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Mercedes S-Class: Evolution of luxury

29th Sep 2009 7:00 am

The Mercedes S-Class is the evolution of the motor car at its finest. The S-Class story began in the early 1970s and has grown stronger in each of the successive 4 generations.

The Mercedes S-Class is the evolution of the motor car at its finest. The S-Class story began in the early 1970s and has grown stronger in each of the successive 4 generations. . We lined-up S-classes from each generation to sit in them, drive them, revel in their special qualities with the aim of conveying to you the essence of the German luxury car over the years. And we start at the beginning with the W 116 that was manufactured from 1972 to 1980.

The Honour Roll
* Designated ‘S-class’ for the first time
* Anti-brake lock system (ABS) from 1978
* Largest engine (6.9 litres) post-war
* First luxury car with diesel engine (300 SD)

In the lap of luxury


The first official S-class looks a rather sporty than luxurious - with its cherry red paint, wide tyres, the beam-straight body and boot, strong shoulder line and rectangular grille and lights. It’s the only one of the series to have chrome bumpers and the thick frames of chrome around the rear windscreen have to be seen to be believed.

Opening and closing the rear doors also reveals a mechanical clack clack along with the regular Mercedes door ‘thunk’. The door lock works fabulously and even after all these years the spring loading is perfect. But the biggest surprise is the W116 drives like a modern car and it’s 37 years old! The ride is very pliant but without extra dive, the steering feels direct and though the motor wasn’t in its finest state of tune, it had a lusty tug. The fox- ear headrests and the parallel wiper arrangement are very appealing. It was one of the first cars with ABS and fuel injection. It even had a hydro-pneumatic suspension , a 6.9-litre V8 and a five-cylinder turbo-diesel version.

Mercedes S-Class: 2nd Generation

The second generation S-Class was the W 126 and it was made from 1979-1991

The Honour Roll
* First production car to meet the criteria of an offset crash
* Driver’s airbag and seat belt tensioner (1981)
* Automatic locking diffrential
* Acceleration skid control (ASR)

In the lap of luxury

The grey coloured W126 matches the car’s character to the last millimeter. This particular car houses the 5.6 or 560 V8 with 272bhp, which makes driving it feel effortless and non-troublesome. What it must have felt like in the early ’80s is anyone’s guess. It had the power to outperform sports cars. Like the W116 before it, you can touch and feel the ‘no budget’ approach to many of its parts, especially the robust construction.

What’s still amazing is rear seat comfort, the chiropractor-designed stiff but perfectly shaped back seats and the incredible sense of space. This is still the largest-selling S-class as well as the one that was around for the longest time, almost 12 years, which is partly why you see a lot of them in India.

Mercedes S-Class: 3rd Generation

The third generation S-Class debuted in 1991 and was known internally as the W 140. It was made till 1998.

The Honour Roll
* Electronic stability program (ESP)
* Brake assist (BAS) from 1996
* Adaptive damping system (ADS)
* Sound-proofed double-pane windows

In the lap of luxury

Once you sit inside the W140, close the door and start the car you immediately are under the impression that Merc went overboard with the build strength of this car. Massively overengineered, it seems to blot out the outside world. It has double-pane glass windows and rides over poor roads like it wants to beat them into submission. This car in particular has one of the last twin-cam straight six motors to grace the S-class line, and what an engine it is. The variable inlet cam motor pulls from everywhere in the powerband and the tall gearing allows the impressive 3.5 litres motor to wind long and hard..

The 5.1-metre-long W140 was also feature-rich. Powered door closing, air suspension, traction control, ESP, rain-sensing wipers and six-litre V12, if you want one. This car is also infamous remembered as the Merc which Lady Diana was riding in when she lost her life.

Mercedes S-Class: 4th Generation
The 4th generation S-Class was made from 1998 upto 2005 and was known as the W 220.

The Honour Roll
* DISTRONIC — intelligent cruise control
* Automatic cylinder shut-off
* Keyless-go access system
* Electronically adjustable air suspension

In the lap of luxury

Autocar India was the first to the drive the W220 when it first launched in India. The S320 just blew us away with its sophistication, refinement and thoroughbred driving manners. Supremely comfortable, both at the rear and behind the wheel, we thought this car had it all. Exactly nine years down the line, things have changed very little. The W220 feels totally modern, providing occupants a level of comfort on its air suspension most cars just can’t muster.

The W220 was smaller and lighter than the W140 but better packaged. Strangely, it’s the styling that seems to have aged the most. The best bit is that there are plenty of S320s and later S350s available in the second-hand market. Prices start at Rs 18 lakh, but don’t forget service and spares.

Mercedes S-Class: 5th Generation

This is the here, and now generation S-CLass. Introduced in 2005 the W 221 was a sure, bold and ultimately successful step forward for the S-CLass.

The Honour Roll
* Brake assist with radar sensors
* Infrared night view assist
* Pre-Safe passenger protection system
* Active Body Control (ABC)

In the lap of luxury

Class-leading style, class-leading quality and class-leading comfort, the new S-class has it all. The car’s styling is fresh even a couple of years after its launch, the quality in the cabin is back to being first-class and the car displays an agility that is frankly ridiculous.

Shutting the door blots out traffic completely and the car simply glides over patches that would make other car’s suspensions weep. You soon get used to the gear selector stalk, actually pioneered by BMW, and everything you touch — the solidly built chrome bits, the wood and the leather — feel extra special. Little touches impress the most, like that little bit of extra padding under the leather of the armrest, the perfect seam of the wood, chrome and leather on the doors. . . the list is endless. The central screen, however, does look a bit out of place. What next? A 14-inch screen? Merc has opted for the speedo being a screen rather than a dial. Then there is the way the motor sounds like it is situated two decks below the cabin, the world shrinks around you when you drive it harder and, as ever, everything is effortless.


This is still the best car in the world. It still feels extra special, is engineered to the finest standards and holds dear the values that have made the star famous.

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