From £60,5958

The Mercedes S-Class is a fine luxury car and a technological masterstroke. It is calm but rewarding

The first official ‘Mercedes S-Class’ model to be launched was the W116 series in 1972, although the flagship Mercedes-Benz saloon is an icon in its own right. It has a heritage stretching back nearly sixty years to the W180 so-called ‘Ponton’ launched in 1954.

Over its lifetime, the current model has had by far the widest choice of powertrains of any S-Class.

Four-wheel drive is available in left-hand drive S-Class models, but not in right-hand drive due to engineering limitations. That should change in the all-new model

These included V6 and V8s in both petrol and diesel forms as well as a bi-turbo V12 (used in the Mercedes S 65 AMG). There was also a V6 petrol hybrid model available in some markets.  

Nearly all models were fitted with the new-generation 7G-Tronic autobox, though this did receive further tweaks in 2010 to counter criticism of its sometimes lethargic pick-up from rest. Four-wheel drive was available in some overseas markets, but was not offered on right-hand drive vehicles.

With the introduction of the S 350 Bluetec, Mercedes rolled out a number of innovative new options, including Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Attention Assist and Distronic Plus radar cruise control.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Bluetec badging

Ironically, when the Mercedes S-Class was launched, the styling – unusual at the time – was not widely liked by the press.

The exaggerated wheel arches and huge headlamps were a surprise after its rather less imposing predecessor, but see one on the road today and you’ll have to agree that Mercedes-Benz got the styling right.

Distronic cruise controls will brake the S-Class to a standstill from 125mph

It has a solidity and dignity that is perfectly judged for its role – which is usually being parked in front of the smartest hotels across the world.

The way the shoulders of the doors flow backwards into the rear wing and rear light cluster is especially deft.

The boot effectively ‘sits’ on top of the rear wings, with the edges of the lid forming a distinctly odd contrast with the rear wing, but, somehow, it all works as whole.

The addition of LED ‘Christmas tree’ daylight running lights in the lower front bumper is, perhaps, the least successful part of the exterior of the current S-Class.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class interior

The interior styling carves between being purely sybaritic and giving the driver a sense of being in command. Although it is quite old by automotive industry standards, the cabin of the Mercedes S-Class has aged gracefully. For the driver, piloting the S-Class is a remarkably refreshing experience.

There are a few quirks: the hood over the display screen is rather heavy-handed and the slim row of centre console switches are a little peculiar. Indeed, the centre console looks rather bereft, lacking the expected bank of climate controls. But the rotary controller is well placed under the driver’s hand, as are the tiny roller-switches that surround it. Mercedes’ column-mounted gear selector may not be very stylish, but it is highly effective.

Despite its age, the S-Class still wades in with about the best array of technology in the class. Only a head-up display seems to be missing

For the rear-seat passenger, the S-Class is probably the best of the limos. Mercedes is conscious that most of these cars will be used for transporting VIPs, so the refinement in the rear is excellent and the  seats are unashamedly super-plush. However, there’s an argument that rear legroom is not quite as lavish as it should be on a car of this type, though the long wheelbase version gets another 150mm between the wheels, which removes any doubts about rear passenger comfort. Again, the boot, at 560 litres, is hardly small but it could be bigger and a slightly more accommodating shape.

3.0-litre V6 Mercedes-Benz S-Class diesel engine

After the Mercedes S-Class had been on sale in the UK for six years, Mercedes offered an impressively wide range of engines, though the hybrid and four-cylinder diesel was not on the UK lists and the 250 four-cylinder diesel had been dropped by 2012

The V6 petrol engine is good for 302bhp and can take this big car from 0-62mph in just 6.9secs. Thanks to the addition of Mercedes’ BlueEfficiency technology, this engine is also promising an official combined figure of 37.2mpg, a very impressive mix of performance and economy.

Head rests automatically move up and forward in the event of a rear-end collision, to help prevent whiplash

The Mercedes S 500 has a 4.6-litre V8 and 429bhp and still offers 30mpg combined, so there’s little point in the 510bhp 5.5-litre V12 and its near-supercar 4.6sec 0-6omph sprint time. It can only return a combined 20mpg. Quite simply, the S600 and the two AMG models are exceptionally rapid.

However, it is the S 350 CDI, which is the UK’s most popular S-Class model by far, scooping up more than 80 percent of sales. And Mercedes-Benz is now giving buyers further reason to choose the S 350 CDI, or S 350 Bluetec, to give it its full name.

