Happy fiftieth birthday to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Raise a glass, light some candles, and give a round of applause for what has long been the best car in the world.
Flash back to 1972. It’s the year of Watergate, the Dow closes above 1,000 for the first time, The Godfather hits the movie screens, and HBO launches.
This is the year the first official S-Class—the so-called W116 model—debuts to a huge fanfare.
For every world leader, captain of industry, or Hollywood movie mogul who craved the ultimate in automotive luxury, safety, and style, here was a car to show-off their status.
To mark this auspicious occasion—and catch-up on half a century of innovation—I felt it my duty to spend a week in the latest S-Class, the 2022 S 580 4Matic Executive Line flagship, oh-so-nicely loaded for a price tag of $135,990.
This is the seventh-generation S-Class and without doubt the most luxurious and technically advanced. Here is a car that rides on a cushion of air, defies physics when it comes to cornering, and is quite happy to do the driving for you.
And to ride inside this cocoon of quiet, this Four Seasons suite on wheels, is to feel detached from the real world. Transportation from A to B has never been so smooth and refined. Maybe with the exception of a Gulfstream jet.
But like the poor mayfly (with a life expectancy of a mere 24 hours), the days of this new S-Class are surely numbered. Our love affair with luxury SUVs means that potential S-Class buyers now go for big luxe 4x4s, like Mercedes’ own GLS 580.
There’s also an even bigger challenger to the luxury flagship ranking of the mighty S-Class, and that’s Mercedes’ own astonishing, all-new, all-electric EQS.
With its rockets hip acceleration, spooky quietness, and 300-mile, zero-emission range, this is the very future of automotive luxury, and the hammerer of the last nail in the S-Class’ coffin.
For now, though, we have choices, and our S 580 is without doubt a truly spectacular way of being ferried around.
Yes, it uses a Flintstone-era, fossil-fuel-guzzling V8 for power. But squeeze the S 580’s throttle and you’ll enjoy the tsunami of surge from its twin-turbo V8. This thing delivers its 496-horsepower with the smoothness and urgency of water gushing from the Hoover Dam.
Yes, there’s a “base” S 500 model with a turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six, priced from $111,000. But why bother; life’s too short to skimp on power.
And the 580’s V8 is aided and abetted by a 48-volt electric motor that throws-in an extra 21-hp for added off-the-line punch and instant midrange thrust.
But it’s arguably the way this big Benz handles itself that impresses the most. Simple things like new rear-wheel steering that, at slower speeds, turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction. This cuts the car’s turning radius by almost seven feet to 36 feet. Parking now becomes as easy as docking a Prius.
Then there’s the air suspension that gives this latest S-Class the feeling of literally floating on air, making it what I reckon is the best-riding luxury sedan out there.
But for a feeling of true, hedonistic luxury, slide into the Merc’s reclining rear seats. Gulfstream biz jets don’t offer this level of comfort. They’ll cool you, massage you, and entertain you with individual 11.6-inch screens.
It would take a book the size of War & Peace to cover all the astonishing technology that’s on offer here. Most of it I have to say, I found a tad confusing and distracting. Thankfully the brilliant “Hey Mercedes” voice control will take care of most commands.
So, wish the big Benz a Happy 5-0. Chances are it won’t make it to 60 as Mercedes becomes fully committed to electrification. Just enjoy one while it’s still around.