Review: Mercedes-Benz S-Class (1999 – 2005)

Rating:

Supremely hushed, effortless and comfortable, even at 140mph. Smart looks, solid build and luxury by the gold-plated bucketful.

The electrics are a weakspot. Build quality and paint problems. Very expensive to fix if something big goes wrong. Small boot.

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30 October 2019

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Mercedes-Benz S-Class (1999 – 2005): At A Glance

I'm not going to pretend that Mercedes new presidential limousine is faster than a speeding bullet. (I suggest the armour plated version if this is a worry). But I can tell you from personal experience it will see off any other large saloon car full of bad guys.

There I was being driven by the esteemed motoring correspondent of The Daily Star when we became aware of a big, mafia black motor in our rear view mirror.

"Lose ‘em," I suggested, and nudged the gear lever over to the left a couple of times to select second. Starman floored it, there was a thump from the transmission and, before you could say "three hundred and sixty eight kilowatts equals five hundred pferdestarke", the chase car had disappeared in our wake and our speedo needle was touching 260kph.

In fact, that's all an S Class speedo will show, because the cars are electronically limited to an official 250kph. Unlimited, this 2,135kg 500ps car with 800Nm torque would be capable of at least 290kph. It drags itself from 0-100kph in just 4.8 seconds. Yet it has a back seat big enough to hold a party, complete with its own TV screen.

Mercedes Benz S Class W220 2001 Road Test

What does a Mercedes-Benz S-Class (1999 – 2005) cost?

List Price from £68,380
Buy new from £45,463
Contract hire from £641.56 per month
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Mercedes-Benz S-Class (1999 – 2005): What's It Like Inside?

Two major specification improvements are standard across the 2003 S Class range: Pre-Safe and COMAND. Pre-Safe is a system which can detect when an accident is about to occur. Using the car's ESP® (electronic stability program) and BAS (brake assist) sensors, Pre-Safe pre-tensions the front seat belts, closes the electric sunroof, and repositions the passenger seats to better-protect the occupants in the event of an impact. If no accident occurs, the system resets itself. It's the first time a significant re-usable safety system has been fitted to a road car.

The system was demonstrated in three different accident scenarios: the crash stop; the oversteer accident; and the understeer accident. Since the seat was reclined to a sleeping position for the last of these I closed my eyes to better stimulate a real life experience. Sure there was a sudden lurch of the car that would have woken the dead. But the seat went upright, the sunroof closed and the seatbelt grabbed me so I didn't get flung about at all. If I'm ever going to be a passenger in an accident, please let it happen in a new S Class.

COMAND is the familiar Mercedes Cockpit Management and Navigation Display System. Combining a new wide-screen GPS satellite navigation and a revised audio system (with the option of a television tuner), COMAND was previously only standard on the S500 and above. Now it's standard across the range and, combined with Pre-Safe, helps to justify the small price increases.

Other revisions for 2003 include subtle styling changes. The headlight lenses are now clear polycarbonate. The rear lights have clear horizontal lines across. The bumpers and grilles are subtly changed. And the quality of interior trim has been upgraded.

Under the bonnets, in addition to the S600 V12, and S500 V8 there is a new 3.7 litre S350 V6 petrol engine, a more powerful 320 straight six diesel, a 400 V8 diesel (left-hand drive only) and, coming soon, a S55 AMG V8 offering a ‘sportier' 500ps from the S600 V12, but 100NM less torque. The S280 and S320 engines continue as before.

Child seats that fit a Mercedes-Benz S-Class (1999 – 2005)

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What's the Mercedes-Benz S-Class (1999 – 2005) like to drive?

I'm not going to pretend that Mercedes new presidential limousine is faster than a speeding bullet. (I suggest the armour plated version if this is a worry). But I can tell you from personal experience it will see off any other large saloon car full of bad guys.  There I was being driven by the esteemed motoring correspondent of The Daily Star when we became aware of a big, mafia black motor in our rear view mirror. 

