Is the German limousine still a byword for luxury? We're about to find out with three months behind the wheel
Steve Cropley Autocar
1 February 2019

Why we’re running it: to see if the latest S-Class maintains the model’s luxury car superiority, and whether this S500 eclipses the old V8

Month 4Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Month 4

Welcome to swap shop. This week: luxury cars are exchanged - 16th January 2018

Cruising northwards on the M5 between Christmas and new year, I found it hard to believe, given that I’d already amassed 6000 miles in our Mercedes S-Class longtermer, that more miles would teach me anything extra. Especially since I was driving a BMW 740d at the time.

However, as has been revealed in these pages, the grand Autocar plan was always for me to swap ‘my’ S-Class with Andrew Frankel for ‘his’ BMW 7 Series, to compare impressions of two cars with similar missions. This day, after a fuelling session and a chat in the Michaelwood service area – equidistant from our addresses – we made the swap and set off homeward to start investigating differences and similarities.

Such variances are never more vividly felt than in your first few miles behind the wheel, so long as you have firmly quelled the hi-fi. After the silky, almost silent Mercedes, the BMW’s engine note was suddenly very noticeable. Not unpleasant, but always there, even when cruising on the motorway at 60mph in top gear.

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As speeds rose, I started to notice a rustling around the exterior mirrors. Other issues were a lack of the silken, relaxed-rate ride I’d come to expect after several months in the Merc, and a tendency for the BMW to tramline in a minor (although slightly untidy) way at low speeds. Above 50-60mph, for reasons I still don’t understand, the car began to track like an arrow. So my early impression was that this 7 Series simply wasn’t as all-round refined as its rival. Still excellent. Not quite five-star.

But life’s never as easy as that. I turned off the motorway and immediately began to notice the extra directness of the 7 Series’ steering and the greater accuracy of its foot controls. Mercs – both the pre-hybrid models and this latest mild-hybrid six – have a somewhat stately response to the accelerator and here was proof. The BeeEm was more alert and alive. The car seemed to turn more neatly, too. You really can detect the difference of the 0.3m between the cars in both wheelbase and overall length. The BMW feels almost sporty. The Merc is amazingly refined, but limo-ish.

Quality? I’d give it narrowly to the S500, on surface quality and architecture. And because I prefer the latest Merc switchgear and graphics. That little hi-fi volume roller on the console comprehensively beats the BMW’s dial arrangement, and it’s something you’re always using. However, each of these cars is so far ahead of ordinary models that they’re really only shaded by the likes of Bentley and Rolls.

Seats? My missus prefers the BMW and I like the Merc – and even now I’ve got the feeling that more time spent understanding the complexities of their adjustments would net comfort improvements. Here’s the big question: am I looking forward to getting the S500 back again? Unequivocally, yes, even though the BMW is shorter, steers a bit better, is more agile and goes further on the tank.

It’s the comfort and refinement that tell for me, these characteristics reinforced by the performance of the Mercedes’ latest powertrain. Not very surprising, you may think, because these are the very qualities that began making the difference between the S-Class and rivals at its debut in 1972, and have been doing so ever since.

Love it:

OVERALL REFINEMENT Its combination of mechanical refinement and outstanding onroad comfort and smoothness is simply the best going.

Loathe it:

SHEER BULK ‘Loathe’ is a bit strong but there are times when this long-wheelbase S seems too bulky for comfort. Would love a SWB one, same spec.

Mileage: 6207

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Life with a Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Month 3

Mixing with McLarens - 9th January 2019

This poorly composed pic shows our S500 parked with a couple of recent trade-ins at McLaren’s new Leeds dealership. We were there to drive McLarens to the company’s deeply impressive composite centre in Sheffield. The Maccas were brilliant, but it was just as enjoyable to drive the world’s finest open-roads cruiser back home to London.

Mileage: 5350

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Ample room for parking is a must - 5th December 2018

We’ve taken to parking the big Merc in a new, roomy space near the office, not commuting much but grabbing it every time a long trip is in the offing. Especially helpful is the S500’s easy-to-operate voice-operated comms package. It’s amazing how much low-level business you can get done while drifting smoothly and quietly along motorways.

Mileage: 4038

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Life with a Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Month 2

We herald a welcome return after rear-end crash annoyance - 21 November 2018

If you’ve been waiting patiently for news of our mighty white S500 hybrid, you’ll have noted a distinct information hiatus. About the time our first report ran in early October, we were arranging crash repairs – after a lady in a venerable yellow Astra hit it resoundingly up the backside at about 20mph.

It was a classic suburban accident. The traffic ahead came to an abrupt halt, the big Benz demonstrated its superb retardation abilities by stopping dead straight and in plenty of time despite a split-grip situation (dry road crown, wet kerbside) but, sadly, the Vauxhall did not.

The impact felt quite severe so it was surprising to see a lack of visual damage (in marked contrast to the rearranged grille/wings/bonnet front of the Astra), but it was soon clear the S-Class’s shock-absorbing mechanisms beneath the rear bumpers had been heavily disturbed, and the exhaust system (including catalytic converters) had moved a long way on its mountings.

