The S-Class was, is and will always be the king of the mass-produced luxury segment and, with every new model, things get more and more impressive.
The Mercedes Class S has always been the most recognisable luxury car in the world. Yes, yes, I know there are Bentleys and Rolls-Royce, but let’s be honest: are they really worth three or four times the price of an S-Class? Of course not.
Those two brands operate at a level where prices don’t really matter anymore, so, for me, they are not comparable to an S-Class. An S-Class is a standard production car, sold by the thousands worldwide and price does matter. Obviously, one can never call such a car something like ‘cheap’ or ‘a bargain’, but, still, looking at those two brands and what they offer, I think an S-Class is well worth the money.
I drove two versions of it during the course of a week: the limousine and the coupé. They share the name and the same luxurious approach to motoring but are very different cars.
First, the limo. Now this is the daddy, the car on which Mercedes have been building an image of quality and prestige since the first W-180 Ponton of 1954. The S-Class was recently refreshed to keep up with the times but there were only subtle changes all around. Being a car usually ahead of its time, that is not surprising.
However, this is a really advanced piece of machinery, so even a mild update means 6,000 new components. Yes – six thousand. The infotainment is new and the autonomous driving modes are an addition Mercedes could not delay anymore. Oh, and there are three new engines. Maybe the update is not so subtle after all.
The car Mercedes lent me was a 400d, the new inline diesel version with 340-horse power, mated to a 9-speed 9G-Tronic automatic gearbox. It took Mercedes two decades to build a great six-cylinder diesel, but boy have they done it now.
This is a truly spectacular power plant. I can tell you how smooth and silent this car is but, really, it is impossible to make you believe me with mere words because diesels are supposed to be noisy, to rattle, to make their presence announced. This one doesn’t. It’s as quiet as a petrol engine. A Mercedes petrol engine. Quieter than almost every other petrol engine in existence, actually.
Driving around in the S400 is a real privilege and if you like cars like me, you never forget that. This car is so good you never forget you are driving it. It keeps surprising you kilometre after kilometre after kilometre, constantly proving to you what an achievement it is.
There are no faults here. The cabin is a masterpiece, the materials top-notch, the comfort out of this world. Although it is a big car, it shrinks around you and can be used every day, even around town, no problem. The S-Class is a machine built by people who understand the meaning of luxury and feels like the materialisation of a product always looking to push the boundaries of what a car can be. I love it.
So what about the coupé? Well, it is another sort of car. Sleeker, with a big emphasis on the aesthetic part and the appeal its design can summon on its own. Which is, I have to say, quite a lot. The S-Class coupé is a beauty. Clean, organic lines that translate into a very proportioned car, it is even a bit ostentatious on the road. It’s like other cars are not in the same league as this, as if they aren’t even the same type of machine.
The coupé also drives very differently from the limo. There is the same sense of quality to it and the depth of engineering is always noticeable, but this is a much sportier car, one that you will want to push much, much harder. I tested the S450 with a new inline six-cylinder petrol engine boasting 367 horse power. Silk isn’t as smooth as this thing. It’s unbelievable how this car and this engine can carry so much speed and performance with so little fuss. Really, unbelievable.
The gearbox is also the 9-speed auto, while power is sent to all four wheels. The S450 coupé is not a family car and trades space for dynamic ability. It’s still a big, heavy car, but I really enjoyed throwing it around.
And then there are the details that make it stand out. The way the stitching on the seats is presented is perfect, the dashboard has these organic curves that make it oh so interesting, the steering wheel is perfectly sized and feels like a million dollars. Get out and the wheels look like the work of a craftsman, the lights look like they came from a spaceship and the detailing in the front grille is mesmerizing. I love it.
Having returned both Mercedes, I wondered if I would spend €149,000 on the four-door or €164,000 on the coupé. And the answer is, I don’t know. I guess I’d love them both in the garage and I’d use them for different purposes. They are both extraordinary machines. If you can, you must.
By Guilherme Marques