Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2018 Mercedes-Benz S560

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
  • Safety

My university stats prof used to drive an S-Class, which made me wonder how good at stats someone could possibly be. I failed stats twice, but not before asking my prof why she drove an S-Class when I met her one day in the parking lot.

Advanced technology and virtually unsurpassable design, tranquility, and comfort.

Prof’s response?

“I’m not obsessed with my possessions, other than this car. It’s my only indulgence. It’s the most comfortable place I’m ever in. I even mark your exams in here sometimes. How did you do on the last one?”

“Oh, you know…” I replied. “Enjoy the car!”

This was some years back, in the era when the S-Class became the first car to ditch lightbulbs, thanks to all-LED lighting. And just before the S-Class started debuting autonomous driving features you can spec today in your favourite Mazda. Before that, S-Class was first to market with anti-lock brakes, and one of the first cars with a driver airbag.

This machine has long been about debuts, and the deployment of all that’s new and innovative and awe-inspiring. That’s still alive and well today.

So, take the following as a review of the S560 if you’re shopping this segment – or as a preview of things to come to a much more affordable car that you may be considering one day soon.

For 2018, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is hot off the press with tweaks, nips, tucks, and updates that culminate in the most current take on the brand’s top model, designed by their best and brightest. Here’s a car that, for decades, has encapsulated everything Mercedes-Benz knows about engineering, design, luxury, and technology.

On offer are improvements and revisions that freshen things up, add more power and efficiency under the hood, and give S-Class shoppers even more choices in content and systems that make us normal folks with our normal bank accounts scratch our noggins and shrug.

Cutting-edge technology meets old-school craftmanship

On board is where the S-Class makes the strongest case for its big-buck sticker price via a cabin that fully demonstrates the results of doing something for a very long time, and getting very good at it.

It’s an absolute class act of a cabin: a world of aluminum and leather and stitching spreads around you, arranged with such attention to detail and craftsmanship that you’ll have a tough time finding anything even approaching low-budget. The leather is creamy. The stitching is perfect. There’s little available for inspection by the eyes and fingertips that doesn’t look and feel extravagant. That helps sell six-figure cars, but it’s a good thing for you and me because design like this eventually inspires mainstream cars to step up their game.

There’s room aplenty if you’ll bring a few passengers along for the ride. Rear seats, thanks to the tester’s extended wheelbase, offer up more legroom than most SUVs, as well as a full perimeter of sun protection via motorized sunshades. Further rearward, the trunk is deep and generous, though the seats don’t fold down. On all aspects of space and roominess, the extended-wheelbase S-Class has you covered.

Sound-deadening technology and engineering is generously applied. Even well past the highway speed limit, you can, literally, whisper to your closest passenger. Run your fingers over the top edge of the side windows for a peek at why: S-Class’s side windows are two panes of glass, sandwiched together with a sound-blocking film between. You can practically hear yourself blink.

Prefer tunes? The Burmester stereo uses subwoofers mounted into the body shell to help replicate your favourite music with amongst the best clarity and highest performance I’ve ever encountered – though it’s still the Volvo S90’s Bowers and Wilkins stereo that remains the best I’ve ever heard in a car.

The instrument cluster and central command interface are comprised of two giant screens, manipulated from thumb-operated touchpads on the steering wheel, or a track-wheel on the console. The resolution is outstanding, and the all-digital instruments may even convert those who prefer conventional gauges. Elsewhere, ride quality, ambient mood-lighting colour, the currently deployed massage program, or nearly anything else, can be altered with a millimetre or two of fingertip movement.

There are massaging seats, heated and chilled, and adjustable in shape and grip down to the finest detail, to fit you perfectly. You can literally have what approximates a hot-stone massage as you ooze down the road, or move the lumbar support point in minute increments.

Improving driver comfort hand-in-hand with safety

Included dynamic bolsters change where and how they support your back in response to steering inputs and cornering load, pressing gently into you at various points in sync with the steering. A little odd at first, but this stabilizes you to reduce the strain on your back muscles, helping ensure you’ll feel fresh and limber after hours of driving.

