Vehicle Overview
Safety, performance and appearance headline the changes in the top Mercedes-Benz sedans for the 2003 model year. Mercedes-Benz unveiled the revised model at the Paris Motor Show in September 2002.

An innovative Pre-Safe system is the big news for the S-Class this year. Up to 5 seconds before an unavoidable impact, additional electric seat belt tensioners are activated and the seats adjust to the optimum safety position: the backrest is raised and the seat bottom is lowered and moved rearward. The sunroof closes automatically if skidding occurs, and the tensioners relax when a crash is averted.

All S-Class sedans get a new front fascia and new headlight and taillight glass. New 4Matic all-wheel-drive versions of the S430 and S500 will go on sale during the 2003 model year; these models will feature a 40/60 front/rear torque split. A new bi-turbo V-12 engine that delivers 493 horsepower and 590 pounds-feet of torque goes into the S600.

The high-performance S55 AMG gets a new supercharged V-8 power plant that produces 493 hp — that’s 138 hp more than last year’s version. Redundant Speed Shift buttons go on the steering wheel, a new racing-derived braking system is installed, and the S55 AMG interior has been revised.

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 sedan’s 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 equipped 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.

With its standard three-place rear bench, the S-Class seats five occupants. A split, rear bench seat with power adjustments is optional. The front seats have 14-way power adjustments, as well as head restraints that can serve as pillows. Full leather upholstery, a navigation system and a Bose audio system are standard in the S430 and S500.

Befitting its price, the S600 gets a higher level of wood and leather trim, four heated power seats, four-zone climate control, a CD changer and a voice-controlled digital phone. Features in the S55 AMG include active ventilated/multicontour front seats. Radar-based Distronic Adaptive Cruise Control and a Keyless Go feature are offered as optional equipment.

Under the Hood
Mercedes-Benz offers three V-8 engines and a V-12. The S430 comes with 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 new 493-hp, supercharged 5.5-liter V-8. The S600 sedan carries a turbocharged 5.5-liter V-12 that pumps out 493 hp, which is an increase of 131 hp from the previous V-12 power plant. All models have a five-speed-automatic transmission that incorporates a manual-shift mode.

Side-impact airbags are installed in each of the four doors, and inflatable side curtain-type airbags in the front and rear deploy from the roofline to protect occupants’ heads. The automaker’s Electronic Stability Program combines traction control with lateral-skid control technology. Antilock brakes are standard, and a Parktronic system is included in the S600.

Driving Impressions
Because the S-Class is loaded with so much technology, it can seem overwhelming. 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, its steering seems just a little too light.

The S500’s 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.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2003 Buying Guide
Posted on 12/9/02