2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class
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    2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Expert Review:Autoblog

    On Top Of The World With Merc's New Magic Roadster

    2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class

    2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK - Click above for high-res image gallery

    We usually see women behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class. Who can blame them? It's a cute little car. The original SLK debuted in 1996 with a four-cylinder powerplant and all of 136 ponies. What it lacked in the motivation department it made up for with its Vario-roof retractable hardtop. Not since the 1957 Ford Skyliner could a car stop so much traffic while parked.

    The SLK gained some testosterone with its first facelift in 2000. While the exterior was still rather tame, the chick car jokes ceased in 2001 with the introduction of the 354-horsepower SLK 32 AMG.

    Things continued to get better with the all-new 2004 edition and its sleeker styling that paid homage to Mercedes' Formula One designs and the beastly McMerc SLR. The reality that AMG could stuff its hand-built 5.4-liter V8 under the hood made the second-generation SLK a serious performance car.

    For 2012, the SLK officially begins its third generation, and you can see the difference from 100 yards. Especially from the front view, the roadster looks more mature and substantial. The split-grill design reconstitutes the 190 SL's design from the late 1950s in a handsome, modern manner. The bolder aesthetics continue in the rear, which features large arches over the rear wheels and LED taillamps. And it keeps getting better on the inside...

    Continue reading First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK...



    Photos copyright ©2011 Rex Roy / AOL



    Inside, the modernized retro theme continues, with our SLK350 tester's circular vent outlets ported through the handsomely contoured dash covered in hand-stitched Nappa leather (like the SLS AMG). Round analog gauges flank a center digital display in the main binnacle, while a bright, seven-inch LCD handles navigation as well as manipulating the climate control and infotainment systems.

    While the interior and exterior are mostly new, from an engineering standpoint, the third generation seems more like a Gen 2.5.5; a facelift of the 2008 facelift. The 2012 SLK rides on the same 95.7-inch wheelbase. It's about an inch longer and an inch wider (overall width and track), and the tidy dimensions help this car stay true to what SLK stands for: Sportlich (sporty), Leicht (light) and Kompakt (compact).

    2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK side view2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK front view2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK rear view

    Engines are familiar to fans of the Three-Pointed Star. In the States, we will eventually get two of three available engines for the new SLK: the 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and the naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter V6. Four-cylinder models will be called the SLK250, while V6 models gets the SLK350 badge. For 2012, both engines gain direct fuel injection in a nod to efficiency. Horsepower, torque and preliminary estimated miles per gallon figures are 201, 229 pound-feet, and 23/31 for the 1.8-liter engine and 302, 273 lb-ft., and 20/29 for the uprated V6. On this trip, only the six-cylinder SLK350 was available for us to drive, as it will be the only model offered when the SLK goes on sale in June. The SLK250 is scheduled for availability in the U.S. later in the model year.

    Both engines run their torque through an updated seven-speed automatic modified to accommodate a new fuel-saving start/stop functionality. Unfortunately, cars coming to the USA won't be getting the latter feature – at least for the moment. That's too bad, given where fuel prices are trending and the system's relative smoothness. Mercedes-Benz engineers use the crankshaft position sensor to know which cylinder has stopped closest to the optimum position for re-starting the engine. The engine control module then re-fires that cylinder first, an action that helps smooth out and quicken the re-start event.

    2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK engine

    To prepare for our drive, we needed to store two large duffle bags and wondered how much room our SLK350's trunk provided. Mercedes-Benz literature claims 6.4 cubic feet with the roof lowered and 10.1 cubes with the roof raised. Since we would soon be driving from sea level through the clouds to the observatory at Teide National Park, some 7,800 feet above the Atlantic in Spain's canary Islands, the top would be down and up depending on the precipitation (or a lack thereof). The trunk easily swallowed two large backpacks and a camera case with the roof stowed. Nifty.

    The SLK's hallmark retractable hardtop comes in three varieties: solid steel panels, a tinted roof section or with Benz's trick new Magic Sky Control electrochromatic roof section. The later roof's trick is that the transparent panel can shift its tint from almost clear to heavily darkened.

