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Car Review

Mercedes-Benz S-Class review

£74,480 - £202,075
910
Published: 09 May 2023
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Driving

What is it like to drive?

Underpinnings first. The S-Class uses a re-engineered version of Mercedes’ large-car Modular Rear Architecture (now called MRA2) platform, which has additional aluminium in its construction (more than 50 per cent by weight) to complement the hot-formed high tensile steel used in the car’s safety cell and elsewhere.

Needless to say, the new S-Class’s active and passive safety is off-the-scale, with airbags in places you didn’t know you could fit them and a Driving Assistance Package that adds the Mercedes -Tronic suffix to an extremely lengthy list of tech. This is either the world’s most paranoid car or the best protected, but it certainly moves us closer to the utopia of accident-free driving. 

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It’s solid, does that mean it’s heavy on the road?

We’ve driven a few versions. Let’s start with what’s likely to be the big seller, the S500 4Matic. Its 3.0-litre six makes 429bhp, boosted by a 48v electrical system and integrated starter motor (all-wheel drive is standard for the first time in the UK). It weighs 1,990kg, a substantial figure but perhaps less than you might imagine for such an imposing car. Clearly, the S-Class’s sweet spot is at autobahn cruising speed, and on British motorways it’s as quiet and majestic as you’d expect. At lower speeds the engine is a little more vocal than is ideal, and although it moves rapidly the S500 isn’t a full-bore bahn-stormer (full fat AMGs are coming to fulfil that need).

What’s this about a good hybrid version?

It’s the one to have, it really is. £10k more than the S500/S400d, but arguably one of the very best hybrids on sale today. Most rivals (Bentley Flying Spur hybrid and Audi A8 60 TFSI e) are little more than a sop to CO2, with small batteries, slow plug-in charging and limited usability. This one is different. Its battery is twice the size and the integration is complete, so you get DC fast charging, full regen, clever modes and more.

Depending on your driving, you might even better the claimed 403mpg/16g/km of CO2 figures. You’ll easily get 45 miles from a full charge. On a 75-mile mixed drive we averaged 70mpg. Electric power suits the S-Class. And if you want to take the next step, there’s always the EQS. More for the self-drivers rather than the driven, though. Which also means BMW’s new all-electric i7, which offers full electric drive in a proper luxury package, offers something Merc has no answer to.

Are there modes? I bet there are modes.

It is the Mercedes way. Four different drive modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus, as well as an Individual one to tweak steering, throttle and damping. Unsurprisingly, Comfort is the one that suits the car’s character best, but if you do investigate the limits of the handling ‘envelope’ you’ll find grip and poise to spare, greater responsiveness from the primary controls, and a harder though far from thuggish edge to the car’s overall character. The nine-speed automatic does its thing as imperiously as ever, although if you do flick into Sport mode and take control via the steering wheel paddles you quickly lose track of which gear you’re in, and the display that tells you is small.

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If you have the 580e hybrid, there’s even more to look out for – you can lock it into electric mode, choose to maintain battery levels or use the extra 150bhp of e-thrust to shove you along with alacrity. But here’s the thing. BMW has clearly decided to take a proper tilt at the S-Class, and the new i7 actually rides more sumptuously and silently than the big Benz.

I still fancy a diesel.

That’s a bold thing to admit in this day and age. You’d imagine Merc wouldn’t bother doing much engineering on it, but in actual fact the 325bhp S400d is a stunning thing. Close to silent, super smooth and with effortless torque thanks to 516lb ft from only 1,200rpm. You can read more about that here.

The all-round refinement must be amazing.

For the first time, Mercedes is using an acoustic foam in key parts of the body, which is fitted early in production and then expands in the oven during cathodic dip painting. The area around the C-pillars – ie: beside the rear occupants’ head – is particularly well-suppressed.

Finally, the ride on the standard air suspension isn’t quite as peerlessly smooth as you might expect, at least not on the UK’s notoriously gnarly surfaces, but the body control is exceptional. Not that it will ever be subjected to such treatment, but this is a car that can be hustled down a country road with real vigour. Nor are the brakes quite as well modulated as we’d like. But these are minor grumbles, and the fact is you have to search long and hard to find faults.

Highlights from the range

the fastest

Mercedes-Benz S Class Maybach First Class S680 4Matic 4dr 9G-Tronic
  • 0-624.5s
  • CO2
  • BHP612
  • MPG
  • Price£202,075

the cheapest

Mercedes-Benz S Class S350d AMG Line 4dr 9G-Tronic
  • 0-626.4s
  • CO2
  • BHP286
  • MPG
  • Price£79,500

the greenest

Mercedes-Benz S Class S560e L Grand Edition 4dr 9G-Tronic
  • 0-625s
  • CO259.0g/km
  • BHP489
  • MPG
  • Price£97,490

Variants We Have Tested

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