Off went the Big S to a firm of authorised Mercedes repairers with a hope we’d see it again in three to four weeks. So it proved. The Benz came back to us without the slightest sign of recent difficulties, not even a whiff of paint or glue. The only change was the application of a special coating that protects matt finishes like the specialist Magno Cashmere White of our car (a £3650 option that stops it looking like wedding transport).

Now that the S-Class is with us again, it feels as if the family is complete. In its first weeks it rapidly began to fulfil a role no disparate car fleet truly needs, but which soon proves extremely nice to have. The S-Class has become our standard – for quietness, for cabin space and comfort, for low road noise, for brilliance at bump-absorption, for discreet body control and for injecting ease into long journeys.

What it doesn’t do very well is fit into our rather confined car park: the S500 (and most UK S-Classes) come only in long wheelbase form that adds another 100mm between front and rear wheels – all of it going into rear leg room – and that extra is enough to put its elegant alloys at considerable risk from the ravaging kerbs in our usual multi-storey, designed for Morris Marinas. So we’re keeping it in safety, a little further away.

Mind you, the S500 spends a lot of its time much further from the office. As I write, it’s wafting back from Cardiff where it was perfect transport for four London rugby lovers who used it for the Wales vs Australia game. Another 450-mile round trip is scheduled before the weekend. Various of us are trying to find excuses for journeys to France and beyond, consoled by the fact that even when you’re pressing on (as much as you can these days) this petrol-electric powertrain will reward you with fuel mileage in the 30s. And fine stability, grip and steering in tight going.

Faults? We’ll have to look harder. Nit pickers might find the sheer profusion of switches and controls a challenge. And a couple of tiny touchpads on the steering wheel might strike you as fiddly at first. But at the car’s collection I had an hour’s briefing from one of the technical experts Mercedes makes available to all its new car customers, so I feel I’ve got it taped.

As you might have read, I’m soon to swap the S500 with Andrew Frankel for his BMW 7 Series, likely to present the Merc with its highest hurdle in our ownership so far.

Love it:

A TOUCH OF CLASS All-encompassing refinement. Whatever the surface, it deals with it better than you’d expect.

Loathe it:

THE MULTI-STOREY STORY Loathe is too strong, but the longer wheelbase is limiting. Even without the extra 100mm, an S is spacious.

Mileage: 3031

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Life with a Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Month 1

Welcoming the S-Class to the fleet - 01 September 2018

Since 1972, we’ve known this one incontrovertible fact: if you want to know where the automobile is up to in terms of practical luxury and comfort, you’ll find the answer in the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

We’re not talking here about ‘bespokeness’. That’s usually a matter of richer-than-you owners attempting to one-up their peers. But if you want to investigate the latest and highest standards of mechanical refinement, big-car efficiency, seat and cabin comfort and driving ease brought by ever-more-ingenious gadgetry, the latest S-Class will provide you with the answers.

Merc’s biggest saloon sits on one of those peculiar pedestals in motoring like the Porsche 911: it has decent rivals but no true equivalents. That Mercedes has been able to keep it this way for 45 years is a staggering achievement, and (we believe) good reason to add one to our test fleet.

But why an S500? Three reasons: first, the S500 has always been the mainstream choice for people who weren’t simply buying a diesel ‘airport car’. Second, I’m this car’s custodian and I’ve already had two S500s over the years. How interesting to investigate their differences and surprising similarities.

Third, for as long as ‘S500’ has been appearing on Mercedes bootlids, the variant’s motive power has been a meaty V8, until now. This latest car has a new 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six with a 48V integrated starter-generator (ISG) providing assistance and collecting braking energy.

How interesting to see whether the traditional S500 virtues – imperious smoothness and poke and no noise unless you really insist – are delivered by the new model.

In the UK, an S500L saloon starts at £86,330 on the road, which sounds pretty reasonable for what you get, especially since the only 500 you can buy gets AMG Line body bits to make it look more aggressive and sporty – and a lot less like an airport car. Egged on by contacts at Mercedes, we added a collection of extras that ended up costing just over £25,000 which, given that extras are traditionally high mark-up items for car makers, gives you a pretty clear view of where they make their money.

In summary, our gadgetry consists of four comprehensive option packs (Premium Plus, Driving Assistance, Executive equipment and Exclusive nappa leather) plus four individual options: night view (£2080), privacy glass (£345), Designo matt white paint (£3650) and intelligent rear belts (£995). The Premium Plus pack (£5395) adds stuff like soft-close doors, a mega hi-fi and a 360deg camera. The Driving Assistance pack (£1695) adds active distance control, steering, braking and blind-spot assist and a gizmo that will adjust your speed into bends. The Executive equipment (£4600) provides extra levels of comfort front and rear, plus stuff like roller-blinds for the rear window, and the Exclusive nappa leather pack (£6890) trims the big Mercedes in the best-looking materials available.