    The glass section is a glass-matrix polymer-glass sandwich in which nearly microscopic rectangular particles are suspended in carrier-type fluid. When a small electrical charge is put through the polymer layer, the particles obediently arrange themselves in a vertical orientation, letting light pass through mostly unencumbered. When the juice is cut via a switch on the windshield header, the particles rotate 45-degrees, blocking most of the light (and heat) attempting to pass through. The shift requires nary a second. (Geek Note: Magic Sky Control uses a similar principle to Delphi's Magnetic Ride Control dampers that control the flow path of damper fluid.)

    2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK trunk2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK side view2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK side view

    When it came time to press the starter button and head for the observatory, temperatures were mild, and low clouds hung over our oceanfront starting point. With rain threatening, it neither felt nor looked like top-down driving weather, so the top stayed in place.

    The imperfect roads on Tenerife presented a less-than-ideal surface that worked to shake and rattle the SLK. It accomplished neither. The roadster easily absorbed the punishment with the aplomb of a true fixed-roof coupe. Interior noise levels (engine, road and wind) were well subdued, and the exhaust note of the V6 sounded sportier than the same mill in the C-Class sedan. No surprise there, but still a welcome discovery.

    2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK interior2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK seats2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK gauges2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK navigation system

    Short-wheelbase cars can feel skittish, but the SLK simply doesn't. Even at full throttle with every foot-pound of torque twisting the rear half shafts, the SLK350 felt unshakable and secure.

    As we left the island's primary roads for the twisties ascending the extinct volcano's walls to the observatory, the SLK's locked-down feeling continued. Our route took us into the clouds that were heavy with moisture and the narrow roads turned slick. It seemed that the entire ride up the mountain was a Falling Rock Zone, and plenty of rocks littered the asphalt – like we needed more excitement.

    Even running uphill, the 302-hp six-cylinder had plenty of power in reserve. Thinking that leaving the electronic stability control in the 'On' position was a good idea, we'd often feel it working to keep the SLK in line. As expected, it immediately curbed any oversteer, but did so in a way that wasn't retaliatory – it simply chided for being overexuberant.

    2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK driving

    What was unexpected was the so-called torque-vectoring function of the Electronic Stability Control. When diving into a corner under braking, we're trained to expect a certain amount understeer – particular from Mercedes. The SLK senses the understeer and helps to mitigate it by adding a measured amount of braking to the inside rear wheel, helping to increase the car's yaw rate and make it rotate more easily.

    We'll have to wait for the AMG-tuned version of the SLK to arrive before this chassis can be completely exploited, but indications are good thus far. Unfortunately, the ESC on the SLK350 cannot be completely disabled. When the dash switch is toggled off, the tires will spin to aid acceleration on snow or through mud, but any yaw immediately triggers a throttle intervention. When the AMG version arrives, expect an option to completely shut down the ESC.

    2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK driving2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK driving

    Even with ESC on, the SLK remained a remarkably fun steer. The traditional hydraulic rack-and-pinion box had a natural on-center feel. Rolling off of center, starting at about 5 degrees, the box cranks the wheels with a constant ratio. At 100 degrees of steering angle – just beyond a quarter turn and just before your arms get crossed up – the ratio increases and the wheels turn more quickly. This is a huge help on roads that twist enough that you spend as much time looking out the side glass as the windshield. On the roads of Tenerife, we rarely had to shuffle the wheel or get our arms completely crossed-up.

    Somewhere north of 6,000 feet we broke through the clouds and the top went down. It was chilly enough for us to turn on the Airscarf, a feature that blows warm air on your neck. We also put up the Airguide windstop. With the heater cranked up, we remained warm in the cabin, and buffeting was kept to a minimum.

    2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK rear 3/4 view

    After shooting some photos, we headed back down the mountain. This strained the brakes, as evidenced by the soft pedal and burning odor. However, the Continental SportContact5 tires (225/40R18 front and 245/35/R18 rear) – known for their ability to shed speed with authority – never faltered. The average SLK driver probably isn't going to give their drop-top the same workout, so for daily duty, the standard stoppers should do nicely.

