When Mercedes-Benz's top model was updated, no aspect of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class's features list, mechanical underpinnings or sense of occasion went unconsidered. After all, the German manufacturer that invented the automobile stakes its reputation on striking the cutting edge of high-end style and design, and this big sedan must set the tone for a manufacturer's entire lineup.
Did Mercedes-Benz succeed at upholding its longstanding reputation for ultimate luxury? Read on to find out.
What's New for 2014?
The S-Class is completely redesigned for 2014.
What We Like
Techy features galore; amenities we never knew we needed, such as hot-stone massage and a built-in aroma atomizer; clean dashboard design with available snazzy finishes, such as metalized wood or quilted leather; satisfying acceleration despite bulk
What We Don't
Simple tasks require use of an overly complicated menu system; despite impressive speed, car feels big in corners; creating a truly lavish interior experience requires optional trims on top of 6-figure starting price
To be determined ($97,000 to $145,000 estimated)
Though official fuel-economy figures have not yet been released for the 2014 S-Class, Mercedes-Benz is confident its big S550 sedan will avoid gas-guzzler tax, as it has for the past several years. The twin-turbocharged V8 has undergone subtle changes that yield slightly more power, and despite that bump, the initial estimates for fuel economy come in at a respectable 15 miles per gallon city/25 mpg hwy. Expect lower numbers from the higher-performance S63 AMG version when those figures are released.
Standard Features & Options
On top of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550's lengthy standard-equipment list, the range-topping model adds new standard items for 2014, including collision-avoidance features, a 13-speaker Burmester sound system, ambient LED lighting and twin 12.3-inch, high-resolution screens on the dashboard and instrument cluster.
New options include what Mercedes calls Magic Body Control, which uses stereo cameras to scan the road surface ahead and adjust suspension damping accordingly. Available massaging front seats offer a hot-stone option, while a rear-seat package brings luxurious touches such as reclining seats and tray tables. An Air Balance Package includes fragrance, ionization and filtration functionality. Also available is an active parking system that forces the driver to trust in the car as it spins the steering wheel and creeps into a spot. The S550 can also be ordered with 4Matic all-wheel drive.
Opt for the more aggressive S63 AMG version, and you'll savor the splendor of a 557-horsepower twin-turbo V8 that churns an amazing 664 lb-ft of torque. That model is mated with a more aggressive all-wheel-drive system, and comes standard with the S550's Premium Package, which includes keyless entry, massaging, heated and ventilated seats, and rear-window sunshades. On top of other standard equipment such as torque vectoring for better handling and a high-performance brake and exhaust system, the S63 can be ordered with ceramic brakes and a more thorough seat-massaging function.
More safety features than ever have been incorporated into the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, among them collision prevention, attention assist, active lane-keeping, distronic cruise control with cross-traffic sensing and an advanced pre-tensioning safety belt that operates from buckle. Other technologically advanced safety items include a night-vision system that can discern humans from animals and a pedestrian-sensing pre-brake system.
Though official crash-test results have not yet been released from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 2014 S-Class should be among the safest large sedans on the market when it hits showrooms this September.
Behind the Wheel
When you climb into the driver's seat of a new S-Class, you'll have no doubt this sedan is more focused on its passengers than its driver. Though instrumentation is clear and ergonomics are excellent, the S-Class is really more concerned about smoothing the ride for the rear passengers than it is for offering an entertaining experience for the driver. And yet, despite its exceptionally smooth ride and quiet cabin, the S550 manages to accelerate with sports car-like urgency, posting a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.8 seconds for both rear- and all-wheel-drive variants. Opt for the S63 AMG, and that time drops to an astounding 3.9 seconds.
Handling in the S550 is less thrilling, with the car revealing its bulk when it's hustled through fast corners. Body control is decent during lower-speed turns, and with the optional adaptive suspension it becomes downright eerie how the car manages to compensate for large surface irregularities. But there's a fine line between the manner in which the S-Class negotiates low- to medium-speed corners and how it betrays its size when asked to change directions more rapidly. Make no mistake, the S-Class is swift and effortless under most conditions; it's only when you try to push those limits more aggressively that you'll be more satisfied with acceleration than you will be with handling.
Other Cars to Consider
Audi A8 -- Audi has expanded its lineup of late, and the $75,100 A8 model is now a sibling to the sleek A7, which is available in a performance-focused RS7 variant. The A8 offers solid competition in this stratospheric category, delivering a fresh -- if somewhat conservative -- face in this otherwise staid segment. Regardless, there's plenty that should attract luxury-car buyers to the Audi A8.
BMW 7 Series -- The BMW 7 Series starts at $73,600 and offers a wider spectrum of cars compared to Mercedes-Benz's S550 and S63 variants. More focused on road feel, the BMW might be the car of choice for those who enjoy attacking a twisty road. But when it comes to overall differences between these two German sedans, it becomes more of a choice between the BMW's contemporary approach and Mercedes-Benz's typically classic treatment of luxury.
Lexus LS -- Though most of the Mercedes-Benz's lineup has become more driver-focused, the S-Class has inched towards Lexus territory in terms of its isolated ride characteristics and detachment from road feel. But the $71,990 Lexus still feels definitively Japanese and logically executed, making the Benz more rewarding for drivers and sybarites alike.
All in all, the newest generation of S-Class manages to uphold the luxurious mystique of Mercedes-Benz's top-dog sedan. It's sleek, loaded with a delightful excess of luxury features and surprisingly capable of whipping lesser cars at stoplights -- especially when ordered with the pricey-but-sexy AMG package. But most buyers will most appreciate how the S-Class helps them forget the world and become coddled in Mercedes-Benz's cushy, cocoon-like automotive environment.