Bombing around in the New Mercedes-Benz S-Class

 


The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the best-selling large luxury sedan in the U.S. This isn’t by a small margin, either. The BMW 7 series is the only actual rival, and if this was a car race, rather than car-sales race, BMW would be several laps behind while Mercedes is taking the checkered flag. All others, such as the Lexus LS, are stuck in pit lane.

You shouldn’t really buy a car based on what’s popular, but the reason the S-Class is the safe choice comes down to offering more bespoke options. You want choice when you’re dropping more than $100K on your car, and Mercedes offers it, even more so for 2018 when the newly revamped S comes in so many varieties, its closest rival for customization is Ford’s F-150.

So now you can get an S450 with a twin-turbo 362hp V-6 (the first V-6 ever offered in the S-Class); a 463hp S560 V-8 (a smaller, but more potent V-8 than the outgoing model); an extra-long, Mercedes-Maybach S650 with a massive, six-liter V-12; and if you have $147,500 to spare, the S63 AMG, with the same 4.0-liter V-8 as the S560, but tuned to deliver an asphalt-straining 603hp and a 0-60 time of 3.4 seconds. There are so many more ways to peel the S-Class onion than engine choice or opting for the longer Maybach wheelbase (and its airline rear seating configuration that is, in fact, beyond the opulence offered by any actual airline).

For instance, all but the AMG models can be had with 4Matic AWD instead of rear-wheel drive, and you can get the sonic awesomeness of the Burmester 3D sound system in any S-Class as well. Sure, that’s a hefty, $6,500 option. But when you’re starting at $92k anyway, well, why wouldn’t you gild your Benz more? Speaking of which, there are multiple leather choices, not to mention multiple modes of massaging seats that work in tandem with ambient lighting, to lift your mood.

One extra that is hardly a frill is Mercedes’ driver assistance package that enables the S to change lanes all by itself. You signal and, on a divided interstate, the S-Class scans if the left-hand lane is clear, glides over, passes the slower car ahead of it, then slots back to the right lane. And the S-Class will stop itself and pull the car off the highway if you cease to pay attention and don’t keep steering—parking itself and turning on its flashers. This, as opposed to Tesla allowing its Autopilot to keep trying to forge ahead if the driver is busy watching videos without his mitts on the wheel is, in our book, a far saner way to train the driver to that this is assistive tech, not full autonomy.

Naturally the S-Class will avoid hitting any car it’s following while using cruise control. And while other vehicles uses cameras to scan the road ahead as well as the car ahead, to maintain a safe following distance, the S-Class uses live map and navigation data (even when you haven’t engaged GPS routing) to anticipate turns or slippery conditions, or a clot in the road that’s coming that you can’t see because it’s just beyond the horizon. And all of that info has the S-Class thinking one step ahead of what’s humanly possible.

Mercedes has its sales lead, however, not just because of tech and an absurd ability to custom-order your S-Class a la carte, but because the cars all still drive well, with just the right combination of sportiness and confidence at higher speeds. Sure, the AMG is that much stiffer and more capable, but in our book the sweet spot is the $102,900 S560 4Matic. It’s smooth, fast, and quietly says you’re in charge. Just the kind of baller big sedan that’ll keep Mercedes in the lead.