    In all, the 2012 SLK's driving experience was a good one. It did, however, leave us wondering about a few things. First, we're looking forward to some time behind the wheel of the lighter SLK250. The tonnage is down by more than 100 pounds and weight distribution should be closer to 50/50. The SLK350's smaller-engined sibling could end up being the better of the two offerings – that is, until the V8 AMG model enters the mix. We'll let you know as soon as we get the chance to try them out.



    Photos copyright ©2011 Rex Roy / AOL

    The following review is for a 2010 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    The complete luxury sedan.

    Introduction

    Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a reference point for large luxury sedans, with specious coddling interiors, plentiful and useful technology, and a lineup that covers everything from a low-emissions hybrid to the most powerful four-door production car in the world. 

    Primary among changes for 2010 is the addition of the S400 Hybrid model. The first production hybrid with a lithium-ion battery the S400 maintains S-Class performance while significantly increasing fuel economy and lowering emissions without any of the typical hybrid compromises: Even when equipped as the S550 the S400 is the least expensive S-Class and has the same large trunk space. 

    Another noteworthy item, optional on any S-Class is Splitview. This arrangement allows the driver and passenger to see a different image at the same time on the central dashboard screen. The driver may want to check maps and traffic while the passenger watches a movie rather than gridlock, and with Splitview both can. 

    Other 2010 changes are smaller in scale and include things like front and rear lighting changes to make more use of LEDs. No detail escapes attention on the S-Class, and the same LED strip beneath the headlights (except base S400) shows white as a parking light and amber as a turn signal. 

    At nearly 300 horsepower, the S400 is the least-powerful S-Class, yet capable of an electronically limited 130 mph. An S550 will reach 60 mph 1.8 seconds earlier in ideal conditions and offers all-wheel drive for less-ideal conditions, the S600 and S63 AMG almost a second quicker still (4.5 seconds), and the S65 AMG in 4.2 seconds. They're more powerful than the numbers suggest, as even approaching its 186-mph limiter the S65 is still pulling like a freight train. 

    These cars handle remarkably well for big luxury sedans, composed, responsive and stable at any speed. The Airmatic air suspension system has both automatic and manual controls for ride height and firmness, transmissions bring multiple operating modes, and the braking system bred on the Autobahn's have massive reserves at more pedestrian American speeds. 

    Inside, you are surrounded by wood, leather and finishes befitting an expensive car. Separate overhead lit vanity mirrors, ambient cabin lighting and multiple air vents characterize the base model's rear seat. Technophiles may revel in the best night vision system on the market, cruise control that will maintain following distance up to 125 mph or stop the car automatically, a smart man-machine interface, and seats that will massage, cool and self-inflate under lateral loads. 

    The Mercedes S-Class competes with the Audi A8L, BMW 7 Series, and to a lesser extent the Lexus LS. The Mercedes S63 AMG matches up to Alpina BMW and the smaller but sportier-handling Maserati Quattroporte, Porsche Panamera and Aston-Martin Rapide, while the S65 makes a less-ostentatious (and faster accelerating) alternative to Bentley's Flying Spur Speed. 

    Lineup

    The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class line has five models: S400 ($87,950); S550 ($91,600); S550 4MATIC ($94,600); S63 AMG ($133,550); S600 ($149,700); S65 AMG ($201,150). A Gas Guzzler Tax applies to most S-Class, up to $3,000 on S63, S600, and S65. Metallic paints are no-cost except for Diamond white ($795). 

    All S-Class models include leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, walnut trim, navigation system with voice recognition and Zagat guide, heated 14-way power front seats with lumbar, heated power mirrors, 600-watt harman/kardon 15-speaker, 6CD, Logic 7 surround sound system with weather band and satellite radio, front/rear illuminated vanity mirrors, air suspension with ride height and damping control, bi-Xenon headlamps, and full power accessories. Most come with a moonroof and 18-inch wheels as standard. 

