What's New for 2006
The S350 arrives as a new entry-level S-Class model, powered by a 241-hp V6. The S600 now includes Keyless Go, an electronic trunk closer, heated steering wheel and rear side window blinds as standard equipment, while the Hands Free Communication system has moved to the options list.
The S-Class is Mercedes' flagship sedan. The current generation, introduced in 2000, brought sleeker styling, more advanced technology and greater performance than the heavier versions that preceded it. Two models were available initially, the S430 and S500 sedans, with V8 engines of 4.3 liters (275 horsepower) and 5.0 liters (302 horses), respectively. Lighter and less expensive than the robust Benz sedans that preceded it, the 2000 S-Class earned praise for its sleek body, exceptional comfort and performance that belied its size. However, it was criticized for overly complex controls, especially the standard COMAND system that operated the navigation and audio systems. Soon after, two more S-Class sedans joined the lineup, the top-dog S600 (with its 362-hp, 5.8-liter V12) and the AMG-tweaked S55 (which had a 5.4-liter, 355-horse V8), making sure both the ultraluxury and ultraluxury/sport sedan markets were covered.
For 2003, Mercedes made a number of significant advances in performance and safety. Responding to the ever-rising performance bar in this class, Mercedes installed a new, more powerful 493-hp V12 in the top-of-the-line S600 and added a supercharger to the S55, also yielding 493 horses albeit less torque. (If that's still not enough for you, Mercedes has slotted an even more powerful S65 AMG model into the lineup for 2006.) Practical technology comes in the form of all-wheel drive, dubbed 4Matic, which is available on the S430 and S500 models. Ideal for those who live in rainy or snowy climates, 4Matic automatically directs power to whichever wheel(s) have the best grip. And at the forefront of safety is the Pre-Safe system, which can sense an imminent accident and automatically tighten the seatbelts and position the power seats to afford the best protection for the occupants. For those who don't need the ultimate in power for their large sedan, Mercedes-Benz introduced the S350 for 2006. This S is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 with 241 hp. Regardless of engine choice, the S-Class is still one of the top sedans in its class and certainly the winner when it comes to curbside prestige.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The four-door S-Class sedan is available in four models: the S350, S430, S500 and S600. All models come with most of the luxury features you would expect in a sedan of this caliber, including 14-way power-adjustable front seats, a DVD navigation system, Bose premium audio system, and rich leather and wood trim. Notable options include ventilated front seats with a massage feature, a keyless entry and start system (called Keyless Go), adaptive cruise control and a sport package that includes larger wheels and tires, resculpted bumpers and side skirts.
Powertrains and Performance
The entry-level S350 features a 3.7-liter V6 with 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The S430 is powered by a 4.3-liter, 275-hp V8, while the S500 offers more power courtesy of its 5.0-liter V8 rated for 302 hp. Both V8 engines use a seven-speed automatic transmission, while the V6 uses a five-speed unit. The top-of-the-line S600 uses a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V12 rated to produce 493 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque; it's paired with a five-speed automatic. Mercedes claims that the S600 can hit 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds, placing it in a league usually occupied by exotic sports cars. The S430 and S500 are available with either the standard rear-drive setup or the fully automatic 4Matic all-wheel-drive system as a no-cost option. Note that 4Matic-equipped cars use a five-speed automatic instead of the seven-speed.
Every S-Class sedan includes "Pre-Safe," which determines accident probability by using sensors in the stability control and BrakeAssist systems. Should an accident seem unavoidable, the system applies split-second tensioning of the seatbelts, moves the front-passenger seat and power-adjustable rear seats to the most favorable positions and closes the sunroof (if the vehicle is skidding). If the accident is averted at the last moment, the seatbelt tensioning is cancelled and the seats are reset to their original positions. Of course, Pre-Safe joins a list of already impressive safety features that includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes, electronic traction and stability control, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for front occupants and side curtain airbags that protect both front and rear passengers.
Interior Design and Special Features
Virtually every luxury and convenience item to be found in an automobile, including a DVD-based navigation system and power door-closing assist, is standard on each S-Class sedan. Still, there are optional designo interior trim packages which include more dramatic leather and wood combinations, as well as dynamic multicontour front seats, four-zone climate control and power-adjustable rear seats.
The S-Class has that enviable quality of feeling smaller and more nimble than its substantial size suggests. Strong acceleration, precise handling and a relaxing ride remain strong virtues of Mercedes' senior sedan. The S600 provides truly exceptional performance in a straight line, but BMW's 760Li is still a more involving driving experience. Buyers needing all-weather capability should consider the 4Matic versions of the S430 and S500.