The 2012 Mercedes Benz S-Class remains the prototypical full-size luxury sedan, and the complete luxury package. It's suitable for quiet, rock-steady cruising at Autobahn mega-speeds, spirited drives through the countryside, unflustered dawdling through heavy traffic or chauffeured escape from the grind. S-Class safety systems are unparalleled, and this sedan is huge inside.
The 2012 S-Class introduces some substantial changes. Among them: three new engines and a redesigned 7-speed automatic, all intended to improve fuel economy while preserving the requisite power and verve. However, the biggest news for 2012 is introduction of the first diesel-powered S-Class for North America since 1996.
The S-Class competes with the Audi A8L, BMW 7 Series and, to a lesser extent, the Lexus LS, but the S-Class offers more model choices than any of those other models. The sport-tuned S63 AMG matches up with BMW Alpina B7, and the smaller but sportier-handling Maserati Quattroporte, Porsche Panamera and Aston-Martin Rapide. The S65 makes a less-ostentatious (and faster accelerating) alternative to Bentley's Flying Spur Speed. Mercedes offers the most engine choices in this class, and optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTEC is powered by a high-tech, low-emissions 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6. It's arguably the smoothest, quietest diesel engine ever, almost imperceptible from the driver's seat, and its 455 pound-feet of torque allow the Mercedes-Benz S350 to scoot from 0-60 mph in 7 seconds. Based on the EPA's projected ratings of 20/31 mpg City/Highway, the S350 BlueTEC beats the next highest mileage car in this class by 20 percent (including a couple of hybrids), and that's with 4MATIC all-wheel drive as standard equipment.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid combines a gasoline V6 with an electric motor for nearly 300 horsepower, powering the car to an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph, and surpassing all but the new BlueTEC diesel in fuel economy. This mild hybrid won't run strictly on electric power. The motor assists the gasoline engine to conserve fuel and converts braking energy into electricity to power accessories The S400 Hybrid is EPA-rated 19/25 mpg.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S550 gets a new, smaller twin-turbo V8, with more power (0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds), better mileage and optional all-wheel drive. The S600 is the most luxurious S-Class, powered by a 536-hp, 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 fitted with a 5-speed automatic.
The S63 AMG is finished by the in-house tuning department with appearance tweaks, 20-inch wheels and firmer sport suspension. The 2012 S63 AMG is powered by a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 generating 536 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. It also features a unique clutch-operated 7-speed automatic. The S65 AMG is AMG's treatment on the V12 S-Class, with a 6.0-liter engine delivering 621 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque. It's one of the most powerful four-door cars in the world.
The S600 V12 and the S63 AMG are both a second quicker than the S500, while the S65 AMG is quickest of all (0-60 in 4.2 seconds). Approaching its 186-mph speed limiter, the S65 is still pulling like a freight train.
We've found all the S-Class models handle well for big luxury sedans. They are composed, responsive and stable at any speed. The Airmatic air suspension system has both automatic and manual controls for ride height and firmness. The transmissions offer multiple operating modes, for best comfort and economy or maximum driver involvement and performance, while brakes bred for the Autobahn have massive reserves at more pedestrian American speeds.
Technophiles may revel in the best night vision system on the market, cruise control that will maintain following distance up to 125 mph or stop the car automatically, and seats that massage, cool and self-inflate under lateral loads. Even the least expensive model comes with everything most buyers want, including a navigation system and a high-grade, high-watt harman/kardon surround system with all the right hardware.
Inside, occupants are surrounded by wood, leather and finishes befitting an expensive car, not to mention serene quiet at cruising speeds. The trunk is one of the largest in this class, and perfectly shaped for maximum storage, and the rear seat is truly expansive. It's also loaded with standard niceties, including lit vanity mirrors, ambient lighting and multiple air vents. The rear cabin can also be upgraded with adjustable, ventilated seats and a killer two-screen video system.
The S-Class rolls near the tip of the luxury pyramid, at a premium but largely justifiable price. Whether you prioritize hybrid cleanliness or incinerating power, its general air of superiority makes a compelling argument to anyone shopping a true luxury sedan.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class includes seven models distinguished by their engines and drive systems. All come standard with an automatic transmission, and two offer 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The most powerful models are saddled with a federal Gas Guzzler Tax.
S-Class standard equipment includes leather upholstery and real walnut trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, 14-way power front seats with heating, ventilation and memory, voice-operated navigation with on-board hard drive, sunroof and a full complement of power accessories. The standard audio is a 600-watt, 15-speaker harman/kardon Logic 7 surround system with CD changer, HD and satellite radio, an SD card slot and Bluetooth. All models feature an air-spring suspension with ride height adjustment, and most come standard with 18-inch alloys wheels. The S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC ($93,425) is powered by a 240-horsepower, 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6. The transmission is a 7-speed automatic.
The S400 Hybrid ($92,725) uses a gasoline-fueled 3.5-liter V6 and an electric motor, combining for 295 peak horsepower.
The S550 ($95,375) gets a direct-injection twin-turbo 4.6-liter V8; The S550 4MATIC ($98,375) adds all-wheel drive.
Options for these S-Class models are vast, though many are clustered in packages. Popular groups include the Premium package, which adds Parktronic guidance, Keyless-Go proximity key, massaging seats and a back-up camera. The Sport package adds racy AMG body work and 19-inch wheels. The Rear Seat package includes four-zone temperature control and 8-way power heated and ventilated rear seats, while the Rear Entertainment package adds two rear-seat video screens with DVD, remotes and multiple methods for connecting external devices. Stand-alone options are even more plentiful, ranging from 20-inch wheels to a wood/leather steering wheel to a Splitview front video monitor. Custom S-Class options include non-standard paint colors and upholstery material.
The S600 ($160,375) is powered by a 536-hp, 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 with a 5-speed automatic. The most luxurious S-Class, the only standard options are larger wheels, the Splitview video screen and special paint.
The S63 AMG ($140,175) features 20-inch wheels and sports suspension along with a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 generating 536 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque plus a special clutch-operated 7-speed automatic. The S65 AMG ($211,775) features the AMG-tuned V12 S-Class delivering 621 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque.
Safety features include eight airbags: front-impact airbags, side-impact airbags for both front and rear passengers, and head-protection curtains on both sides of the cabin. The Pre Safe system senses an impending collision and loads the brakes, tightens the seatbelts, closes the windows and sunroof and repositions the front passenger seat for optimal crash protection. The mbrace telematics can automatically report an accident and summon help. Active safety features include advanced skid control (electronic stability control) and anti-lock brakes (ABS).
Safety related options include Attention Assist, which identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning. Active Lane Keeping Assist warns when the S-Class drifts from its lane, while Active Blind Spot Assist identifies vehicles not visible over the driver's shoulders. Both incorporate an intervention feature, helping correct the car's course if the driver doesn't heed the initial warning. Distronic Plus cruise control can automatically stop the car from up to 125 mph. Night View uses an infra-red camera, creating a black-and-white image of the road and people ahead in darkness, and projecting that image in the center of the dash. 4MATIC all-wheel drive improves stability in slippery conditions.