    S400 uses a 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline V6 and 120-volt lithium-ion battery-powered electric motor for 295 net hp (EPA 19/26) and a seven-speed automatic transmission. Options are substantial: Premium 1 ($1,380) includes heated/ventilated front seats, power trunk closer, adaptive high-beam assistant, active-curve headlights, LED running lights; Premium 2 ($4,950) includes Premium 1 plus rear camera, Parktronic guidance, Keyless-Go, Drive Dynamic multi-contour/massage front seats); Driver Assist ($2,900) includes Distronic Plus with PreSafe, blind spot assist; Sport ($5,800) adds AMG bodywork and 19-inch wheels; Sport Plus One ($6,550) features special bodywork, 20-inch wheels; Rear Seat package ($2,900) includes left-right climate control and 8-way power heated and ventilated seats; Rear Entertainment ($2,450) features dual-source dual-screen with remotes, video inputs and DVD drive); leather upgrade ($1,350); 19-inch wheels ($1,250); 20-inch wheels ($2,000); wood/leather steering wheel ($580); power rear side window shades ($740); heated steering wheel ($480); illuminated door sills, four ($950); Splitview ($700); Panorama roof ($1,070); Night View with pedestrian detection ($1,740). 

    S550 has a 5.5-liter 382-hp V8 and seven-speed automatic (EPA 15/23) and is available with 4MATIC ($3,000). An S550 gets the S400's Premium 1 package as standard, along with the wood/leather steering wheel. Options include the Premium 2, Driver Assist, Sport/Sport Plus One, Rear Seat, and Rear Entertainment packages, all the S400 standalone options, and Active Body Control active suspension ($4,020). 

    S63 AMG uses a 518-hp 6.2-liter V8 and seven-speed automatic transmission (EPA 11/18). Both Premium packages are standard, as are AMG-grade Active Body Control suspension, brakes, 20-inch wheels and bodywork. Options are the Driver Assist, Rear Seat and Rear Entertainment packages, Splitview, Night View, and an AMG Performance package with a higher limited speed and carbon-fiber/piano black trim ($7,180). 

    S600 comes with a 510-hp twin-turbo 5.5-liter V12 (EPA 11/17), five-speed automatic, wider rear wheels and most equipment standard. Primary options are limited to Split View and 19- or 20-inch wheels. 

    S65 AMG comes with a 604-hp twin-turbo 6-liter V12 (EPA 11/17), five-speed automatic and AMG-enhanced chassis like the S63. For $200,000 virtually everything but Splitview and Diamond White paint is included. 

    Safety features on every S-Class include eight airbags, electronic stability control and PreSafe which will close the roof and windows and reposition the seat and its pneumatic lumbar for an impending collision. Fully equipped models use radar to stop the car automatically from up to 125 mph if the driver fails to pay attention and can alert the driver to unsafe lane changes. Night View offers a black-and-white TV-picture-like image of the road and people ahead in the central dashboard area used for the speedometer (which becomes a bar-graph along the bottom edge while ancillary gauges remain as normal). 

    Walkaround

    The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class carries the same major body panels as it did for its 2007 debut; with excellent aerodynamics and still-contemporary style. 

    LED lights have become more prominent with most versions sporting white daytime running lights in the lower bumper, standing lights and parking lights that switch to amber for front signals. As parking lights a strip of LEDs below the headlamps and three vertically on the side illuminate, but as standing lights (as you might use when parallel-parked on a dark lane) only the three vertical lights and corresponding rear LEDs glow, so you could leave them on overnight without affecting the battery. New tail lights that get rid of the body-colored strips within are attention-getting LED as well; V12 models get adaptive brake lights that blink rapidly during heavy braking. 

    The S-Class design has discernible fender flares front and rear, classic grille more laid back, and a generally flowing shape not unlike the ultra-lux sister-brand Maybach. These lines pay off in minimal noise and aero drag, high-speed stability, and an air of exclusivity afforded by the rear doors more than four feet long and the chrome strip framing the side glass. AMG models get quad oval tail pipes, a more aggressive look and air management with visual mass added to the lower bodywork, deeper grille and larger diameter wheels available with the Sport package on non-AMG models. 

    To keep weight down, the hood, door skins, and front fenders are constructed of aluminum alloys, as are the engine, transmission and most major suspension components, and the trunk lid is made of composite material. Much of the rest is high-strength steel. An S-Class is one of the best places to be in a big crash. 

    Details are well executed, be they the gaps between body panels, the transition from glass to roof to glass again, mirrors that fold narrower than the widest part of the car or keyless entry that works effectively for all doors and the trunk. All doors are self-sealing so you needn't slam them, positive door stops keep them at any position you open them to, there are no sharp edges inside or out, and the paintwork is very well finished. 

