Mercedes-Benz S-Class Saloon Review
Mercedes is renowned for quality product and a futuristic design which sets the standard for the industry. The new S Class Saloon model is no different, though appears to thrive in taking a more retro, classic approach to both exterior and interior design, appealing to the fans of the older models.
Select's rating score* - 4.3 / 5
At a Glance
The Mercedes S-Class is the yardstick by which just about everything else is measured.
Those are the rules. If you want to know what technology will be fitted to most cars within the next decade, you look at an S-Class.
For years it's been the boundary pusher, the progression leader, and the pioneer in automotive evolution.
You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the outside, though, as not much has changed. It still looks unmistakeably like an S-Class.
The broad chrome grille dominates the front and, although the headlights are still vast, they're not especially tall and appear to squint a bit. This creates a gap underneath, which has been filled with a larger lower grille and adds something of a sporty appearance.
Nevertheless, the aesthetics are more 'classic Mercedes' rather than the styling cues of much of the rest of the range, which tend to have a flatter front end with an indented grille. If anything, there’s a hint towards a bit of retro styling going on here.
Thanks to quite chunky side skirts, the sides appear low to the ground, with a slightly off-horizontal crease defining the proportions between the rear bumper and the front.
At the back, a chrome strip runs along the boot, sitting above an LED strip, which connects the triangular rear lights on either side. This changes the look of the rear quite significantly, bearing in mind the pre-facelifted S-Class had much thinner taillights.
In all honesty, the looks of the car are a tad underwhelming. Perhaps Mercedes-Benz didn’t want to risk putting off the S-Class’s likely older customers by making it too futuristic, which is fair. But, once you get inside and bask in the exquisite quality, there is a sense that the exterior doesn't do the interior justice.
The S-Class range features a range of different models and trims. All come with air suspension, six-cylinder engines and nine-speed automatic gearboxes – and all are top-speed limited to 155mph. In addition, two of them are 4MATIC (which is Mercedes’ lingo for four-wheel drive).
The diesel is a 2.9-litre. In the S350D, it produces 286PS with a 0-62mph time of 6.4-seconds. The S400D 4MATIC produces 330PS, while zero to 62mph is dealt with in 5.4-seconds.
The petrol is a 3.0-litre, producing 435PS. In the S500 4MATIC, it gets from 0-62mph in 4.9-seconds. The same engine features in the S580e, but thanks to its plug-in hybrid capabilities, the electric motor combines to increase the power to 510PS, although the official 0-62mph time remains at 4.9-seconds.
Only the S350D and the S500 are available in the short-wheelbase form. But, for those that want the mild limousine experience, the S400D 4MATIC and the S500 4MATIC are the only two that come with a long-wheelbase.
For those that want ‘full-beans limo mode’, the ultra-luxurious Maybach brand is appropriately integrated within the S-Class range, too, these days.
All the trims are AMG Line, but there are various combinations of ‘Plus’, ‘Premium and ‘Executive’, depending on how much nicer you want to make the car.
The entry-level trim comes with 19-inch alloys, heated front and rear seats. It also boasts soft-close doors, four-zone climate control, keyless entry, keyless start, metallic paint and an infotainment system.
Premium trim upgrades the alloys to 20-inches, adds a panoramic sunroof and an upgraded sound system. It also includes remote parking (where the car parks itself after you’ve exited the vehicle), a 3D driver display, a 360-degree camera and noise reducing foam-insulated tyres.
The top three trims are only available on the long-wheelbase version.
Premium Plus includes 21-inch alloys and adds in warmth comfort, which warms the cabin in no time. You also get seat ventilation and integrated air cushions, a heated steering wheel and a heated windscreen. MBUX body language control (we’ll explain later) and wraparound ambient lighting are also included.
Premium Executive adds side airbags in the rear seats, designer belt buckles, seatbelt feeders in the rear (which effectively hand your seatbelt to you for easy access) and a rear wireless mobile phone charger (in addition to one in the front included on all trims).
Premium Plus Executive includes the chauffeur package (which enables the front passenger seat to be moved forward much further to maximise rear legroom), sun-blinds (electric on the rear doors), adaptive rear compartment lighting, and a portable seven-inch tablet to control the infotainment system.
Performance & Drive
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is sublime to drive in just about every way.
Due to the air suspension, the ride is exceptionally comfortable, ironing out creases in the road with ease, reducing the road noise to virtual silence.
Despite this – and despite its vastness – the model is surprisingly agile through the bends. There's oodles of feedback from the steering, and it feels precise. However, don't expect to throw this Benz into a corner like a sports car.
