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2012 Mercedes S-Class: New Car Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Shamit Choksey May 2012

Pros: World-class luxury; leader in new technology; wide selection of powerful engines; innovative safety features; extremely refined ride

Cons: Very expensive; overabundance of features and technologies can overwhelm

When it comes to large luxury sedans, no car makes a stronger mark than the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. For decades, the S-Class has been on the leading edge of automotive evolution on every major front: technology, performance, safety and upscale feature development. For 2012, this flagship of all flagships continues to serve as the ultimate benchmark for executive-level motoring.

The 2012 S-Class arrives with an even wider range of offerings than before. Aside from the conventional S550 and S600, there are two high-performance AMG versions (S63 and S65), a hybrid (S400) and a new diesel-powered model (S350 Bluetec). All together, the six S-Class cars deliver the most varied spectrum of powertrain technologies in a single model line by any mainstream carmaker.

The S-Class's competitive set may be impressive, but the 2012 S-Class is still the leader by general consensus, and with good reason. It offers virtually every desirable automotive characteristic except for affordability. But for affluent buyers in this segment, a high price is often of low concern anyway.

The S-Class exterior hasn't changed much over the last few years. Aside for some minor styling updates, this big Benz continues to be defined by its familiar executive-sedan appearance. Spearheaded by a prominent aero grille flanked by large wraparound bi-xenon headlamps and LED lighting, the S-Class has enormous presence. Its long profile and expansive greenhouse further add to the S-Class's yachtlike character. The car's back end is adorned with integral exhaust pipes and the distinctive Mercedes stacked taillamp design. Overall, the S-Class sedan may not be the most stylish-looking car in the Mercedes lineup - some may even call it stodgy - but it is certainly the grandest.

Comfort & Utility

The S-Class cabin is equal parts attractive, luxurious and spacious. Passenger room and amenities are in abundance for all occupants, front and rear. Aside from supreme ergonomics and craftsmanship, this interior offers an enormous list of standard and optional equipment, including some first-ever applications in the realms of driver assistance technologies, safety innovations and upscale features. Mercedes has met the challenge to impress even the most discerning buyer in this category and has created a car that's ideal for long-range cruising as well as the daily commute.

The S-Class passenger compartment is the most sophisticated in the large-luxury-sedan segment. Standard features for all S-Class models are too many to list, but here are some of the notable creature comforts: power front seats with heat and ventilation, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, power rear sunshade and a 15-speaker premium stereo system with HD radio.

Technology

Voice-command navigation and a USB interface are both standard on the 2012 S-Class. The roster of available high-end conveniences, depending on model and package, includes such features as a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a rear-view camera and keyless start. One particularly useful feature is Speed Limit Assist, a system that can identify posted speed limits and alert the driver when the allowable speed has been exceeded. Another impressive innovation is Benz's SplitView interface, a dash-integrated dual screen that allows driver and front passenger to view different content simultaneously.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Offering a broad range of powertrain technologies, the S-Class delivers robust performance as well as a choice of alternate-fueled models.

The most mainstream S-Class sedan is the S550, powered by a twin-turbo 4.6-liter V8. Output is 429 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. Energy channels through a seven-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels; there's optional all-wheel drive. EPA fuel economy is 15 mpg city/25 mpg highway for the RWD model and 15/24 mpg with AWD.

The more uplevel S600 utilizes a mammoth 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 yielding 510 hp and 612 lb-ft of torque. This engine pairs with a five-speed automatic transmission and feeds the rear wheels. Fuel economy is 12/19 mpg.

On the green front, the S-Class offers a hybrid and a newly added clean diesel. The S400 Hybrid is propelled by a 3.5-liter V6 managed by a seven-speed automatic transmission and an electric motor tied to an advanced lithium-ion battery. This setup is good for an ample 295 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque as well as EPA-estimated fuel economy of 19/25 mpg. The clean-burning 50-state-legal S350 Bluetec gets a 3.0-liter V6 turbo-diesel yielding 240 hp and a stout 455 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive and a seven-speed automatic are standard, granting 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.

On the super-high-performance side, a pair of rear-wheel-drive AMG variants round out the S-Class model range. The S63 AMG finds power from a 5.5-liter V8 tied to a seven-speed automatic. Output is 536 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, and fuel economy is 15/22 mpg. The top-tier, extremely robust S65 AMG powertrain is defined by an astounding 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12 making 621 hp and a tremendous 738 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission comes standard. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 12 mpg city/19 mpg highway.

With six distinct powertrain options, the S-Class offers a configuration for virtually every kind of buyer in the segment.

Safety

Passenger safety is the product of 12 airbags, Mercedes's mbrace emergency telematics and a pre-collision system that adjusts seats and tensioners when it anticipates an unavoidable crash. A full suite of advanced safety systems are also at the S-Class's disposal. These include optional blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control, all with automatic brake intervention. There's also a night vision system with pedestrian detection.

Driving Impressions

Each S-Class comes with a distinct personality based on its powertrain characteristics. From the smooth and seamless on-road experience of the S400 Hybrid to the obscene acceleration and redline performance of the S63 and S65 AMGs, it's all here. The more conventional S550 and S600 offer fantastic performance throughout the rev band, while the new S350 Bluetec delivers the stout low-end torque you'd expect from a strong diesel.

Regardless of model, the S-Class delivers a level of poise and nimbleness that defies its oversize proportions. Essentially, it is the automotive equivalent of an NFL running back performing in a ballet. Further enhancing the car's handling and cornering prowess are features such as Active Body Control with Crosswind Stabilization and Torque Vectoring Brake, which triggers rear wheel braking to maximize stability in fast corners.

Beyond performance, the S-Class is the ultimate benchmark in ride comfort, thanks to a proven chassis. Its smooth roadgoing feel redefines premium-style motoring. The S-Class is stellar for any kind of commute or long-range driving.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW 7 Series - The BMW has a little more emphasis on handling dynamics than the S-Class, but the S-Class is more luxurious and technologically advanced.

Audi A8 - The Audi's design is considered more attractively modern. For that reason, it's more appealing to younger buyers. Both the Mercedes and Audi enjoy a plush ride, but the Mercedes remain ahead in technology.

Hyundai Equus - The Equus is hands down the best value in a large luxury car. It certainly doesn't have the refinement or features of the Mercedes, but it's tens of thousands lower in price, making it worth a good look.

AutoTrader Recommends

Our S-Class recommendation is the S350 Bluetec diesel. With this model, you get the best of both worlds: performance and green credentials. Outputting 455 lb-ft of torque, the Bluetec enjoys fantastic acceleration. At the same time, it is very efficient (31 mpg highway) and eco-friendly. Add to that standard all-wheel drive as well as all the bells and whistles of the S-Class. Sure, it's expensive, but if you're shopping in this category, substance is probably more important to you than price. And there's plenty of substance here.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Mercedes S-Class: New Car Review - Autotrader