Parkers overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 4.5
  • Two diesels, one petrol model available
  • Plug-ins and V8 models to follow
  • No plug-in hybrid… yet

What engine options are there?

There are currently three engines to choose from, although in typical Mercedes-Benz style, expect the range to grow in the upcoming months. There’s the choice of a pair of six-cylinder diesels, and a single mild-hybrid petrol. Currently, there’s no plug-in hybrid version of the S-Class, although expect that to arrive later in 2021, and if you want all-electric, you’ll be catered for by a separate model – the EQS.

Petrol engine

Engine Power and torque
0-62mph time
Top speed
S 500 435hp, 520Nm 4.9secs 155mph

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So far you can only buy one petrol model in the UK – the S 500. It’s a mild hybrid that’s good for 435hp and 520Nm of torque. It’s also capable of an extra on-demand 23hp from its EQ mild-hybrid system, which adds a little extra punch when needed – as well as silence during ‘coasting’, a mode that switches the engine off when it’s being driven gently.

The standard- and long-wheelbase models sprint from 0-62mph in an identical 4.9 seconds and maximum speed is – yet again – 155mph, limited. On the road, it accelerates without effort, but isn’t as refined when accelerating as we’d hoped for.

The drivetrain is at its best at low speeds, with early gearchanges and lots of coasting. Sport Plus drive mode is designed to make it feel sportier, but is at odds with the car’s character and disturbs the flow.

Diesel engines

Engine Power and torque
0-62mph time
Top speed
S 350 d 286hp, 600Nm 6.4secs 155mph
S 400 d 330hp, 700Nm 5.4secs 155mph

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Unusually, there are more diesel than petrol options right now – but that will change. The S-Class diesel models are an evolution of the previous generation, and are effectively two different power outputs for the same straight-six engine.

The entry-level model is the S 350 d, which is effortless to drive, but capable of a fair turn of speed when required. You’re always aware it’s a diesel, but its pulling power, and effortless motorway cruising make this the perfect entry into S-Class life. At no point will you feel this is underpowered or a relatively small engine in a massive car.

If that’s not enough for you, the four-wheel drive S 400 d 4Matic accelerates more quickly, while the limited maximum speed remains the same. Gone are the days that entry-level S-Class models are slow and cumbersome – both diesels are capable of genuine hot hatch-style performance.

Electric and hybrid engines

Engine Power and torque
0-62mph time
Top speed
S 580 e 510hp, 500/480Nm 5.2secs 155mph

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The S 580 e plug-in hybrid is due to land in the UK later in 2021, but we’ve already sampled this model in Germany. Mercedes-Benz says it’s the most advanced PHEV on the market, and it’s certainly a leap over the old S 560 e. It is powered by a 360hp six-cylinder petrol that’s combined with a 150hp electric motor fed by a 28.6kWh battery.

It’s capable of an impressive battery-only range of more than 60miles, and can be locked in e-mode up to 88mph. It automatically switches to battery mode when entering a ULEZ-zone (in Germany at least), and is compatible with all AC and DC chargers from 11 to 60kW. Charging from empty to full takes only 30 minutes.

There’s only one criticism about how it drives, and that’s in its braking, which lacks feel and progression thanks to the way it regenerates power for the battery pack. Thankfully this is not a safety concern, but the brief delay when you press the pedal is nonetheless irritating.

Handling

  • It’s a big car, but it’s clever
  • Handling is agile and belies its size
  • Steering and brakes are first rate

As you’d expect, this is a car that’s designed primarily for comfort, and it excels in this measure. But don’t think that the S-class doesn’t excel in terms of composure as well, because it’s capable of very impressive handling. There are four different drive modes to choose from: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus, and you can also adjust the steering and sensitivity of the accelerator pedal’s response. Comfort is the best of the lot for day-to-day driving, suiting the S-Class’s relaxed character.

On the motorway is where the S-Class is at its best. It’s the definitive big daddy edition that clears the outside lane by its sheer presence when overtaking. Yet on A- and B-roads it’s capable of remarkable agility, thanks to its rear-wheel steering that doesn’t just make low-speed manoeuvring easier, but allows amazing precision around obstacles at speed and perfect arcs through flowing bends.

The controls are all responsive, and as such you can be confident in pushing this car to its limits in an emergency situation. The nine-speed automatic transmission is polished and slurs its gear changes imperceptably, but if you do want to take manual control using the steering wheel paddle controls shuffling through the gears is simple enough – but probably not needed due to the sheer number to choose from.

Some of the driver tech is a little too clever for its own good, though. Take the steering-wheel, which is covered in black-on-black touchsliders and capacitive buttons, or the shallow, hard to reach touch bar that runs along the bottom of the main monitor. They’re designed to make things easier, but when driving, actually are a little off-putting at first.