Later today, I’m reviewing a very clean, low-mileage, untouched example of an older Mercedes-Benz S-Class. So right now, I thought it’d be nice to make a listing of my every single S-Class and how they rank, according to my (brilliant) opinion. This ranking takes into account style, quality, performance and just a general feeling about how each one has aged or will age — along with its relative importance to the Mercedes-Benz lineup.
Just for the sake of clarity, I’m starting with the "first-generation" in 1972, rather than earlier models, as this was when Mercedes truly started to separate out the "classes" of vehicle. This is the definitive ranking of every S-Class, although really it’s just one person’s opinion. However, this opinion is completely correct, and if your own opinion differs with my ranking in any way, you are wrong. So here goes.
1. W140 (1992-1998)
To me, the "W140" S-Class is the best S-Class simply because it’s the perfect blend of everything: It was the last S-Class seemingly designed with a "best at all costs" mentality, as later ones (and especially its successor, the W220) were clearly engineered to reach a certain price point. But it offers more technology and modernity than the other "best at all costs" S-Class models, simply by virtue of being newer. I also love the boxy, subdued styling, which was sadly killed off with the trying-too-hard look of the W220. The W140 was also the first S-Class to offer a V12-powered S 600 model, which cements its tremendously cool status.
2. W221 (2007-2013)
In time, I think the W221 S-Class will go down as one of the best designs ever. Not only did it bring the S-Class back to prominence after the weak W220 model, but it offered the sort of bold, aggressive styling that car shoppers now want — a departure from earlier models with subtle styling, yes, but a classic example of Mercedes-Benz correctly reading the times and adapting. The W221 model was also absolutely gorgeous, and the interior was a brilliant return to form — fewer buttons, better materials and the kind of place you’d actually want to spend time in.
3. W126 (1980-1991)
By choosing the W221 and W140 first, that means the legendary W126 is relegated to third place. That doesn’t mean I think the W126 is bad — but rather, it means that most S-Class models are so good that even third is an excellent place to be on this list. And, indeed, the W126 is an excellent car, with regal and majestic styling that so clearly defined what the "S-Class" brand meant throughout the 1980s. My only gripes: The W126 isn’t exactly rare, and it’s not uncommon to see them in poor shape or belching out diesel fumes all over some unattractive 1980s paint color, like peach yellow. And by today’s standards, performance was severely lacking, even with the range-topping 560SEL — surely a factor in Mercedes-Benz’s decision to add a V12 to the next generation.
4. W222 (2014-present)
The latest S-Class is an excellent vehicle — and, like the W126 above, its positioning on this list has little to do with its brilliance, which is unquestioned. Instead, the W222 simply hasn’t had time to marinate and age, which is when we really start to figure out how good an S-Class actually is. Still, this one is obviously amazing, with a gorgeous interior and an unending range of technology designed to coddle the wealthiest among us. My biggest problem with the W222 is the styling: Occasionally, I still confuse a new C-Class for a W222 S-Class, as the Mercedes-Benz designs have become a little too similar for my liking.
5. W116 (1972-1980)
Although I have nothing against the W116, it’s certainly my least favorite model aside from the heinous W220. It doesn’t have any of the charm of 1960s Mercedes-Benz models and it didn’t boast the "yes, a dictator is behind the wheel" image of the W126 — the S-Class that, to me, really solidified the S-Class brand image. If it wasn’t for the famed 450SEL 6.9 (which is one of my favorite vehicles), I suspect the W116 would be largely forgotten — though I think many casual enthusiasts have practically forgotten it already, instead believing the W126 is the S-Class that "started it all." With the W116’s forgettable styling and relatively austere interior, it’s hard to blame them.
999. W220 (1999-2006)
Yes, I’ve put the W220 S-Class in 999th place. Few vehicles have tarnished a dynasty quite like the W220 S-Class, which was sold throughout the early 2000s. Featuring weird, melted "Is it a Hyundai?" styling and embarrassing interior materials (coupled with a similarly awful layout) these have deservedly fallen in price more than basically any other S-Class. They’re also a nightmare to own — especially when you buy one for $7,500 and are suddenly confronted with repair bills that can easily surpass that figure — and filled with all sorts of complicated electronics that couldn’t hide the fact that this vehicle, following up the W140, represented one of the worst redesigns in automotive history. Find a Mercedes-Benz S-Class for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.
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