Lose em, I suggested, and nudged the gear lever over to the left a couple of times to select second. Starman floored it, there was a thump from the transmission and, before you could say three hundred and sixty eight kilowatts equals five hundred pferdestarke, the chase car had disappeared in our wake and our speedo needle was touching 260kmh. 

In fact, thats all an S Class speedo will show, because the cars are electronically limited to an official 250kmh. Unlimited, this 2,135kg 500PS car with 800Nm torque would be capable of at least 290kmh. It drags itself from 0-100kmh in just 4.8 seconds. Yet it has a back seat big enough to hold a party, complete with its own TV screen. 

Star-man's ball behind the wheel of the S600 ended in the mountains where I took over and got the job of checking out its handling. The word incredible springs to mind. Possibly even better than the smaller, lighter E500, which I reckoned set new standards earlier this year. And thats thanks to a new active suspension system, fitted only to the S600, which lifts it out of the league of mere mortal saloons and into supercar territory. You find yourself turning into bends at 180kmh with complete confidence. Theres no slop or wallow. You feel in total control, which you never quite did in the previous S Class Mercs. 

But I have to say, this was all in the dry. It didnt rain until the next day when we got to try an S500 4-Matic, four-wheel-drive. (V8s and V6s only and, sadly, it cant be made with right-hand-drive). At first I couldnt believe the rock-hard ride. Then I realised that someone had set the AirMATIC suspension to solid. Reasoning that in the wet soft is best, thats what I switched it to and the ride quality instantly transformed to magic-carpet. 

The engine and transmission were equally limo-like, and almost inaudible until we reached the Black Forest when I got the hammer down. Despite just 306PS, this V8 really snarls when you give it some welly. And, though well below the performance level of the S600, the S500 4-Matic is still a seriously quick car. Especially on long, wet mountain road corners. 

I won't say it sticks like glue. That would be exaggerating. But it does turn in, get the power down and grip through the bends so sure-footedly, you find yourself pushing it and the car to limits youd never have dared approach in most other cars this side of an EVO VII. 

And that's the point to be made about the S500 4-Matic. Its the safest, quickest real-world luxury car you can get your hands on. Sure it would be beaten for dead on any race circuit, except, perhaps, a wet Nurburgring. But Id have rather been in it than in anything else on that Black Forest drive.

What have we been asked about the Mercedes-Benz S-Class (1999 – 2005)?

Every day we're asked hundreds of questions from car buyers and owners through Ask Honest John. Our team of experts, including the nation's favourite motoring agony uncle - Honest John himself - answer queries and conudrums ranging from what car to buy to how to care for it as an owner. If you could do with a spot of friendly advice before buying you're next car, get in touch and we'll do what we can to help.

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Should I claim via my insurer or an accident management company?

Yesterday, I was rear ended at traffic lights. I have the third party's phone number. He did not know his insurer's name and is asking to settle without reference to insurers. The damage to my 2000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class seems cosmetic, but now (18 hours later) I'm suffering from a 'stiff neck' and have lost mobility to one side. At 75 years old with a plethora of health problems, I was too shaken to do more than the basic exchange of information before returning home. How do I now best proceed? Should I call my insurer, the third party or a claims management company?
The first thing to do is to go to your doctors or the hospital and get checked out. Looking at the age of your car, your insurer will probably try to total loss it. As such I would go through a reputable claims management company or a solicitor. You want a service where you can speak to them one to one rather than dealing with a larger company and being treated like a sheep. These in-depth guides should help you to decide whether to claim via your insurer (https://www.honestjohn.co.uk/insurance/advice/how-to-claim-from-your-insurer-after-an-accident/) or an accident management company (https://www.honestjohn.co.uk/insurance/advice/how-to-claim-from-an-accident-management-or-credit-hire-firm/).
Answered by Tim Kelly
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