regularly carry bulky luggage – it cuts into boot space by some 40 litres. Without it, there’s easily enough space for a baby stroller or a few sets of golf clubs.
The Mercedes S-Class comes with plenty of features designed to make it as relaxing as possible but its sublimely comfy Magic Body Control suspension costs an eye-watering amount
You can get the S-Class with a multitude of advanced driving systems that’ll make it feel like you’ve got your own personal chauffeur – on motorways at least
You can get the Mercedes S-Class with either a range of six-cylinder turbocharged petrol and diesel engines.
The Mercedes S-Class range kicks off with the S350d – a 3.0-litre V6 that strikes a good balance between performance and economy. This is thanks, in part, to a mild-hybrid drive system that uses a small electric motor to assist the engine when you’re cruising and accelerating. As a result, it’ll return around 45mpg compared with Mercedes’ claimed 52.3mpg figure and will accelerate from 0-62mph in six seconds – that’s nearly a second faster than the old S350d with its conventional diesel engine.
There’s also a more powerful S400d model that’s faster but slightly less frugal. These long-wheelbase-only versions accelerate from 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds and return a claimed 48.7mpg. In normal driving conditions, however, they’ll manage approximately 40mpg.
Even more frugal is the plug-in hybrid S560e version. This uses a 367hp V6 petrol engine working in conjunction with a 120hp electric motor to boost fuel economy to a whopping 108mpg. Drive carefully – or instruct your chauffeur to go easy on the accelerator – and you’ll probably see a figure in the region of 75mpg. With the batteries fully charged, you’ll also be able to travel for up to 30 miles on electric power alone – perfect for slinking almost silently through city centres. Recharging the batteries from 10% to 100% takes 90 minutes using a dedicated wall charger, or as long as five hours using a conventional three-pin plug socket.
If performance is higher on your list of priorities than fuel economy, you’ll want to consider a petrol-powered Mercedes S-Class S450 or S500 instead. These will reach 62mph from rest in 5.1 and 4.8 seconds respectively and are slightly quieter than the diesels when you accelerate hard. Just like the S400d version, they’re only available in long-wheelbase L guise.
All models come with a nine-speed automatic gearbox that’s responsive and silky smooth. It blends gears together beautifully and doesn’t lurch when you accelerate hard.
Adaptive air suspension is standard across the Mercedes S-Class range. It separates you from the road with a cushion of pressurised air and helps soften the blow of large potholes. As a result, the S-Class is more comfortable around town than the stiffer BMW 7 Series and makes all but the most pockmarked motorways feel glass-smooth.
To help make long drives feel even more relaxing, you’ll want to pay extra for the Magic Body Control feature. It costs a fairly hefty amount but uses cameras that scan the road ahead to prepare the S-Class’ suspension for any particularly monstrous potholes. It’s not quite as advanced as the system you get in an Audi A8 but it still helps make the Mercedes S-Class one of the most comfortable cars on sale.
The Mercedes’ vast length can make manoeuvring through tight streets a little difficult but its controls are light and the quick-witted automatic gearbox manages to make light work of stop-start traffic. Head out onto a motorway, however, and the Mercedes S-Class really comes into its own. All its engines are quiet, smooth and easily powerful enough to blast past slow-moving traffic without so much as a mild thrum.
Wind and tyre noise are impressively muted, too. You’ll hear barely a whistle from the wind at motorway speeds and the standard air suspension helps keep road noise to a minimum – even in models fitted with larger 20-inch alloy wheels.
Visibility is reasonably good – the relatively thin pillars between the doors and the windscreen don’t create any particularly annoying blindspots, but the fairly small rear windscreen can make parking a touch tricky. Thankfully, all models come with parking sensors, a reversing camera and a self-parking system that’ll steer for you into bay and parallel spaces.
The high-tech features don’t stop there. All models come with a 360-degree camera that displays a bird’s eye view of your surroundings on the infotainment screen and automatic emergency braking to help stop the car if it detects an obstacle ahead.
The latter helps make the Mercedes S-Class one of the safest cars on sale, but for even greater peace of mind you’ll want to pay extra for the Driving Assistance Pack. This comes with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist that can essentially drive the car for you on motorways or in heavy traffic.