    Apart from badges the S400 and S550 look similar, while the S600 gets V12 badges for the front fenders and dual double-square tailpipes. S63 fender badges read 6.3 AMG in homage to past Mercedes cars of 6.3-liter fame (never mind the S63 engine is actually 6.2 liters). The S65 fender merely has a V12 BITURBO that should make everyone else think twice before offering to run for pink slips. 

    At least seven wheel styles are offered across the entire S-Class, from 18 to 20 inches in diameter. Potential buyers should be aware that larger diameter wheels generally impart a less-smooth ride, don't shrug off potholes as well, and often have limitations regarding tire chains or winter tires for inclement climes. We recommend the 18-inch wheels. 

    Interior

    The Mercedes-Benz S-Class boasts a large, luxurious cabin with all the features and amenities one could reasonably expect. Unlike its competitors the S-Class for the North American market is offered only in the long-wheelbase version with capacious room up front and even more behind. With a 6-foot, 3-inch driver we measured more than a foot of space from front seatback to rear seat cushion. 

    Heated, 14-way powered front seats offer three memory settings each side, wide ranges of adjustment including seat cushion length and will frequently adjust headrest height automatically, which like many controls, you can manually override if you wish. Metaphoric window switches that look like miniature replications of the seats are mounted on the doors to ensure they are easy to reach and understand. On cars with power rear seats the driver may switch to control the seat behind him. Meanwhile, the right rear passenger (the boss position) may control the right front seat for additional legroom. 

    Drive Dynamic front seats offer ventilation, four varieties of massage, further adjustments for cushion and back sides, lumbar and shoulders. Also, in what amounts to a sport seat with the comfort of a fine armchair, these seats can inflate side bolsters relevant to cornering load to hold you in place without being confining. After using it, we aren't quite sold on this feature as we found it distracting when cornering, but it can be turned off; we like the massage feature. Each seat is independently controlled and linked to the memory system. 

    Visibility is very good for the driver, with a sloping hood, reasonable pillars, parking sensors at both ends, rear camera, bi-Xenon headlamps, fine-line defrosters, eight heated windshield washer jets, and rear headrests that drop out of sight at touch of a driver's button. 

    The three-belt rear seat is huge and offers four AC vents, separate cabin and reading lamps, overhead lit vanity mirrors, and the same adjustable-color-and-intensity ambient lighting as the front hidden below the woodwork strips. Behind the center armrest is another storage area and power side shades are optional. 

    If your clients or kids are worth it a rear-seat upgrade package adds left/right rear climate control, plus heated and ventilated power-adjustable outboard seats and headrests. This setup provides the utmost in comfort while maintaining five-passenger capability. The entertainment package adds a height adjustable screen with video inputs behind each front headrest, video inputs and a DVD drive under the center rear seat, dual wireless headphones and an individual remote for each screen and the car's main audio system. 

    Instruments provide standard data, the central speedometer a screen image; everything from navigation and radio to driver assists and mpg can be called up here via the steering wheel thumb buttons, and on AMG cars, additional engine info or a lap timer stopwatch. With Night View engaged the screen shows an image of the view ahead with pedestrians highlighted, with speed along the bottom and warning lights superimposed around the periphery of the image. Its central line of sight location and crisp imagery make this the best system of its type. 

    The navigation screen, which can be angled toward driver or passenger and brightness adjusted separately from the instruments, is top center and well shaded. Every operation done through the central controller shows here. 

    A new option for 2010 and unique to the American market is Splitview. This potentially marriage-saving device lets the driver see one full-size image (map, radio, seat control) while the passenger sees another (a movie with headphones or map if they're navigating) simultaneously on the single central screen. Slide across the rear seat or walk behind the car and you'll be asking how did they do that. 

    Controls are extensive. Major driving controls are on the steering column, with a PRND shift stalk and upshift paddle on the right, downshift by the left hand (the paddles are close to the wheel with little finger space between). On the left are stalks for cruise control, wheel tilt/telescope, and a busy one with signals/main beams/wipers/washers on it. Suspension, parking and illumination controls are on the dash betwixt gauges and nav screen. The eight-position light switch has off and automatic modes but even in off the headlights were often on in daylight, even after we consulted the six pages of owner's manual regarding the lights. 

