The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the flagship of the brand and encompasses a range of models and body styles. For 2016, a convertible has been added, the Mercedes-AMG S65 Cabriolet featuring a three-layer fabric top and a sophisticated climate-control system.
For 2015, a new S-Class Coupe joined the lineup, available as an S550 4MATIC Coupe or as an S63 AMG or S65 AMG. 2015 also brought the top-of-the-line Mercedes-Maybach S600, powered by a V12 engine, and the S550e plug-in hybrid.
Anchoring the S-Class is a range of sedans, including the S550 and S550 4MATIC, the S600, and two AMG versions. This sixth-generation S-Class was introduced for the 2014 model year.
The S-Class Coupe looks bold, with a dashing profile and unique roofline but with familiar detailing. The coupe’s arching character lines look crisper than those of the sedan. A broader, more upright grille is complemented by angular full-LED headlights and big air intakes.
Gas-engine S-Class models have a choice of two V8s and a V12. S550 models hold a twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8 that makes 449 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, teamed to a 7-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Sedans can be rear- or all-wheel drive (4MATIC) for sedans, while coupes are AWD-only.
With a standard air suspension, the S550 is an effortless performer.
High-performance AMG editions come in two levels: S63 with a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8, developing 577 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque; and S65 with a twin-turbo V12 that generates 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet.
A 6.0-liter V12 goes into the S600 sedan, as well as the new, even more costly, Mercedes-Maybach S600, which flaunts an opulent appearance to rival Rolls-Royce. Measuring eight inches longer, the Maybach features a limousine-level cabin.
Finally, the new S550e Plug-In Hybrid can travel up to 12 miles in all-electric mode, then becomes a conventional hybrid. An 85-kW electric motor works with a 3.0-liter V6 gas engine, for combined output of 436 horsepower. Fuel economy is EPA-rated at 26 mpg Combined, yet an S550e can reach 60 mph in 5.2 seconds.
Available advanced active-safety systems include adaptive brake lights, night vision with obstacle/pedestrian detection, lead/following cruise control, forward collision alert with automatic braking, lane-keeping assist, and Active Parking Assist. An available camera predicts the road surface ahead, providing almost magical adaptive control over ride quality.
S550 Sedan ($95,650) gets the 4.7-liter V8 and rear-wheel drive. Standard features include leather upholstery, power front seats, 10-speaker Harman/Kardon audio, HD and satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and an SD card slot. Navigation includes dedicated music storage space.
S550 4MATIC Sedan ($98,650) is all-wheel drive.
S550 4MATIC Coupe ($121,550) is the two-door version of the S550 4MATIC.
S550e Plug-In Hybrid Sedan ($95,650) contains a gasoline/electric powertrain with 3.0-liter V6 and rear-wheel drive.
S600 Sedan ($169,050) moves up to the 6.0-liter V12, with rear- wheel drive.
Mercedes-Maybach S600 Sedan ($189,350) is the pinnacle of poshness, with the 6.0-liter V12 and rear-drive.
S63 AMG 4MATIC Sedan ($143,250) has all-wheel drive and the 577-horsepower, 5.5-liter V8. S63 AMG 4MATIC Coupe ($163,150) is the two-door version of the S63 AMG sedan.
S65 AMG Sedan ($224,650) has a 621-horsepower, 6.0-liter V12 and rear-wheel drive S65 AMG Coupe ($234,050) is the two-door version of the S65 AMG sedan. S65 AMG Cabriolet has the 6.0-liter V12 and a convertible top.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class continues to exude every element of class and luxury that has made it a benchmark for decades. A redesig for the 2014 model year replaced the stiffly formal appearance with a curvaceous roofline.
Today’s gracefully elegant S-Class displays an athletic tone that complements its large body and strong lines. Large frontal features include LED-accented lights and a tall grille, while the arched roof tapers modestly into a smooth rear end.
Logically enough, the coupe looks more athletic than the sedan, with a slimmer nose. All told, the two-door seems wider, as well as more low-slung. AMG models seem even more muscular, with aggressively aerodynamic elements all around.
Now a model of plush automotive sensuality, the sixth-generation S-Class is packed with systems to coddle and comfort its occupants. High-contrast materials have a richer feel than in earlier S-Class models, matched by stunning detailing and ample brightwork. S-Class finishes seem lovelier than ever, including the quilted leather dashboard.
Streamlined in appearance, the cabin manages to blend splendor with simple functionality. Controls include the latest version of the Mercedes-Benz COMAND connectivity system. Coupe and sedan dashboards are related but not identical, featuring a twin-tier layout.
Front seats are simply superb, with long, wide cushions, accompanied by first-class amenities. In sedans, at least, outboard back-seat positions are similarly roomy and comfortable. In coupes, the lower roofline steals a little space, but materials are no less opulent.
A First Class Rear Suite option adds reclining rear seats with fold-out footrests, laptop/work trays, heated armrests, and a hot-stone massage function. Twin screens are available for infotainment, and audiophiles can upgrade to a Burmester sound system.
Most auto companies have been downsizing powertrains for improved efficiency. At Mercedes-Benz, engines remain nearly as large as in the past, but many have been turbocharged.
As a result, S-Class models, including the base S550, have plenty of reserve power. In addition to 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds, the S550 also provides an impressive level of quietness and isolation. The 7-speed automatic responds well, even if an S550 lacks the swiftness of a sports sedan.
Although the 523-horsepower V12 in the S600 sedan is more potent, that model is heavier, servicing as a boulevard cruiser. The top-of-the-line Mercedes-Maybach S600 gets this powertrain, too, but it’s more of a status symbol than a necessity for energetic performance.
Coupes promise greater driving pleasure, though luxury still comes first. Both body styles are reasonably athletic, if a bit short on driver feedback and connectedness to the pavement. Each lacks the sportier feel that marks other Mercedes-Benz models.
For seriously energetic response, the S63 AMG’s V8 delivers a ferocious 577 horsepower, accompanied by confident all-wheel drive and upgraded suspension tuning. Acceleration to 60 mph takes just 3.9 seconds, and the AMG behaves gracefully through curves and corners. The 621-horsepower S65 AMG, with rear-drive, is a bit less swift but far more costly.
Fuel economy with the base S550 sedan is EPA-rated at 17/26 mpg City/Highway, dropping to 16/26 mpg with 4MATIC, and 16/24 mpg for the coupe. The S600 manages just 13/21 mpg City/Highway, while the S63 AMG is EPA-rated at 15/23 mpg.
Meticulously constructed, painstakingly detailed and supremely comfortable, the S-Class looks classy, and feels exactly that way. Passengers can savor authentic first-class seating. Except for all-out exotics, the S-Class is the automobile to drive home if you place a premium on engineering, technology, and advanced safety systems.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.