The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a series of full-size luxury sedans, limousines, and armored sedans manufactured and marketed by the German luxury car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz since 1954. The S-Class has ranked as the world's best-selling luxury sedan. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class maintains superiority by being the full-size luxury sedan by which all others are judged. The S-Class satisfies the tastes of its moneyed clientele with stacks of fine materials, deep-seated comfort, and loads of technology. Life in the lavish Mercedes-Benz S-Class goes uninterrupted for 2023 with only subtle changes to the available paint and upholstery options.
History of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class
First Generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W116; 1972–1980)
In 1972, the German car-maker launched the W116 series which replaced the previous W108/109 models. It was launched with 6 and 8-cylinder engines. The Watergate scandal started, a gallon of gasoline was 55 cents and the average income per year in the U.S. was USD 11.800 and Bobby Fischer became World Chess Champion. In September that year, the first vehicle to receive the name "Mercedes-Benz S-Class" was launched and became a champion in its class. The horizontal headlights were brought in that class after the 1971 SL model. The W116 featured independent suspension on both axles and it had important new safety features such as the anti lock system (ALS) developed with Bosch. For the engine, the top model was the 6.9-liter V8 unit with a mechanical injection that offered 286 hp and 549 Nm (405 lb-ft) of torque.
Second Generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W126/C126; 1979–1992)
The second generation of the S-Class was launched at the 1979 Frankfurt Motor Show. It was offered with two wheelbases and four engine choices. The S-Class W126 was a trendsetter of its times. It was the first Mercedes-Benz that featured plastic bumpers integrated into the front and rear apron areas, in a gray color that matched all the other colors for the bodywork. To amplify that new trend, on the sides there were plastic covers on the lower part of the doors and fenders that matched the color and pattern of the bumpers. The W126 was launched with four engine choices and later on, there were more options added. A 3.0L turbodiesel version was offered for the U.S. market. The W126 was engineered to be more fuel-efficient and it was also fitted with catalytic converters, to decrease the emission values. It was offered with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission.
Third Generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W140/C140; 1991–1998)
The introduction of the 1991 S Class was one of the most significant turning points in the carmaker's history. It was the moment when it decided to return the V12-powered models and, moreover, to bring surprising technologies to the market. The shocking look of the W140 S Class made a lot of people look angry, especially since its predecessor was prized for its elegance and beauty. But while the German carmaker didn't focus too much on the exterior, it took great care of other details that made this vehicle one of the best on the market at the beginning of the '90s. Mercedes-Benz designed the W140 to look like a fortress. It was tall, wide, and long. Moreover, it was available in two wheelbases (SE and SEL). Customers could have even ordered a Pullman version, which was even longer. Under the hood, the base models featured an inline-six engine, either gasoline-powered or turbodiesel. The range-topper, on the other hand, featured a 6.0L powerplant that fed the horsepower battle with over 400 ponies on tap.
The vehicle received a restyling for 1995 when it saw minor visual alterations and a myriad of on-board electronics and safety features additions. It was many of these upgrades that were later copied or supplied to other car manufacturers. Such was the case with the ESP (Electronic Stability Program), introduced in 1996. Following this fortunate and very profitable discovery, a Brake Assist system was introduced the same year, complemented by the arrival of side airbags and seat occupancy sensors. Safety and practicality were enhanced by the replacement of rear-parking markers with a Parkatronic sonar-like obstacle detection system.
Fourth Generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W220; 1998–2005)
In 1998, Mercedes-Benz started producing the W220 S-Class and showed an entirely new image for its flagship model. There were not too many people who regretted the previous W140 S-Class. While the former looked bulky and oversized, the 1998 model was just long. Another improvement was on the technical side, where the carmaker introduced an AMG-badged version with more ponies under the hood. Inside, the luxurious cabin spoiled its occupants with four seats. Despite its low greenhouse, the 1998 S-Class provided enough headroom even for taller passengers. In the long-wheelbase version, the carmaker added an option for footrests for the rear passengers. Under the sleek-looking bodywork, Mercedes-Benz installed a wide choice of engines ranging between a fleet-special 3.2-liter, inline-six turbo diesel, and a fast 5.8L V-12. The carmaker installed a standard five-speed automatic transmission for the entire range.