    Climate controls are arrayed across the center dash with true dual-zone operation, not merely independent temperatures. The system also gives a choice of how airflow is layered and distributed through the cabin, lest you prefer room temperature or a constant direct flow of air over you. 

    Mercedes-Benz dubs their control system COMAND and uses a round knob that rotates and moves in three dimensions, a mouse-shaped palm-rest that hides a 10-key pad within and four quick-access buttons across the front. Through a series of quick-to-master menus and scrolls it controls hundreds of things, and while you can rotate the COMAND knob to change radio stations you can also use the keypad to punch the number directly. The system is competitive with Audi's MMI, BMW's newest iteration of iDrive and Lexus mouse controller. 

    Finishes are superb and mix contemporary like piano-black and ribbed brushed metal surfaces with more traditional wood and chrome. Some of those high-gloss surfaces glare in the sun but those are single points because there are very few flat surfaces. For details note how the center console opens from either side, the chrome lip on the strip of wood sweeping across the dash and doors, how the woodwork bends around the COMAND controls and console, and how window switches also handle the shades. You know there has to be plastic in here somewhere but you never notice it, and the giveaway point on most cars, the pillar between the doors, is carpeted about a third of the way up and then covered in headliner material. All S-Class have leather though there are different grades available, and more money usually brings an Alcantara headliner as well. 

    S-Class comes with a 600-watt, 15-speaker harman/kardon Logic 7 surround sound system with a 6-DVD changer and memory card in the dash (auxiliary inputs are out of sight in the glovebox and run through the COMAND screen). An analog clock rides center dash, on AMG models it is from watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen Ingenieur. 

    Cabin storage includes a sizable pocket in each door, smaller pockets within the front door armrests, center console cupholders and bins, and a moderate-size glovebox. The 20-cubic-foot trunk is ideally square-angled and tall, and therefore holds more cases and bags than many vehicles with greater listed capacity. Some models have smaller bins underfloor above the spare tire, and it's worth noting that the S400 has the same trunk as the non-hybrid S-Classes. 

    Driving Impression

    Every S-Class delivers more than sufficient power and performance in a quiet, smooth manner. Since most of the luxury and high-tech items can be applied to each model, how much more than sufficient depends on the model, your budget, and your penchant for amusingly wretched excess. 

    The S400 Hybrid does not meet some definitions of hybrid since it will not propel itself on electric-power alone. However, it does increase fuel mileage more than 25 percent in the city and to a rated 26 on the highway (we recorded 21.7 around town and 27.6 on the highway) with no downside or price premium; the battery is in the engine compartment and the S400 weighs only 19 pounds more than S550. With a combined power output of 295 hp and broad torque its acceleration betters most hybrids but an S550 is quicker, yet an S550 invokes traction control trying to use all its power from a standing start anyway. 

    Five characteristics segregate S400 from S550: The S400 Hybrid makes a different noise, not rougher or louder, merely different. It often switches off automatically when stopped to save fuel so the tachometer swings to zero; taking your foot off the brake or touching the gas pedal restarts it, and it makes this transition smoother than any hybrid we can think of, including pricier V8s. In places where you are going very slowly, as you might creeping into a tight parking spot, the idle stop may be more active than you like so just resting your big toe on the gas pedal to keep the gas engine running will smooth things nicely. The brake pedal has more of an on/off switch feel to it because that's a lot of what it does, but if you hit it the S400 will stop in short drama-free order. Finally, powertrain/battery status is added to the various display options. 

    Ride quality is superb, S-Class air suspension combining smoothness with complete control and utter stability as you waft along faster than you think. We found it duly goes where it's pointed and if you think yourself getting into an off-ramp a bit too fast you'll be impressed by what this 4,500-pound mass can do even before any electronics come into play to save you from your own poor driving habits. The suspension can be raised at slow speeds for excessive speed bumps or driveway angles, lowers at higher speeds for stability and economy, and can be firmed up in Sport mode if you prefer quicker reactions to pillow-gentle manners. 