Although the Audi A8, and especially the BMW 7-Series, feel more connected to drive, the S-Class performs admirably. And it can’t be beaten on comfort, especially on main A-roads and motorway journeys. Nevertheless, if you’re desperate for a limousine that’s also a racing car, insane people can rest assured there’s an AMG version on its way.
As you'd imagine, there's a fair amount of body roll when the S-Class is tested to its limits around bends. But grip is plentiful – especially in the 4MATIC versions – and the suspension setup provides a lot of stability.
We were worried that the nine-speed automatic would cause a problem by offering too much choice, but our fears were groundless. You barely even notice it changing gear.
The diesels are perfectly adequate, although not as refined. But then, they rarely are. In addition, if you’re environmentally conscious, it’s the petrol plug-in hybrid that leads the way, while the S500 petrol also has some mild-hybrid tech on it, unlike the diesels.
Running Costs & Emissions
Given the vehicle’s proportions, the fuel economy is surprisingly handy when you factor in the size of the engines.
The S350D manages 47.1mpg, emitting 173g/km of CO2, while the S400D can do 47.1mpg and produces 184g/km of CO2.
The petrol-powered S500 claims a reasonable 38.2mpg, emitting 187g/km of CO2.
These figures are well beaten by the S580e hybrid, though, achieving an astonishing 353.2mpg – all while producing just 17g/km CO2. But, of course, those figures depend on the battery being fully charged and, without that, you can expect figures similar to the S500. Nevertheless, it’s the one to go for if you’re having the S-Class as a company car, as all others are in the top bracket for Benefit-In-Kind tax.
Don’t expect the S-Class to be cheap to maintain, though. This is a top-of-the-range Merc, after all.
In addition, Mercedes-Benz still depends on a reputation for reliability that simply isn't there anymore. As a result, it's fallen well behind rival BMW in recent customer satisfaction surveys. However, we hope it's something it’s addressing as it begins to roll out new all-electric models and continues apace with the hybridisation of the existing fossil-fuelled range.
For more information on fuel and which is right for you, consult our Fuel Guide.
Interior & Technology
The interior has so much “X-factor” that even Simon Cowell would find it hard to criticise. It is mind-blowingly gorgeous – and looks sublime with the new mood lighting.
There is a sense of minimalism when you look closely, but it doesn’t look bare. This is because physical buttons have been taken out in favour of a giant touchscreen. The screen looks like a large tablet on the dashboard, which curves downwards to blend into the centre console.
We wish Mercedes had kept a rotary dial or something like that, but it didn't, so it's touchscreen-only. This means pressing the wrong button is easy, although it may be something you get used to in time once you’re more familiar with the layout. Haptic feedback on the touchscreen helps you find your way around without taking your eyes off the road once you know where everything is.
Several profiles can be saved so multiple drivers can load their own customised settings.
Augmented reality SatNav will show directions on a camera feed. All the displays are crisp, and the infotainment system is generally responsive. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity is included as standard.
There are several different interior designs to choose from, including piano black and a wooden design resembling a ship’s deck. This might look nice if you intend to be chauffeured to your private yacht.
Four air vents are placed along the top of the dash, but most of your attention is drawn to the steering wheel. It looks like a work of art, with the digital instrument display behind it and the swooping curve of the centre console.
When driving, there’s a heads-up display (available in Premium Plus and above) and, speaking of heads, the S-Class knows where yours is and where you’re looking. As a result – thanks to the MBUX body language control – if you want to adjust one of the door mirrors, it knows which one you want to change by verifying which one you're looking at. Clever, eh?
If you have blinds in the car and look towards one of the windows, it can even lower the blinds so you can see better.
It’s just as well the blinds can lower themselves, as the interior must be seen to be believed. It’s utterly stunning.
Practicality & Boot Space
The S-Class has practicality baked into it.
As standard, electric steering wheel adjustment and electric seats are included on all models, with a memory function to save your presets.
The S-Class is the largest Merc that isn't an SUV, so there's plenty of space in the front and back. Therefore, you can kick back and relax, regardless of whether you're driving or not, due to the exceptionally comfy seats. The long-wheelbase version will, of course, offer even more room.
Headroom fore and aft is plentiful, too, even for taller occupants, despite the panoramic sunroof lowering the roofline somewhat.
Drivers can rest their arms on armrests on the door and the centre console, which is thickly padded for maximum comfy-ness, with plenty of storage space inside. They are even heated on higher trims, too.