The LED MultiBeam lighting system uses some clever tricks to a similar strain-reducing effect, but for your eyes. Using camera inputs to fine-tune lighting output, drivers are provided vivid light, and heaps of it, that always seems to fall exactly where it’s needed – even far up the road and deep into treelines and culverts. Light can steer into upcoming corners, before you turn the wheel, too. And, rather than a low-beam / high-beam system, S560’s light output is constantly optimizing: perpetually dancing, morphing and melting over the unlit road ahead.

It’s magical to watch, keeps attention forward, and basically uses high technology to punch eye fatigue in the throat.

Safety and autonomous systems give the S-Class some remarkable capabilities, including the delivery of hands-free moments of highway driving, where the car steers for you. It can also make hands-free lane changes: just tap the signal, and the car checks blind spots via radar, analyzes lane markings, and moves over autonomously when it’s safe. It can help you steer more safely around emergency situations, and automatically brake to avoid certain types of collisions.

Most of the systems work flawlessly, most of the time – as well as any I’ve ever used – other than a few false alarms from the Attention Assist system requesting I obtain coffee, and a lane-departure warning system that freaks out when you move over the centre line to clear space for a cyclist or parked car.

Engineered for luxurious cruising

Up front, the four-litre twin-turbo V8 generates 463 horsepower for use by all four wheels via a 9-speed automatic. At anything much less than max revs, it might as well be an electric car – with virtually no sound or sensation from the engine apparent. Generous torque output from the dual, top-mounted turbochargers ensures consistently strong throttle response from hilariously low revs, and scarcely a need to downshift. Opened up, there’s a tastefully restrained growl, but this powerplant was painstakingly designed to be quiet above all else, and is most impressive when driven gently.

With direct injection, cylinder deactivation, a nearly invisible auto-stop system, and a nine-speed automatic for low cruising revs, it’s all about as efficient as this much power gets. The S560 is no Prius at the pumps, but engineers have left little untouched to squeeze out maximum efficiency, using tech that will, one day, become the norm.

Beneath, the suspension is calibrated for consistently opulent ride quality without feeling floaty or geriatric. You can pick different modes, including a Sport mode, but Comfort is best. Here, you feel like you’re driving a hovercraft: small bumps don’t even register, and bigger ones feel a third of their size.

The definition of flagship luxury

In all, drivers experience one of the most comfortable rides going, from one of the quietest cabins going, from some of the best seats they’ll ever visit. And that’s the real magic of the S-Class: it’s not a single feature or attribute that’s best, but rather, it’s how several of them come together on a lengthy cruise. On the open highway, it’s like driving around in your own isolation chamber, or luxury social lounge, or a leather-lined concert hall, depending on what you want to get up to. As a long-distance cruiser, day or night, this is one of the best cars I’ve ever driven.

Gripes include a learning-curve to some of the interfaces, and the fact that, since this machine is so focussed on soft and easygoing comfort, enthusiast drivers may need to step up into a sportier AMG model to satisfy their inner thrill-seeker. There’s a Sport mode available, but it feels oddly mismatched against the character of the car when engaged. The S560 is so good at the comfort thing that you’d hardly bother with it.

If you’re lucky enough to be shopping in this segment, take this machine as money very well spent if advanced technology and virtually unsurpassable design, tranquility, and comfort are priorities. For the rest of us, take what you just read as a sneak preview of things to come in a car we might be considering, one day before too long.

I hope my old stats prof is still driving an S-Class, and I suspect she is.

Engine Displacement 4.0L
Engine Cylinders V8
Peak Horsepower 463 hp @ 5,250–5,500 rpm
Peak Torque 516 lb-ft @ 2,000–4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy 13.5/8.6/ 11.3 L/100 km city/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 530 L
Model Tested 2018 Mercedes-Benz S560 4Matic Long Wheelbase
Base Price $124,400
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,075
Price as Tested $143,625
Optional Equipment
$17,050 – AMG Sport Package $5,900; Intelligent Drive Package $2,300; Premium Package $6,100; Heads Up Display $1,500; AMG 20-Inch Wheels $1,250