    Steering inputs are fluid, linear, predictable and surprisingly crisp for such a long wheelbase; on some models a quick turn puts a touch of brake to a rear wheel to help encourage the turn but there is no artificial feel introduced when it happens. Brakes are easily modulated and seem endless in their ability to retard harder as you further depress the pedal. 

    An S550 behaves essentially the same way except for more significant thrust by virtue of its 382 horses and 391 lb-ft of torque, nearly 300 of which is available at just 1000 rpm. S-Class cars start in second gear to save fuel (unless you've chosen Sport or Manual modes), but even when starting in second gear we found the S550 has considerable urge. The 4MATIC model gets going more easily in poor conditions. 

    Active Body Control (ABC) adds another element to suspension control by mechanically countering the acts of physics. As the steering wheel is rotated to make a bend the car automatically alters suspension to remain flatter. If you've ever watched a motor race where the driver swerves back and forth to warm or clean tires but the car appears to lean very little, ABC gives the same effect to a much heavier, taller, softer riding car. BMW's 7 Series offer active suspension as well but they lack the linear, more organic feel of the S-Class. 

    The S600, with a twin-turbo V12 engine, whirs and hums rather than starts and runs, with a fluidity matched only by more-expensive twelve-cylinder cars. With 510 hp and a prodigious 612 lb-ft of torque (at just 1800 rpm) the S600 gets a five-speed automatic because the seven-speed automatic can't handle it. The S600 will run 0-60 in less than five seconds with four people on board as long as you can find traction. S600 uses 18-inch wheels like lesser S-Class but they're wider in back to help cope with the power. We found the S600 has such ample reserves of power at any speed that the gas pedal should be treated as such. 

    The S63 AMG is rated at 518 hp, but it is a different breed than the S600. With a hand-built 6.2-liter V8 that burbles and bristles like a refined muscle-car, it revs to 7200 rpm. With a mere 465 lb-ft of torque, the S63 uses an AMG-modified version of the seven-speed automatic transmission. It matches the S600 for speed but has crisper, racier response, although the seven-speed didn't seem any quicker shifting to us than older AMG gearboxes. Along with the biggest V8 from Germany come massive brakes, AMG-calibrated ABC suspension, 20-inch wheels and ultra-low profile tires, and every component is designed to maintain a torrid pace. The S63 is not the fastest S-Class but it is the most driver-oriented and the most sporting. 

    The S65 AMG is a wolf in sheep's clothing that marries the leather-and-suede luxury of an S600 with the sporting chassis of an S63 to a 6-liter twin-turbo V12 and SpeedShift five-speed automatic. It generates 604 horsepower and a staggering 738 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm as smoothly as a jet engine, making your head the nail, the headrest a center-punch and your right foot the hammer. With more torque than any diesel pickup and twice the horsepower of a typical sport sedan an S65 with traction control off can spin tires through 70 mph and is electronically limited to three-miles-per-minute top speed. It will accelerate ferociously from 60 mph to 120 faster than most cars will from stop to 60, yet is easily managed if you don't switch too many things off and we found it downright docile when driven moderately. Effortless is a wholly appropriate descriptor here. 

    Every S-Class driver has a quiet cabin to work with virtually free of wind noise to freeway speeds and normal-volume conversations (with your driving instructor) can be maintained at 130 mph. Road noise increases nominally with larger wheels and still won't be heard above a talk-radio program, and engine noise is greater in the AMG models but either will cruise in subdued tones. 

    Summary

    The S-Class represents a top luxury sedan at a premium but justifiable price. Whether you prioritize hybrid cleanliness or incinerating power, the room, comfort, finishes, features, gadgets, safety systems, and general feel of superiority make a compelling argument. 

    New Car Test Drive correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report from Los Angeles after his test drive of the S-Class models. 

    Model Lineup

    Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid ($87,950); S550 ($91,600); S550 4MATIC ($94,600); S63 AMG ($133,550); S600 ($149,700); S65 AMG ($201,150). 

    Assembled In

    Sindelfingen, Germany. 

    Options As Tested

    Premium package 2 ($4,950). 

    Model Tested

    Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid ($87,950). 

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