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Original MSRP: $92,550 - $159,500
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2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Performance

This performance review was written when the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class was new.

Super luxury sedans need to perform well to live up to their name, and the 2012 Mercedes S-Class does just that. The new diesel-powered S350 Bluetec earns reviewer praise for its spectacular fuel economy, while the S550 features a new engine for 2012 that’s more powerful and more fuel-efficient. All S-Class models feature an adjustable air suspension, and reviewers appreciate the composed, yet stately ride that it offers.

Despite its well-rounded performance, there may be better options if you’re looking for an exciting driver’s car. Reviewers often note that the Porsche Panamera, Audi A8 and BMW 7-Series offer a more lively driving experience. Some reviewers also ding the S-Class’ transmission and throttle response, saying that, at times, they can be slow to react to driver input. And while some test drivers like the S-Class’ steering, a handful of critics call it numb, and say that they’d like more road feel.

  • "It might not make you feel as virtuous as if you were driving a Prius, but this is still a car that proves that luxury and economy are not polar opposites." -- Automobile Magazine (S350 Bluetec) 
  • "The S Class just has a certain sound and feel about it when you're driving. It's heavy but still crisp. Every movement is intentional and every piece of the car feels exceptional." -- Detroit News 
  • "The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class provides a ride you'd expect from a top-tier luxury sedan." -- Edmunds 
  • "Its efficiency is remarkable for a 4961-pound, all-wheel-drive luxury sedan. This is a car that will go 700 or more miles between refills on the interstate, loping along at 85 mph, the V-6 turning barely 2000 rpm." -- Motor Trend (S350 Bluetec) 
  • "The transmissions offer multiple operating modes, for best comfort and economy or maximum driver involvement and performance, while brakes bred for the Autobahn have massive reserves at more pedestrian American speeds." -- New Car Test Drive

Acceleration and Power

For 2012, the Mercedes S-Class sees some significant changes under its hood. New this year is the diesel-powered S350 Bluetec, which features a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 and standard all-wheel drive. At 240 horsepower, the S350 may seem underpowered for such a large car, but test drivers comment that the S350’s ample torque (455 pound-feet) makes it a decent performer around town and on the highway. Still, a few comment that the S350’s throttle response is a bit sluggish. On the plus side, the automotive press raves about the S350’s stellar fuel economy ratings. 

The S550 also benefits from a new engine, which is smaller, more powerful and more fuel-efficient. Mercedes yanked the 2011 model’s 5.5-liter V8, replacing it with a 4.6-liter twin turbo V8 that generates 429 horsepower. That’s 47 more horsepower than the 2011 S550, and reviewers love the extra power. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but the S550 is available with all-wheel drive. Both S350 and S550 models use a seven-speed automatic transmission.

If you want a super luxury car that offers above-average power, the S600 might be worth a look. Its 510-horsepower, twin-turbo V12 engine offers more power than the Porsche Panamera Turbo, though the Porsche is still quicker off the line. The S600 is only available with rear-wheel drive. Power is sent through a five-speed automatic transmission.

Reviewers generally approve of the transmissions in S350 and S550 models, although some have noted that the throttle feels like it lags. Another gripe is that while the transmissions are smooth and refined, they sometimes hesitate when kicking into a lower gear.

The EPA estimates that the S350 gets 21/31 mpg city/highway, while the S550 gets 15/25 and 15/24 mpg city/highway with rear- and all-wheel drive, respectively. The V12-powered S600 uses the most fuel, getting an estimated 12/19 mpg city/highway.

  • "Power is good and fuel economy is impressive for such a big car. My only complaint is that power delivery from the turbocharger could be more progressive at lower speeds." -- Automobile Magazine (S350 Bluetec) 
  • "As in all non-AMG Benzes, throttle response is a bit deliberate, which requires patience but makes it easy to hold an even speed on the highway. A forceful incline of the diesel pedal summons churn that would twist a lesser car apart, and the extra power and torque give the S350 strong passing legs." -- Car and Driver (S350 Bluetec) 
  • "The S550 doesn't disappoint. The new 4.6-liter direct injection twin turbo V-8 blasts out 429 horsepower. The surprising feat with this engine is that engineers figured out a way to make it 20 percent smaller but create more than 30 percent more power." -- Detroit News
  • "Stepping up to the S550 will likely deliver all the power anyone could ever need. The new twin-turbo V8 offers ample thrust while returning better fuel economy than before." -- Edmunds 
  • "With the seven-speed automatic deftly surfing the diesel engine's lazy torque, the S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC is surprisingly quick down a winding road." -- Motor Trend 
  • "Every S-Class delivers better than adequate power and performance in smooth, quiet, rock-steady fashion." -- New Car Test Drive 

Handling and Braking

The S-Class features an air suspension, which allows the driver to adjust the firmness of the ride between Comfort and Sport modes. Reviewers are generally impressed with the balanced ride it provides, noting that despite its size, the S-Class still feels agile. Still, if you’re looking for the nimblest super luxury cars, test drivers often recommend the BMW 7-Series or Porsche Panamera.

The steering system garners mixed reviews. Most like the weight and feel of the S-Class’ steering, but a handful have criticized the system, calling it numb or commenting that it lacks road feel. Test drivers also debate brake performance, depending on the model. Most remain pleased with the brakes on the S550, but one reviewer thought the S350 Bluetec came up short, with lackluster handling and stopping power.

  • "All intimations of aggressiveness, however, are undone by the car's meager grip. The S350 posts a disappointing 0.79 g on the skidpad and brakes like a frigate, needing 181 feet to stop from 70 mph." -- Car and Driver 
  • "The steering is perfectly weighted, and the brakes easily modulated." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "The steering is firm, the ride stable and smooth." -- Detroit News 
  • "It simultaneously gives you that stately luxury-car feel, without making you feel overly isolated from driving." -- Edmunds 
  • "We've found all the S-Class models handle well for big luxury sedans. They are composed, responsive and stable at any speed." -- New Car Test Drive 
Review Last Updated: 10/10/13

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