Changes to the previous-generation 3.0-litre common-rail diesel engine included improved injection efficiency, added turbocharger boost pressure and reduced compression ratio – boost power by 22bhp at 254bhp. Torque rises by 59lb ft to 457lb ft, developed at 1600rpm, as before.

The upshot is added off-the-line performance, even more impressive mid-range shove, relaxed cruising attributes and a level of mechanical refinement that encroaches on that of petrol S-Class models.

Mercedes has also fitted its latest urea injection system. Concentrated within the catalytic converter, it turns up to 80 percent of nitrogen oxides expelled by the engine into harmless nitrogen and water. A 25.7-litre tank for the urea solution is mounted in the spare wheel well and needs re-filling every 15,500 miles.

With the help of the revised seven-speed automatic gearbox and stop-start the S350 Bluetec achieves a combined 41.5mpg and a CO2 rating of 177g/km. It also fires off ratio shifts in a more determined way than before.

Some drivers might have regretted that the 2011 four-cylinder diesel S-Class was never offered in the UK. The 2.1-litre diesel engine manages 201bhp and a sturdy 368lb ft of torque; it gives away 53bhp and 89lb ft to the 3.0-litre V6 diesel-powered S 350 CDI.

The relatively small engine does a commendable job of hauling the S 250 CDI’s considerable 1895kg. Theoretically it’s capable of travelling up to 900 miles between refills on its 83-litre tank. On an autobahn run Autocar managed a remarkable 55mpg over 200 miles, proving that it can live up to its maker’s claim.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class cornering

There may be nothing radical in the architecture of the S 350 CDI’s four-link front and multi-link rear suspension with its adaptive air springs, but once out of town it still raises the ride quality standard to new class levels. In certain conditions, a Jaguar XJ or Lexus LS might match the Mercedes S-Class, but across all surfaces and through all loads from driver only to fully laden, we can’t think of another luxury car that approaches the Mercedes’s blend of steely body control and almost endlessly compliant bump absorption.

Early models could drop a wheel into a medium-sized pothole and the driver would both hear and feel a rather unluxurious thunk, a contrast to the near-uniform brilliance of the ride the rest of the time. Bigger, 18-inch, wheels didn’t help, but later models saw this quirk massaged away. 

If it's a big petrol S-Class you want, go for the sublime S 500 or S 600. The S 63 and 65 AMG are hilarious, but ultimately compromise the best elements of the S-class

This is no sports car, but it can still be hustled down a road with indecent haste. It’s all there: precision, poise, balance and even reasonable feel through the slightly too-light steering. It won’t have you setting the alarm for 5 o’clock on a Sunday morning, but nor will you greet each country lane with resignation. You’ll actually relish the prospect, and that's all you can expect. 

For the all-important rear passengers, tyre roar is well suppressed and the ride nicely rounded off. All of which cannot be said of many of the car’s luxury segment rivals.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Running a Mercedes S-Class is not for the financially faint-hearted. Even the best-selling S 350 diesel – which has an entry-level price of £62,280 – only retains 43 percent of its list price after three years. The insurance group – at 48 – is almost at the top of the tree. The servicing costs of around £2200 over three years are stiff for a car that will only need routine items in the first three years of its warrantied life.

The upshot is that ownership of the 350 CDI is likely to come out at a whopping 121p per mile. It’s an almost identical figure for the petrol-engined S 350 model, which has very marginally cheaper servicing costs. 

Optional 'SplitView' allows the single central screen in the dash to show different things for driver and passenger, very effectively and in high-def quality

Move into the S 500 model and, as well as being rewarded with a group 50 insurance bill, and the costs will shoot up to 165 pence per mile, partly because the retained value is just 34 percent of the £82k price tag.

In terms of day-to-day running costs, the 350 CDI is capable of returning 40mpg – and occasionally more – even when pushed along on busy UK motorways. None of the other S-Class models available in the UK will get near that, especially an advantage that gets clearer when you mix in driving in congested urban situations.

4 star Mercedes-Benz S-Class

There’s one thing that is overwhelmingly odd about assessing the Mercedes S-Class: it is really designed to transport rear-seat passengers in comfort, rather than provide pleasure for the driver, who is often not even the owner.

However, it is a very fine long-distance car for both its driver and passengers. You sit high and comfortably, unlike the sports-coupé driving position that marks the Jaguar XJ. The steering may be a little distant, but the seamless shove of all the engines and the car’s mix of effortlessness and unstoppability is quite addictive.

Standard 18-inch alloys offer best ride quality, but look a little lost on such a big car

The S-Class has aged exceptional well and a mark of its abilities is the fact that, at six years old, it does not feel past its sell-by date.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2006-2013 First drives