For many decades, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been regarded as the finest automobile in the world.
Many of the features we take for granted today were first implemented in some variation of the S-Class before trickling down into the German automaker’s lineup, and then the rest of the industry. Not only is it a pinnacle of luxury and a status statement, the S-Class is also one of the safest vehicles money can buy. I personally own a 1988 560 SEL, the infamous W126 body style that many consider to be the most bulletproof car Mercedes-Benz ever made.
My own S-Class has been fully restored and is only driven sparingly on clear summer days, and despite the asinine costs of parts for a 30-year old car, I enjoy every single kilometer I put on it. Imagine my excitement when Mercedes-Benz announced the return of the “560” nameplate to the S-Class lineup, thirty years after my car was built. After containing my joy for months, this Anthracite Blue 2018 Mercedes-Benz S 560 4MATIC arrived for a week’s worth of testing. Naturally, the first thing we did was pull the 1988 out of the garage and compare the intricacies of how far one of the best cars ever produced has come.
The current S-Class sits on the W222 chassis, and subjectively, I think it’s the most attractive example since the boxy W140 (1992-1998). The W222 receives its mid-cycle refresh for the 2018 model year, where the S 550 was replaced with the S 560. Subtle styling cues have been added including a new grille that was formerly reserved for the V12-powered S 600, new lighting, and of course, new wheel designs. Long story short, you’d be hard-pressed to differentiate a post-refresh model from the one it replaces, but the differences really are vast. I personally feel that the W222 will age far better than every S-Class produced from 1999 to 2013, but only the test of time will really tell.
Inside, the S 560 offers one of the best interiors money can buy – exactly what we expect. The Nappa leather upholstery is supple to the touch, and continues onto the door panels and dashboard. The steering wheel has wood trim that feels good to hold and doesn’t get dirty easily. Every single material inside this car is high quality and feels expensive; you really do get your money’s worth with the S-Class. The V12-powered BMW M760Li (reviewed here) does a good job of this, but the Mercedes really is a notch above.
Technology is in abundance here, and this includes the latest implementation of Mercedes-Benz’s infotainment system. Two large screens are the centerpiece of the dashboard, and a heads-up display projects speed and other information right onto the windshield. Apple CarPlay is standard, but we found that it actually ruins the look of the infotainment setup, and opted to use Bluetooth audio to stream music instead. The standard Burmester audio system is fairly good, but a higher-end example is available for $6,900, and should be even more divine.
The seats are extremely comfortable and adjustable in every which way you can imagine. It’s not the “Perfect Position” setup the Lincoln Navigator (reviewed here) touts, but the S 560 offers real comfort without needing to prod at buttons for the better part of your day. The seats are heated, ventilated, and offer a series of massage settings including “Hot Relaxing” back and shoulder massage functions. The driver has the ability to control the passenger seat, in order to make room for the rear right passenger should the vehicle be driven by your chauffeur. Head, shoulder, and legroom is plentiful for all occupants. One excellent feature is the ability to heat all four of the door panel armrests and the leather lid to the center console – this is a godsend in a Canadian winter.
But why wouldn’t you want to drive the car? Especially considering that the S 560 is powered by one of the most balanced engines Mercedes-Benz currently offers. The 4.0L twin-turbocharged V8 delivers a healthy 463 horsepower between 5,250 and 5,500RPM, and a thundering 516 lb-ft. of torque between 2,000 and 4,000RPM. Of course, this still doesn’t compare to the more powerful AMG variants, but a sprint from 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds is nothing to scoff at for a sedan of this size. The S 560 bolts on to an electronically limited top speed of 210km/h, should you find yourself on an unrestricted Autobahn.
It’s not the power that makes this engine so special, either. The S 560 just sprints along effortlessly; never feeling strained or overworked. Ride quality is impeccable and the AIRMATIC air suspension absorbs every single imperfection in the road with ease. The body control in this car is a benchmark for every other luxury sedan, and it becomes blatantly obvious what makes the S-Class more special than every other flagship sedan. A comparable 750Li (reviewed here) with the air suspension rides well, but drive them back to back and it’s clear that the Mercedes-Benz has more composure. All of this is accented by the soft and almost inaudible burble of the turbocharged V8 humming along in front of you as you look at the three-pointed star emblem on the hood.
The handling of the S 560 is surprisingly good for a massive long-wheelbase sedan. The power steering is electric and effortless, but the S-Class will dance on cue if asked to. As in every other Mercedes-Benz, the combination of 4MATIC (standard on all S 450 and S 560 models) and stability control systems keep the car planted nicely regardless of weather or road conditions, but again, the S-Class is just a notch above everything else.
Fuel consumption isn’t nearly as poor as one would assume, either. Mercedes-Benz Canada rates the S 560 4MATIC at 13.5L/100km in the city, 8.6L/100km on the highway, and a combined estimate of 11.3L/100km. Naturally, this car requires premium 91-octane fuel, and over our weeklong test, we made no real effort to keep consumption down and averaged 12.4L/100km. This is in combined driving with a slight bias towards city speeds.
Pricing for the S-Class starts at $106,000 for the short-wheelbase S 450 model. The long-wheelbase example tested here starts at $124,400 (starts at the S 560 level). Adding to that, our test vehicle was equipped with the Premium Package ($6,100) which adds powered rear window and windscreen sunshades, Drive Dynamic Multicontour seats, full Nappa leather, ventilated front seats, a 360-degree camera, and a few more things. The Intelligent Drive Package at $2,300 adds the active drive assist technology that’s a must in this vehicle. Finally, a $5,900 Sport Package adds 19” AMG wheels, AMG styling bits throughout the exterior and sport brakes. The total sticker crests $140,000 for this long-wheelbase S 560.
Those who opt for the long wheelbase model tested here will appreciate the cavernous rear seating area of the car. Not only is there a separate glass roof above the rear seats, but there are individual vanity mirrors along with a series of buttons to control the powered rear shades. Getting into the rear of the S-Class is a luxurious experience in itself, with soft close doors equipped on this model. Even the ambient lighting is advanced, with subtle themes that can be selected that indistinguishably change the colours within a selected spectrum – a very cool touch.
It’s also a drastic difference to compare the driving dynamics of the two 560-grade S-Class models, separated by 30 years. It’s essentially incomparable, as the new car drives in a way that almost disguises the sheer size of the car. It’s about 600 pounds heavier than the old car, which definitely feels significantly heavier than the 4,100lb. weight suggests. The 2018 S 560 will handle anything you throw at it without skipping a beat, and without compromising comfort in any way, shape or form. At the same time, the 1988 560 SEL shares the single most important trait – a pure and undeniable air of luxury and quality.
Will the current S 560 4MATIC age as gracefully as my 1988 has? Probably not, but that has very little to do with how the car looks and feels today. Technology is a massive part of every car in production today, thanks to the connectivity era we live in. We all know how quickly tech dates itself, and I really don’t think we’ll be using Apple CarPlay in the same fashion thirty years from now. Where this 2018 Mercedes-Benz S 560 4MATIC does excel though is at being one of the best luxury cars ever made. This is the car you buy in the flagship luxury segment, and it’s the car that makes every car you drive after it feel like it’s just not good enough.