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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Flammang
September 26, 2003
Vehicle Overview Like its two-door CL-Class coupe sibling, the ultra-luxury Mercedes-Benz S-Class rear-wheel-drive sedan gained two potent new engines for 2003. A supercharged 5.5-liter V-8 generates 493 horsepower in the S55 AMG. The twin-turbo V-12 in the S600 produces the same output. An available Pre-Safe system can recognize an impending impact before it occurs so that it can adjust the seats to the safest position and activate seat belt pretensioners.
Four versions of Mercedes-Benzs largest, most costly sedan are available. The S430 has a 4.3-liter V-8 engine; the S500 holds a 5.0-liter V-8; and the S600 carries a 5.5-liter V-12. Performance-oriented buyers may choose the S55 AMG, which features a supercharged 493-hp V-8, a sport suspension, larger tires and aerodynamic body trim.
A new seven-speed-automatic transmission that replaces the previous five-speed unit goes into S430 and S500 sedans for 2004. A DVD-based navigation system and MP3 play capability become standard. During 2003, new 4Matic all-wheel-drive versions of the S430 and S500 went on sale.
Mercedes-Benz describes the S-Class as a sedan with a coupelike profile that is highlighted by a low nose and taller tail. A laid-back grille and smooth underbody improve airflow, which keeps the sedans coefficient of drag at a low 0.27.
With its sport suspension, racy aerodynamic body trim and 18-inch tires on Monoblock alloy wheels, the S55 AMG is ready for high-speed travel. Both the ultimate-luxury S600 and the S55 AMG have Active Body Control that continuously adjusts suspension firmness to eliminate body roll during cornering, acceleration and braking.
Fitted with a three-place rear bench, the S-Class seats five people. A split rear bench with power adjustments is optional. The front seats have 14-way power adjustments and head restraints that can serve as pillows. Full leather upholstery and a Bose audio system are standard.
Befitting its price, the S600 gets four heated power seats and a higher level of wood and leather trim. Radar-based Distronic Adaptive Cruise Control is optional.
Under the Hood
Mercedes-Benz offers three V-8 engines and a V-12. The S430 holds a 275-hp, 4.3-liter V-8, while the S500 gets a 302-hp, 5.0-liter V-8. The high-performance S55 AMG uses a 493-hp, supercharged 5.5-liter V-8. The S600 sedan carries a turbocharged 5.5-liter V-12 that delivers 493 hp and 590 pounds-feet of torque. A new seven-speed-automatic transmission goes into rear-wheel-drive S430 and S500 sedans, while the S55 AMG, S600, and 4Matic-equipped S430 and S500 sedans use a five-speed automatic.
Side-impact airbags are installed in each door. Side curtain-type airbags in the front and rear deploy from the roofline to protect occupants heads. An Electronic Stability Program combines traction control with lateral-skid control technology.
Loaded with technology, the S-Class is a smooth and supremely capable cruiser that may initially be marred by a slight sense of detachment; but that sensation soon eases. Despite its bounty of alluring attributes, the steering seems just a little too light.
Even in the S500, performance approaches the level of stunning, and automatic-transmission response qualifies as masterful. Even though the ride is smooth, the S500 hits a few bumps rather hard. In fast curves, the big sedan stays remarkably upright.