In short, our S-Class is a white car whose body addenda, 19in AMG wheels and white matt paint take it about as far away from the dreaded ‘wedding car’ look as it’s possible to get, while preserving a limo-look that promises exactly what you get when you first set this car in motion: a class-topping luxury motoring experience.

The car hardly moves when you start it. Straight sixes are famously smooth, and the 48V ISG is large and powerful, so the usual ‘ruh-ruh-ruh’ just isn’t there. There’s silence, you press the start button and there’s a distant hum, and you’re hard-pressed to determine when one changed to the other. That’s refinement, and it speaks for the way so many things operate in this car.

The power unit drives through a seamless nine-speed automatic gearbox. There are two regimes, Sport and Comfort, which vary how long lower ratios are held. There are paddles if you insist on changing gear yourself, but the decisions the ’box makes on its own are so flawless that you soon leave it to its own devices, except for one situation: you’ll find yourself using the gears for engine braking on long hills. The ISG merrily garners braking energy on downgrades (there’s a meter to show it happening) but there are times when you need more engine braking to slow two tonnes of kerb weight.

It’s a big car. You have to take care with the generous front overhangs and with kerbing the rear wheels in tight corners. The S500 sighs about town almost as if it has no motive power at all, but the driver will always need to steer accurately, simply because it’s nearly 5.3m long and occupies more road than most.

On arterial roads and motorways, it’s marvellous. In Comfort, it has a spectacularly capable secondary ride that obliterates ripples and ruts while allowing some gentle body motion to gently signal its softness. The Sport setting gently reverses the position: the car is dead flat, in exchange for a minuscule increase in bump noise. You find yourself changing the setting according to your mood.

So far we’ve covered almost 1000 miles in the big Merc and the fuel mileage is running at about 34mpg. Much of that driving has been around town, but I have a feeling fast cruising is going to be this car’s true metier. I’m already thinking of ways to give the S500 its head, and I know I’m going to enjoy it.

Second Opinion

No matter how well you might think you know the S-Class, it always manages to surprise and delight you with another bit of comfort, pace, drivability or refinement whenever you step into it. It’s this ability to surprise that makes it not just a great car, but a truly special one.

Jim Holder

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Mercedes-Benz S-Class S500L AMG-line specification

Specs: Price New £86,330 Price as tested £112,150 Options Premium Plus pack £5395, Driving Assistance pack £1695, Executive Equipment pack £4600, Exclusive Nappa Leather pack £6890, night view assist £2080, privacy glass £345, white paint £3650, intelligent rear belts £995

Test Data: Engine 2999cc, six-cylinder, turbocharged petrol w/ 48v starter-generator Power 450bhp at 5250rpm Torque 516lb ft at 1800-3500rpm Kerb weight 2015kg Top speed 155mph (limited) 0-62mph 4.8sec Claimed fuel economy 38.2mpg Test Fuel economy 34.0mpg CO2 208g/km Faults None Expenses None

Join the debate

Comments
21

9 November 2018

Matt white paint?  So clapped out wedding car look then.

Ugh...

9 November 2018

Oh look, another top of the range car for Cropley to waft about in whilst at the same time trying to justify to the readers is still relevant.  Wonder how many glowing Mercedes articles we'll have in the next few months in return.

9 November 2018

But you need to make sure that you have the greatpeople.me login credentials. If you don’t have them, contact the HR department at your Kroger work location.

9 November 2018
The AMG body kit is disgusting.

9 November 2018
manicm wrote:

The AMG body kit is disgusting.

I don't like it either and nor to I understand why its desireable - its a luxury saloon, not a sports car, so why does it need a body kit? And the matt white paint is a big mistake. Straight 6 engine sounds nice though.

289

10 November 2018

I agree, it looks terrible...a great car spoilt. A nice navy blue with tobacco leather would look more in keeping.

This car is 'Dubal spec' or straight off the set of 'TOWIE'.

I am, as ever, highly dissapointed to see that the S500 has lost its bent 8. Much as I love straight 6's this is not what a expect at any money from the previously sweet-spot in the S-Classe line-up.

In the past I have had many S500's as company cars and the split personality V8 was the crowning glory.

10 November 2018

'Kiernan' got it spot on, another high end motor for Mr C to gush over for the provider, this time Mercedes, in return for very high end motoring. I especially liked the sentence 'Egged on by contacts in Mercedes...' Says it all about the objectivity of the relatonship. And who's he kidding, white paint helps to make it exactly what he says it does the opposite of, i.e., make it look like a wedding car.

10 November 2018

'Kiernan' got it spot on, another high end motor for Mr C to gush over for the provider, this time Mercedes, in return for very high end motoring. I especially liked the sentence 'Egged on by contacts in Mercedes...' Says it all about the objectivity of the relatonship. And who's he kidding, white paint helps to make it exactly what he says it does the opposite of, i.e., make it look like a wedding car.

10 November 2018

I'd cruise around in one.

12 November 2018

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