After the bulky S-Class W140, the appearance of the W220 took anyone by surprise. The S-Class was sleek, stylish, and looked more dynamic when it was introduced in 1999. The 2003 S-Class model suffered subtle design changes. The front bumper's lower air intake was restyled, making the car look wider. The grille was taller. The headlights were covered with clear glass and the whole lamp featured a rounder look. The door mirrors and the taillights were refreshed as well. The most important safety innovation system was the PreSafe, which analyzed several sensors from the ESP and took actions by tensing the seatbelts, closing the windows, and the sunroof. If the accident was avoided, the PreSafe resumed to a standby mode.
Fifth Generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W221; 2005–2013)
Whether it was needed for a CEO or a head of state, the 2005 Mercedes-Benz S-Class was ready in two wheelbases and with plenty of options. The S-Class was the top vehicle from the German carmaker. It was the benchmark for comfortable cars all over the world. It was also at the front of automotive technologies for safety and luxury, for more than five decades. The suspension featured the standard AIRMATIC air-suspension system that could be programmed for comfort or sports settings at the touch of a button. Under the hood, there was a choice of V6 or V8 engines from the start, with the 3.5L as entry-level. Since in Europe there was a high demand for diesel units, a 3.0L was offered for the S320 CDI. Top of the range, the S600 V12 engine has been available since 2006. For the transmission, the S-Class installed the 7G-Tronic as standard for the V6 and the V8 engines.
After four years on the market, the fifth generation of the S-Class received an update for the 2009 model-year and became even more attractive to its buyers.
Europe was still struggling with the financial crisis that hit the automakers, but Mercedes-Benz had its agenda, and, as usual for the Germans, it had to stick to it. Moreover, starting with 2009, Europe was switching to Euro 5 emission standards, so, besides the need for a visual update, the drivetrains had to be upgraded as well. Under the hood, the most significant change was the introduction of the hybrid system that not only increased fuel efficiency but also lowered CO2 emissions. In addition, the entire range benefited from the newly developed 7G-Tronic gearbox that sent the power to the rear wheels or in all corners, depending on the version.
Sixth Generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W222/C217/A217; 2013–2020)
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class further consolidates the automaker's flagship position in matters of comfort, drive engineering and state-of-the-art safety technology. Apart from a bolder design, with sharper edges and side lines, the new S-Class changed its dimensions a bit. With the car's size being increased, it is normal that more passenger space will be available, enhancing occupants' comfort. And while that can apply to the cabin, the luggage space has dropped a little from 558 L (19,7 cu.ft) to 530 L (18.7 cu.ft).
The S-Class got a mid-life cycle refresh in 2017. Even if the exterior looked similar to the non-facelifted version, it still had more than 6000 parts in the car that were changed. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been considered a benchmark for the luxury car segment for over 50 years. The car was constantly improved and most of the time it set the pace for the advanced safety and luxury features. The 2017 model was no exception for that, but on the outside, it shared only little details to tell that it was a facelifted model. On the outside, the redesigned bumper, grille, and headlights were the main details that could tell a difference. The headlights featured three LED-lines for the daytime running lights. The interior design featured a mix of leather, real wood, and hi-tech equipment, but combined to form harmonious interior design. The ample front seats are adjustable in any possible way a car-seat could have been adjusted. For the suspension, the 2017 S-Class featured a new generation of Magic Body Control air-suspension, improved with a CURVE function that kept the car flat while cornering. A new range of engines with better fuel efficiency was introduced to the vehicle, including a plug-in hybrid from 2018.
