April 2006

Mercedes-Benz S-Class S320 CDI

Traditional grille mixes with more modern design

April 2006

picture of car from the frontpicture of car from the rearpicture of car interiorpicture of car in detail

Overall rating

4.5 out of 5 stars


  • Interior is very comfortable and comprehensively specified
  • Diesel engine is relaxed yet powerful and economical
  • Ride quality is impressive, handling more than respectable
  • Clever technologies give significant comfort and safety benefits


  • Exterior design will not be liked by all
  • Automatic gearbox can sometimes be hesitant
  • Some time is required to become familiar with all the vehicle controls
  • Interior is quite plain in comparison with the exterior

Often seen as the pinnacle of the Mercedes range, the S-Class is the last word in luxury from the German firm. Like many of its predecessors, this S-Class also offers a host of innovative technologies, designed to improve safety, functionality and comfort for occupants. Amongst a small group of rivals, is it the best luxury saloon money can buy?

New from the ground up, the most radical departure for the S-Class is the styling. While containing many of the typical Mercedes cues such as the strong grille and tapered tail lights, it has boldly curved wheelarches and an extended bootlid, which give it a more radical look than previous generations. It also serves to reduce the visual bulk of what is a considerably large car.

Inside there are also new ideas and designs for Mercedes. The various information systems throughout the car are controlled by a single rotary dial mounted on the transmission tunnel, which can be rotated, pressed and pushed in eight directions. With a large number of vehicle settings and systems to control, it reduces the number of buttons on the dashboard to give an uncluttered look.

Among the innovations now available on the S-Class are night vision, using infra-red light to give an image of the road ahead which is displayed in the instrument cluster, Distronic Plus which uses the same infra-red technology to monitor the distance to the car in front and apply the brakes where necessary, and the Parktronic system, which uses a rear mounted camera to give a clear view behind, as well as guidance lines to show the likely direction of the car.

Mechanically the S-Class is also very well specified, using air suspension as standard, seven-speed automatic transmission on many models and also new or improved engines. There is also the option of Active Body Control, which uses electronically controlled dampers to deal with all kinds of road conditions, but all models benefit from a sport and comfort mode, which adjust the suspension and gearbox settings for improved response.

Our verdict on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class S320 CDI

Despite competing in a sector where the standards tend to be exceptionally high, the S-Class excels. It delivers outstanding levels of comfort, is very easy to drive and well constructed, and comes with an almost bewildering range of devices to make piloting the car safer or easier. It also avoids appearing excessive or ostentatious despite its size and price.


After the purchase price which, although a large figure, is not unreasonable for a car of this size and specification, running costs should be relatively reasonable. The diesel engine delivers good economy and insurance should also be respectable. Only higher priced servicing will hurt the wallet of a potential owner.

Space and practicality

With a long wheelbase and tall cabin, space is one of the S-Class's strongest features. Legroom in particular is very generous both front and rear, while headroom is also very good. The boot is huge, with useful nets on either side to secure items. There are also plenty of useful touches like the self-closing doors, automatic bootlid and storage areas which make living with the car that much easier.

Controls and display

The displays on the S-Class are easy to use and understand, with the central display using a computerised image of a speedometer rather than a conventional dial. This allows the display to be changed to show other information at the same time. The central dashboard screen carries a lot of information, and is the main interface when operating the unit's control dial. This system is fairly intuitive to use, although familiarisation is required to understand all the menus and their operation.


This is where the S-Class excels. With the high degree of adjustment available when fitted with the Comfort seats, it is easy to tailor the seating to any size and shape of passenger. The double glazing, acoustic insulation and engine refinement means very little wind and road noise gets into the cabin, and the ride quality is excellent, resulting in a superlative level of comfort.

Car security

Double glazing all round makes it much more difficult to break into the S-Class, while shielded locks, an electronic immobiliser and remote locking all help to make it a very secure car.

Car safety

A very high degree of safety is standard across the S-Class range. All models come with Pre-Safe, a system designed to prepare the car if it detects the likelihood of an accident. It also comes with ABS and ESP as standard, with extra features such as Brake Assist that will hold the vehicle on a slope and prepare full braking power if the driver lifts off the accelerator suddenly. In addition it has a strong body structure using lightweight materials, and eight airbags as standard.

Driver appeal

The S-Class does a good job of disguising its considerable bulk when on the move, particularly when in Sport mode, which stiffens the suspension and alters the operation of the gearbox. It is an accomplished handler, yet it is at its best when covering long distances thanks to the superb refinement and comfort levels. The diesel engine is very responsive and provides impressive acceleration, yet it can still deliver respectable economy.

Family car appeal

With such high comfort levels and generous accommodation, the S-Class would make an excellent family car. Even the tallest of teenage children could fit easily in the rear seats, while the high quality stereo and DVD player can keep them entertained. The luggage area is also large enough to cope with all the paraphernalia that comes with modern family life.

First car appeal

The S-Class is most likely too complex and large for the average new driver to cope with, although in terms of ease of driving it is very good. Insurance could well be an issue too, as well as the purchase price.

Quality and image

Even from the outside the S-Class feels like a car built to a very high standard, and the fit and finish of the interior reinforces that feeling. All the controls operate with a well-damped smoothness and feel robust. The S-Class has had a desirable image for many years, and the latest iteration continues in that vein with the use of much innovative technology and a desirable badge.


Each of the four doors open easily to give a wide aperture, and are helped by stepless door stops which will hold them open in any position. The driver is assisted in their entry by the automatic steering wheel, which moves up and in for maximum room. Access to the boot is also very easy with a large lid, which fully opens automatically with the press of a button on the key fob or inside.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

The S-Class comes with a wide range of audio options. The car tested is fitted with the CD/DVD changer, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound system, which provides outstanding sound quality. It has the ability to play MP3 CDs, and the DVD player operates on the central screen when stationary or at very low speeds.

Colours and trim

As you would expect from a luxury car like the S-Class, the interior uses a fine mix of quality wood and leather, and where necessary plastics of a high standard. The overall feel is very good, with the dark leather and wood contrasting with the flashes of chrome and metallic finish plastics.


Ordinarily parking a car such as the S-Class would be trying due to its sheer size, but visibility is good, and the power steering is very light at low speeds. Additionally, when fitted with the Parktronic system, the rear view camera is confidence inspiring, and the guidance system is very useful.

Spare wheel

Space saver spare wheel mounted underneath the boot floor

Range information

Five engine options: 3.5-litre petrol (272bhp), 5.5-litre petrol (388bhp), 6.0-litre twin turbocharged petrols (517bhp and 608bhp) and 3.0-litre diesel (235bhp). All models are fitted with the seven-speed automatic transmission, except the 5.5-litre petrol models which are fitted with five-speed automatic transmissions. There are no specific trim levels, but standard equipment increases with engine selection.

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