2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class First Drive | Edmunds

2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class First Drive

Ultimate Luxury, Updated

When most people imagine a premium luxury sedan, more likely than not they're imagining a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. After all, it's been the standard bearer in this lofty class for decades. But amid mounting pressure from other German brands that have introduced all-new models in recent years, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class received a midcycle refresh that intends to address some of its shortcomings. The good news for Mercedes-Benz: The S-Class didn't have many issues to address.

2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

What's New?
In terms of outward appearances, there's not a lot to differentiate the 2018 S-Class from its predecessor. It has a new grille, revised front and rear fascias, and updated headlights, none of which noticeably change the big sedan's character.

More significant changes were made to the model lineup, with the introduction of a new entry-level S450 that has a starting price around $90,000. That's roughly $10,000 less than the new S560, which replaces the previous S550. Under the hood of the S450 is a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that produces 362 horsepower, while the S560 get a new twin-turbo V8 that's good for 463 hp.

On the inside, the dashboard is now dominated by a single pane of glass that houses the virtual instrument panel and infotainment display, both of which can now be operated by touch-sensitive pads on the steering wheel. Also on the steering wheel are the cruise control buttons instead of the less intuitive stalk that used to be customary on all Mercedes vehicles. A new Energizing Comfort feature combines several systems to create what Mercedes calls a "mood-enhancing atmosphere." On the technology front, a new Intelligent Drive system nudges Mercedes-Benz closer to the automated driving frontier, while a curve-tilting suspension feature gives the S-Class an even more poised attitude when cornering.

High Expectations
Besides the new single-glass dashboard, the S-Class interior is essentially the same as before, and that's a good thing. The cabin is almost completely bathed in leather, and anything that isn't leather-wrapped is made of premium materials that would impress even the toughest critics. To say that it's comfortable would be an understatement on par with stating that a Gulfstream G650 can be a little pricey. Climbing up through loftier S-Class variants like the AMG and Maybach models steadily builds on luxury as you approach the quarter-million-dollar peak. The seats — any of them — are as satisfying as an Eames lounge chair, and the passenger space is as quiet as a crypt, encased in a vault, in high-Earth orbit.

2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

This level of opulence is expected, of course, so the challenge for Mercedes is how to add upon it. The new Energizing Comfort system combines the climate controls, massaging seats, fragrancing functions, lighting, audio and displays to create an environment to suit your preferred mood. There are six preset modes: Refresh, Warmth, Vitality, Joy, Well-Being and Training. The massage type and intensity change with each mode, as do the heating or cooling of the seats, ambient lighting hue, and the type of graphics on the main infotainment screen. Specific music tracks are also selected, but you can have the system pull from your personal library based on the tempo of the song.

Yes, we're aware of how absurd and ostentatious this all sounds. It's an extravagance that would be difficult to justify, but you won't have to since the base system is standard equipment. Whether or not it fulfills its mission seems more dependent on how receptive the driver and passengers are to the idea. We were fairly skeptical, but after trying it out for ourselves, we found it quite enjoyable.

Driver Not Included. Yet.
Flagship luxury sedans have traditionally been the setting for introducing the latest innovations, and this midcycle refresh for the S-Class has hints of what's over the horizon. With the optional Driver Assistance package ($2,250 and requires the $5,000 Premium package on S450 and S560 models), advanced safety features combine to give the S-Class the ability to function as a Level 2 automated vehicle. From behind the wheel, the benefits aren't much greater than the existing adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist features.

These systems pay dividends in stop-and-go traffic because the drudgery of maintaining a following distance to the car ahead is handled for you. Even though these systems are intended to be a backup for an attentive, hands-on driver, on free-flowing roads the shortcomings can become more of an annoyance. The active lane keeping assist has a tendency to let the car wander side to side in its lane like an impaired driver, and you can feel the steering gently pull from your intended path right down the middle. The adaptive cruise control works just as it should and brings you to a complete stop when traffic grinds to a halt.

A new Route-Based Speed Adaptation system uses map data in conjunction with sensors to slow the car when approaching curves in the road or typical choke points like toll booths, but in the default Comfort drive mode, it reduces the speed to uncomfortably low levels. In Sport settings, it will approach curves at slightly higher speeds. In the highest automated drive mode (Active Distance Assist Distronic), all of these systems are at their highest activation level, but speed is restricted to the posted limit, which will have you impeding the flow of traffic in many cases. Other features include Active Lane Change Assist, which will automatically change lanes when safe if the turn signal is activated, and Evasive Steering Assist, which will swerve around a pedestrian if there is space.

We're still in the early development stages of these systems as manufacturers march toward the goal of fully autonomous cars. Mercedes-Benz is uncharacteristically behind the curve (pun intended) compared to a few rivals, but those competitors aren't without their own drawbacks. Audi's forthcoming A8 will have Level 3 automated driving capabilities that will allow the driver to be hands-off under specific conditions, but as of yet, these systems are not legal or activated for use on public roads. Tesla's Autopilot system is far better at tracing right down the center of the lane, but when the paint stripes and reflectors go missing, the vehicle's reactions become unpredictable.

2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

What It's Like Behind the Wheel
Ignoring all of the active driving assistants, and the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class remains an excellent car to drive on your own. At a time when competing luxury sedans are leaning towards handling over comfort, the S-Class is firmly rooted in delivering the classic luxury car experience. From the driver's seat, there's not much encouragement to barrel into a sharp bend as you would in a Porsche Panamera, BMW M760 or Audi S8 because you still feel all of the Benz' considerable weight. Selecting one of the sport modes will dial out some of the body roll, as will graduating to one of the AMG models, but they're still a far cry from being considered sporty. It feels unapologetically big, heavy, and considering how luxurious the ride is, no apology is necessary.

Here in the U.S., the S-Class has been synonymous with the sound and feel of smooth V8 engines. This year, the S450 is in keeping with the industry's shift toward more fuel-efficient engines in place of larger V8s. Even though the S450 is at a 101-hp disadvantage compared to the S560, there's no reason to consider it underpowered. Mercedes says it will reach 60 mph in 5.0 seconds, which is only 0.4 second slower than the S560 and plenty quick for most drivers. Power delivery is almost as smooth and decisive. The most discernible difference is the sound — it's slightly louder and raspier, but not unpleasant. The savings in fuel economy amount to only 1 or 2 mpg, so the $10,000 difference in price is the S450's strongest selling point.

As you step up to more powerful S-Class models such as the S63 AMG and S65 AMG that soar past the 600-hp mark, acceleration becomes more and more effortless, but there's not an explosive pin-you-to-the-seat amount of power. They're fantastically potent for sure, but when it comes to cost-to-benefit, the benefit leans more toward bragging rights.

The Bottom Line
This generation of S-Class was already an excellent choice among premium luxury sedans. The addition of the slightly more affordable S450 comes with few downsides, especially since it's eligible for nearly all of the options offered on the higher-end models. Some of the new driver assistance systems aren't as advanced or practical in the real world as we expected, but the existing Distronic adaptive cruise control can be a godsend in heavy traffic.

Despite being well into its current life cycle, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class maintains its distinguished standing among other flagship sedans. We would certainly consider it against newer entrants such as the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 and Porsche Panamera.

2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

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