Seventh Generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class (W223; 2020–Present)
The S-Class was one of the premium vehicles that made the customers come again and ask for the new model. It was like an iPhone in the car industry. Nine out of ten customers bought the S-Class in the long-wheelbase version. Around 80% of the Western European customers and 70% from the U.S. owners returned for the new version. That loyalty rate was a satisfaction proof hard to get by many other brands. The 2020 model was not as much about the outside as it was for the comfort and safety features. Still, Mercedes-Benz couldn't let a facelifted model without exterior changes. The new headlights and the front bumpers were slightly improved over the non-facelifted version. A major improvement was the rear-axle steering, which reduced the turning circle by 6.2 feet (1.88 m) in diameter. The new 48v architecture allowed the car to be fitted with mild-hybrid technologies for most of the engines, including a V8 with an integrated starter-generator. The base version was powered by an inline-six turbocharged engine with direct fuel injection that provided 362 hp sent to the rear of the all-four wheels via a 9-speed automatic (dual-clutch) gearbox.
For the 2023 model year, Mercedes-Benz retails the S-Class with a starting MSRP of $115,550 for the base S-Class S500, rising to $125,050 for the top-spec S580 variant.
- S-Class S500 - $115,550
- S-Class S580 - $125,050
Features of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Subtle is not a word that should be applied to any luxury vehicle. These cars are supposed to ooze style and sophistication. They speak of success and status. This is something that Mercs of old made clear, but the newer design language is far more subdued. The lines are clean but bland. This is not to say they are particularly boring or ugly, but the S-Class looks like any other Mercedes out there. As a flagship model, we'd love it if it stood out just a little more. The grille is large but plain, but at least all the exterior lighting is high-tech LEDs. An understated rear spoiler is available, either body-colored or in black. Other standard features include 19-inch alloy wheels, a panorama roof, power-folding side mirrors, an automatic trunk lid, and soft-close doors. Larger wheels are available, however. Both the S500 and the S580 are available with AMG Line features, which see them equipped with AMG twin five-spoke wheels, along with AMG body styling.
Inside, the S-Class prioritizes screens. Lots of them. The sedan is available with up to five, including a giant center touchscreen and a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. The latter works in concert with other technology to create a three-dimensional effect, but—thankfully—it can be turned off if you'd prefer the screens to have a conventional appearance. There's also an enhanced head-up display that will show navigation directions in augmented reality. Basically, arrows move and turn in real-time to supposedly better assist the driver. The build quality and cabin materials live up to Mercedes' upscale standards, and the sedan provides limousine-like accommodations for all passengers, specifically those riding in the back. The new model's rear-seat area offers slightly increased headroom and legroom, and it can also be equipped with power-adjustable reclining seats that have massage functions and extensive heating elements. Along with being physically coddled, those in the back should be mentally entertained by the optional rear-seat entertainment system that adds two 11.6-inch screens on the front seat backs as well as the interactive LED interior lighting.
Specs and Performance of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Under the hood of the S-Class, you'll find either of two highly capable turbocharged engines. The first is a 3.0L inline-6 in the S500 that develops a healthy 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of twist. This is sent to the 4MATIC all-wheel drivetrain via a nine-speed automatic transmission, launching the large vehicle from 0-60 mph in just 4.9 seconds. But, for those who don't want to waste even a single second in their work commute, the S580's burly biturbo 4.0L V8 shaves half a second off this sprint time. This is thanks to outputs of 496 hp and 516 lb-ft. It uses the same drivetrain and the same silky-smooth nine-speed auto 'box. This perfectly manages even these enormous levels of power and makes the S-Class feel like an absolute beast, especially on the highway where it can let loose and get up to the legal top speed with no effort whatsoever. While the V8's soundtrack is muted in this application, this nevertheless suits the nature of the S-Class.
There are AMG variants of the S-Class on the way if this isn't quick enough. Regardless of the model you opt for, the top speed is limited to 130 mph. Dimension-wise, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class long wheelbase measures 5,289 mm (208.2 in) long, 1,954 mm (76.9 in) wide, and 1,503 mm (59.2 in) high. Its wheelbase measures 3,216 mm (126.6 in) and has a curb weight of 4,400–5,180 lbs (1,995–2,350 kg).
Mercedes-Benz has been producing the Mercedes-Benz S-Class since 1954, and it's now in its seventh generation. Currently, customers can now order the 2023 S-Class at the time of writing.