Big door bins and two large cupholders are also included in the front. There is also wireless phone charging in the front on all trims, plus in the back on higher trims, along with eight USB ports.
Rear blinds and a seven-inch portable tablet are included on the top-of-the-range AMG Line Premium Plus Executive trim, too. And, if you can learn the elongated name sufficiently to be able to order it, you’ll find it comes with a rear electric footrest that moves out from beneath the front seat.
AMG Line Premium Plus trim and above includes hot-stone massage on the front seats, too.
Three adults can be accommodated in the back, although, of course, the amount of shoulder room you've got will be reduced somewhat. Lose the middle passenger, and the rear seat folds out into a large, comfy armrest.
Boot space is decent for a saloon at 550-litres. However, if you need to transport the odd bulkier item occasionally, it's worth noting that you can't fold down the rear seats, except for a hatch that opens out of the middle seat.
The S-Class hasn’t yet been crash-tested by Euro NCAP. You shouldn’t be worried, though. The last 16 Mercs to have been put through their paces have all been awarded a five-star rating.
One of them, the EQA SUV, scored 97 per cent for adult occupants, 90 per cent for children and 75 per cent for safety assists. That was in 2019, though, and Euro NCAP upped its criteria in 2020. So, the EQA might not perform quite as well if re-tested today with the goalposts now moved.
Nevertheless, there’s no reason to think the S-Class won’t score very highly.
Firstly, it is the daddy of safety tech. Most of the things we see on many cars now, such as automatic headlights, automatic windscreen wipers and adaptive radar-guided cruise control, all made their automotive debuts with the S-Class. Indeed, the model remains the yardstick and the industry leader for new tech.
Secondly, it’s packed with safety features. It’s capable of Level 3 autonomous driving, so it can steer, change lanes, accelerate, and brake, all without driver intervention, as well as help you park the car.
You also get automatic blind-spot monitoring, emergency braking, lane-keep assist, plus front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera. This last bit of tech is upgraded to a 360-degree camera on all but the entry-level trim.
In the Premium Plus models, the front seats will even push you into the centre of the car if a side impact is detected.
This is the awkward bit, as there aren't any options as such.
Except there are.
You see, we’ve told you that there are many trims: AMG Line, AMG Line Premium, AMG Line Premium Plus, AMG Line Premium Executive, and AMG Line Premium Plus Executive.
But, strictly speaking, in Mercedes’ eyes, there’s only one standard trim: AMG Line.
The other 'trims' are actually packages of optional extras that you add to the standard AMG Line car.
This means there's no customizability for options. If you want something not included in your 'package', the only way to get it is to upgrade to a higher package. So, while most people (including us) will describe these packages as ‘trims’, they’re technically groups of optional extras you can ‘bolt on’ to the standard car for a (handsomely) additional fee.
As a result, if there's one thing you want, you could end up paying thousands more to have it, as you'll also have to fork out for a bunch of stuff along with it that you might not be in the slightest bit bothered about.
To us, it seems a bizarre way of doing it. Especially given the S-Class’s status as a technological leader in an era where people like to customise every last bit of their cars like a smartphone – but we hope that explains it.
The Jaguar XJ is also another rival that you should shortlist. It has a reputation for having one of the best interiors, although the S-Class has moved ahead now.
You might want to check out the Lexus LS, too.
None of the above contenders can match the S-Class as a limousine to be driven in, though.
Verdict & Next Steps
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class combines the refinement of the best in German engineering with the relaxing luxuriousness of its flagship executive car.
It is a good job it’s comfortable, as you’ll be needing to lie down after stepping inside.
As is customary for the S-Class, it’s full of gizmos and tech.
It is undoubtedly the class leader to be driven in – even more so in the long-wheelbase version. But it doesn’t have the playing field to itself.
The Audi A8 is arguably a better driver’s car, while the BMW 7-Series also exceeds the S-Class in some areas. Mercedes’ questionable reliability in recent years may also put some customers off, especially executives who won't tolerate tardiness, let alone missing a day’s work because it breaks down.
These are mere blemishes, though, which some may be happy to risk. Because, when it comes to blowing your mind, few cars can even dream of getting close.
Where to next?
View latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class Saloon leasing deals - from just £972.60 per month inc VAT**
Looking for a great leasing deal? Check out our incredible range of Special Offers
Want to know more about leasing? Take a look at our comprehensive Leasing Guides
Interested in everything motoring? Why not catch up on all the latest Car Leasing News.
**Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Saloon
**Correct as of 29/11/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £8,753.40 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.