Mercedes-Benz is an industry leader in many areas. But it’s probably best known for its luxury passenger cars, of which the S-class is the best of the best. Recently, the brand released an update for the S-class which Mercedes is calling a ‘facelift’. To call the update a ‘facelift’ though is somewhat ironic since the biggest changes are not visible to the naked eye.
Indeed, the aesthetics of the S-class remain virtually unchanged, which shouldn’t be surprising. The S-class is after all, simply superb. The interiors, too, remain substantially unchanged, but here again the work done by Mercedes’ outstanding design team hardly needed improvement. The true heart of the ‘facelift’ is in fact under the bonnet.
Most of the models in the 2018 S-class have been fitted with new engines. Engine technology has been improving at an exponential pace, becoming more fuel efficient and putting out fewer emissions while producing more power. Mercedes in particular is an industry leader when it comes to engine innovation. The new Mercedes line-up for 2018 follows the industry-wide trend of smaller engines with fewer cylinders, jam-packed with turbochargers to achieve greater fuel economy without compromising power.
The selection of engines is a mix of new and old. While the largest engine, a V12, available for the S-class remains unchanged, the intermediate models come with new, smaller and turbocharged V6 and V8 engines. There is not a single bad example among them. However, given how ingenious each car model is, it is difficult to choose one over another.
To start with, the six-cylinder S550e plug-in-hybrid model has been supplanted by a conventional V6, the S450 model bearing a Mercedes-badge. The twin-turbocharged, 3.0 litre V6 on the S450 is the least powerful and smallest of all the engines available for the S-class, but it is no slouch. With 362 HP (270 kW) on tap, the S450 has more power than most cars on the road and easily overcomes the 300 HP threshold for being a ‘performance car’.
The basic saloon and the coupe models are also available as the S560, powered by a new 4.0 litre V8. This new V8 is the latest gem from Mercedes’ engineering department and is the star of Mercedes’ ‘facelift’ for the S-class. Replacing the old, 4.7 litre V8, the 4.0 litre V8 is available on all of the S-class models. Like its predecessor, the 4.0 litre is fitted with twin-turbochargers but produces more power, despite the smaller displacement. The engine is everything a V8 should be: loud, growly, and more powerful.
On the S560, its output is a stout 463 HP (345 kW). Thankfully, Mercedes has equipped as standard its nine-speed automatic transmission to both the S450 and the S560, which does a masterful job of getting the best performance out of the engines.
Downsizing the engines while boosting the power has not been limited to the sensible, executive saloons either. The high-performance models of the S-class, built by Mercedes’ in-house engineering firm AMG have also swapped their larger displacement engines for smaller but more powerful ones. The old S63 had a 5.5 litre twin-turbo V8 which produced 577 HP paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission.
By contrast, the new AMG S63 has the same 4.0 litre V8 as the S560. But AMG has managed to coax an additional 140 HP out of the AMG version for a total of 603 HP (450 kW)! Gaining more than 25 HP from an engine that’s 25% smaller is the kind of technical engineering feat which has rightly made AMG famous as high-performance engineering wizards. And, as if the incredible engine weren’t enough, the AMG models now come with active suspension, enabling the car to lean into a turn like a motorcycle, tipping up to two and a half degrees!
The very pinnacle of luxury in Mercedes’ line-up is the Maybach-branded S560, and this too has been equipped with the new 4.0 litre V8, although it is not ‘turned up to 11’ as it is in the AMG models. Both the AMG and Maybach models are available with a V12 engine, though this remains mechanically unchanged since the ‘facelift’.
The other major change to the S-class has been the addition of all of Mercedes’ driver assistance and safety technologies, and here again Mercedes is an industry leader. The S-class comes with a comprehensive suite of sensors and radar. With these, the car (equipped with Drive Pilot) has a 360-degree understanding of its surroundings. This in turn gives it an improved autonomous-driving capability—though it still requires a human driver, for now.
The job of the driver, however, is substantially eased thanks to a new adaptive-cruise-control feature. Using map data, it makes the cruise-control more dynamic by enabling it to slow the car in response to things like upcoming bends. The technology suite also enables the S-class to change lanes by itself via updated active lane-change-assist technology.
Finally, inside the cabin, the dual-digital displays have been replaced with a single, sleek 12.3-inch (31.2 cm) digital display and the driving controls have been improved substantially. Instead of being located on a long and somewhat awkward stalk sprouting out of the steering column, the cruise control has been remanded to a rather handier, touch-sensitive pad on the steering wheel itself.
These minor changes on the interior have only added to the brilliance of the S-class, which remains resplendent inside and out. On the Maybach models particularly, the S-class is simply the last word in comfort and luxury on the road. When combined with the new engines, which are a masterpiece of engineering, the S-class is nothing short of a how-to manual for maximising performance without compromising comfort.