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2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Rob Nestora November 2017

Few brands are as renowned for excellence and luxury as Mercedes-Benz, and the refreshed 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is nothing short of the pinnacle of its well-deserved reputation. On a recent trip to New York City, I had the opportunity to experience all the performance and opulence Mercedes' flagship sedan had to offer. Being born and raised in the city that never sleeps, I initially questioned the reasoning behind unleashing such gorgeous vehicles, with their hefty price tags, to a gaggle of automotive writers charged with navigating New York's wild and unruly thoroughfares, known for their safety-unconscious taxi drivers and man-eating potholes. But given the fact that 20 percent of all S-Class sales are made within the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), it just made sense to drive the S-Class in its natural habitat. And to paraphrase the late, great Frank Sinatra, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

Exterior

Taking what was already a stunning exterior and attempting to improve upon it can occasionally lead to miscues, but this is most certainly not the case when it comes to the 2018 S-Class. Its newly redesigned front fascia includes a highly attractive radiator grille across all models, which is the centerpiece of the exterior facelift. The front and rear bumpers have been refreshed as well, with plenty of stylish mesh for the sporty, more pronounced air intakes. The S-Class's front headlights and rear brake lights have been improved, and are now aligned with the rest of its Mercedes sedan stablemates. The headlights now include three LED accent strips to denote that this is indeed the top-level Benz (the C-Class has one strip and the E-Class two) -- just in case you didn't know already, that is.

Interior

As expected, the interior of the 2018 S-Class sets the benchmark for luxury, but it goes farther than just fine leather and gorgeous design cues. In order to promote wellness while driving, Mercedes has introduced the ENERGIZING Comfort option. This world-first feature incorporates functionality from the climate control system, the seats, the audio system and the ambient lighting to create a total sensory experience for the occupants. Seat massage, ventilation and heating combine with in-cabin fragrance, lighting and musical accompaniment to provide a variety of wellness atmospheres based off six preset programs within the system. In essence, it's the motoring equivalent of a spa day, all while behind the wheel of one of the finest luxury sedans on the planet.

Tech and Safety

No newcomer to technological advances, the new S-Class has stepped up its semi-autonomous and safety features quite extensively. The Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive assistance systems include active braking assist, crosswind assist, attention assist, traffic-sign assist and also an occupant-protection system Mercedes refers to as PRE-SAFE. This pre-collision system actually emits a sound that prepares human ears for the loud noises created by an accident.

In addition, there's Mercedes' advanced adaptive cruise control, or active distance assist, DISTRONIC. Active steering assist is also included to keep drivers from meandering out of lane and now works in conjunction with the DISTRONIC system and the navigation system to reduce speed in order to accommodate curves in the road and a through variety of intersections, traffic circles, etc. There's even an improved active lane-changing assist (originally debuted on the E-Class) that allows the S-Class to switch lanes when the driver lightly depresses the turn indicator. Drivers are able to pilot the S-Class hands-free for up to one minute before the system prompts them to return their hands to the wheel. If these prompts are not responded to in an adequate time frame, active emergency stop assist brings the vehicle to a complete stop in its lane, sets the parking brake and activates the emergency call system.

Under the Hood

Given the 2018 S-Class is a veritable car for all seasons, there's also an extensive variety of power plant options for the Mercedes flagship. To start, there's a biturbo 3.0-liter V6 powering the S 450, providing 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque and allowing the base-model S-Class to reach 60 mph in just 5.0 seconds with rear-wheel drive. Moving up slightly, the S 560 in both its regular and Maybach varieties contains a 4.0-liter biturbo V8 supplying an ample 463 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque and achieving a 0-to-60 time of just 4.6 seconds. For those looking for top-shelf appeal, the luxurious S 650 Maybach houses the 6.0-liter V12 engine shared with the S 65 -- albeit not handcrafted by AMG and without the performance AMG transmission -- and is able to match the S 560 by reaching 60 mph in 4.6 seconds while producing 621 hp and a whopping 738 lb-ft of torque (the S 65 does zero to 60 in 4.1 seconds). Finally, the S 63 AMG is the real sprinter of the lot, garnering a lightning-quick 3.4-second 0-to-60 time thanks to its all-wheel drive, AMG Speedshift MCT 9-speed transmission and handcrafted AMG 4.0-liter biturbo V8, which creates an incredible 603 hp and 664 lb-ft of torque. The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is available on all models other than those equipped with a V12 engine.

The Drive

We drove two versions of the S-Class: the S 560 4Matic and the S 63. Starting at One World Trade center in the S 560, I made my way North through midmorning traffic on the west-side highway, heading toward Westchester county and, eventually, Connecticut. The first thing I noticed was how spry and agile the full-size sedan felt while driving. It seemed to handle more like a midsize sport sedan weighing thousands of pounds less than a behemoth tipping the scales at nearly two and a half tons. Acceleration was admirable, and its impressive handling allowed me to weave through slower traffic until I left most of the NYC congestion behind me.

Upon reaching the narrow and winding Sprain Brook Parkway, I decided to give the semi-autonomous features on the S-Class a try. The active distance assist, DISTRONIC, and active steering assist worked incredibly well, with the car slowing to safe speeds intuitively on curves and in various other junctions. The active lane-change assist was also an incredible feature to experience, giving me the excited giggles as the S-Class changed lanes virtually by itself. There was a bit of a learning curve, as I had never used this feature before, so at first I would depress the turn indicator fully, merely turning on my blinker instead of telling the car to switch lanes automatically. What I should have been doing was moving the indicator to the ready position in order to trigger the automated lane change. Once I got the hang of it, however, it was an action I would repeat to the same consistent jubilation.

After reaching the halfway point of the circuit in Connecticut, I migrated into the Mercedes-AMG S 63. Now I knew S 63 was the real track star of the lot given its incredibly fast 0-to-60 time and 4Matic all-wheel drive, but I couldn't be more impressed, astounded and downright gob-smacked at the experience behind the wheel. With handling as nimble as O'Dell Beckham's footwork and acceleration that could make a fighter pilot woozy, I made my way through rural Connecticut and New York looking for occasions to unleash the beast that lay beneath the matte gray hood. Upon reaching a thinly trafficked straight, I mashed on the gas and unleashed an exhaust note that could make angels cry and devils cackle, as 60 mph came and went faster than you can say "danke schon." Apparently, perma-grin is a real thing, and also a welcome side effect of piloting the S 63.

On the final leg of the journey, with my drive-partner behind the wheel, we happened upon what appeared to be a 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL 550 with a driver who seemed to be looking to test our sedan's mettle. As the SL attempted an aggressive pass from the right lane, we accelerated sharply and left the astounded coupe pilot in our finely tuned AMG fumes. Upon slowing back down as we approached thickening traffic, I could see the smirking face of the SL driver as he eventually closed the distance behind us, shaking his head in disbelief. As it turns out, the perma-grin caused by the S 63 seems to be contagious and not merely limited to occupants.

Pricing

Considering the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is pretty much the best luxury sedan in the world, pricing is set accordingly. With the base price of an S 450 starting around $90,000, and the most expensive version, the Mercedes-AMG S 65, starting around $230,000, expect to pay a pretty penny for everything the S-Class has to offer. But, despite the steep price tag, the S-Class is a stunning achievement of form, function, luxury, performance and technology. And in this writer's humble opinion, it's worth every cent.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class: First Drive Review - Autotrader