Over three decades-plus of automotive journalism, there have been occasions when having a particular car outside my door made me nervous, writes Brian Byrne. Mainly due to its price, and my responsibility for having the vehicle in my care. Most recently, such a car was the Mercedes-Benz S580 e. Thankfully, I returned it at the end of my time in the same pristine shape as I had received it.
Provided you don't aspire to the even more rarified Maybach-Mercedes, the S-Class in any form is not just the top Mercedes-Benz model, it is also arguably the benchmark for its rivals to attempt to match or surpass. Whether they succeed in that is very much a personal subjective matter, as cars at any level tend to be. But there's no doubt about the exclusive cachet to the S-Class.
When I first reviewed the current S-Class back in late 2021, I mentioned what I saw as an unexpected positive in that the styles of Mercedes saloons have all become alike — it's not always easy to identify at a glance whether it's an E-Class, S-Class, or even the relatively smallest C-Class. Why I felt that to be positive is because the car won't date quickly. But my comment doesn't in any way diss the styling of the S-Class, which is elegant, svelte, and wears exclusivity like the expensive subtlety of a luxury fragrance. It is also, despite the fairly massive grille, commendably non-intimidating.
The interior of my latest review S-Class still has that 'wow!' factor I have previously discussed. Comfort and plush in abundance, as would be expected, and in the LWB version which mine was it has all the room that would be needed, whether being owner-driven or owner chauffeured as would be more likely. This time in, which was subsequent to a review period with the EQS electric car equivalent, I was happy to see that the S 580 e didn't have the very expensive 'Hyperscreen' which had dominated things in the EQS. The 'standard' MBUX setup and the S-Class's large centre screen suits perfectly, even if I'm still a curmudgeon about touchscreens generally.
Travelling in the S-Class is very much of the 'wafting' variety, the car's occupants almost totally insulated from the mundanity of imperfect road surfaces, passing winds, and even the beeping of horns. That last possibly because other motorists rarely seem to beep at this car. I'm on record as saying I could get used to S-Class travelling, though not likely to have much opportunity.
My reason for reviewing the car again so soon was the engine. Previously I had a 3.0 diesel under the curving bonnet in front, and it was a motor well suited to the car along with the 9-speed autobox. This time I was being wafted by a 3.0 petrol plug-in hybrid electric, and though I didn't have the opportunity to hear the difference back to back, I suspect this one was even more quiet. The engine is a 6-cylinder with 367hp of its own, integrated with an electric motor that offers a total system output of 510hp. That's a lot of oomph, and the car on paper is faster than the diesel to 100km/h, at 5.2s. As I tend to drive less frantically the more powerful my car is, I felt little need to use that beyond one quick standing start just to sense it.
One important plus with this hybrid was not just its rated 107km potential in electric mode — realistically closer to 85km in my experience — but the fact that you could recharge it at a fast-charge station, not the norm with lesser PHEVs. Which means you don't have to feel guilty about taking up an EV charging space when you also have petrol power, because an up to 80pc charge will only take 20 minutes. Play it cleverly and that straight-six ICE engine may well eventually flash up a message to complain about not being appreciated ...
This was one of those cars which don't get sold here in large numbers. But for me it is always well worth taking the offered opportunity to drive it.
PRICE: From €150,000. WHAT I LIKED: The efficient performance that earns it a mere €140 in Road Tax here.