Used 1996 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1996

No cosmetic improvements to the S-Class this year; everything new is under the skin. ESP is standard on the S600 and optional on V8 models. ESP is a stability control system designed to help the driver keep the S-Class under control at all times. V8 and V12 versions get a new five-speed automatic, and all models get a standard power glass sunroof and smog-sensing climate control system. The S350 Turbodiesel is history.

Vehicle overview

Big Mercedes sedans have always been the ultimate automobiles. They scream success, are engineered to be driven hard, and keep the general public at bay. The S-Class projects confidence, prestige, and a certain amount of cold indifference.

Starting at just under $70,000 for the surprisingly speedy S320 six-cylinder sedan, and topping out at double that price for a S600 twelve-cylinder behemoth, the S-Class doesn't seem much like a mega-buck automobile on the inside. The switchgear feels relatively chintzy, the flimsy dash panel above the central vents is totally unacceptable in a car of this caliber, and the cheesy terry cloth fabric covering the lower dash feels and looks low rent.

Ergonomics are slightly marred by a plethora of confusing pictographs. Otherwise, the dash layout is perfect, as is the seating position. Step out and close the door; the thunk as it shuts exudes quality craftsmanship. The exterior styling is slab-sided and massive, making the car look fat. Aside from the traditional grille, the S-Class is devoid of exterior character, more so than the pedestrian Lexus LS400, and in startling contrast to the BMW 7-Series.

For 1996, Mercedes has developed an Electronic Stability Program (ESP) for the S-Class, and other Mercedes models, that helps the driver retain control of the big Benz at all times while driving in adverse conditions. ESP is standard on the V12 models and optional on V8 models. A new electronic five-speed transmission is installed on V12 and V8 models, and all S-Class sedans get a power glass sunroof standard. Gone is the S350 Turbodiesel.

Prices are way out of line, but evidently some people feel that the S-Class is worth it. Mercedes sold about 15,000 of these cars in 1994. We think some of those folks would have been happier with the BMW 7-Series or the Lexus LS400. We would.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.