Review: Mercedes S500 AMG

There are a lot of reasons why the long-wheelbase Mercedes-Benz S500 BlueEfficiency AMG is a class leader.

In the old blues classic by Willie Dixon the lyrics go “I’m built for comfort, I ain’t built for speed”. Now the two might be mutually exclusive when it comes to human physiology, but it certainly isn’t true for cars.

The long-wheelbase S500 BlueEfficiency AMG is a case in point. This 5.22-metre-long luxury limousine weighs in at 2,075 kilograms and it’s most definitely built for comfort. Yet it is also fleet of foot like Mohammed Ali in his prime and has the power to land a resounding knockout punch. The champ’s motto of “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” sums up the S500 nicely.

After spending four days with the S500 I can attest to the fact that this solidly-built vehicle does indeed float like a butterfly on its AIRMATIC air suspension. In the ‘Comfort’ mode it does exactly that, but without feeling spongy or at the expense of normal handling. The ‘Sport’ setting definitely gives the S500 better handling in tight corners, but you don’t lose much in the way of comfort. My wife, who has had the pleasure of sampling nearly all the vehicles I’ve brought home, was impressed by her first Mercedes S-Class experience. “Like floating on an eiderdown” was her opinion.

The V8 5-litre engine boasts twin turbochargers and intercooling that produce 320 kW of power and 700 Nm of torque, which definitely gives the S500 a sting in the tail. And it does that while using 15 per cent less fuel. According to Mercedes this long-wheelbase version reaches 0-100 km/h in five seconds.

Now I’ve driven some brutally powerful cars in 2011, and I mean brutal in the best possible sense of the word. The S500 is definitely no slouch, yet it uses its power in a very refined way. When you hit the accelerator it generally pops down a gear and gives you a split second of turbo lag to reconsider your options. And then off it goes with a very pleasing growl from the V8. Lay down the power in low gear and the back actually kicks out slightly, just enough for an adrenaline surge before the electronics put you straight back on course.

So yes, the S500 has the power to reach its top end of 250 km/h in a way that will please performance fans. But somehow you don’t really want to drive the S500 in this manner. This is a luxury limousine that is more about comfort, safety and status than tearing down Emirates Road.

At 120 km/h the S500 is whisper quiet except for the occasional tyre noise on rougher roads, while the 7G-Tronic Plus imperceptibly uses its seven forward gears to keep you at optimum engine speed. Switch the Harmon Kardon surround-soundsystem on, settle back in the luxuriant leather seats and you get the feeling that you’re at home in your favourite lounger. My S500 was equipped with the optional Front Seat Comfort package that has a series of air chambers for lumbar and shoulder support and seven massage chambers with four massage programmes. But the neatest trick is the seat’s side bolsters that adjust dynamically in tune with the car’s movements. So as you go around a corner you’ll suddenly find some very welcome support keeping you in place. Basically you have a standard and a sport seat rolled into one.

Rear passengers don’t lose out either with the long-wheelbase version adding 13 centimetres to the already spacious legroom. Potential S-Class owners who prefer being chauffeured around have a huge list of extras to choose from including multi-contour seats with massage function, folding tables, a cleverly hidden fridge and an entertainment package.

Falling asleep is a real danger in my favourite lounger, which is where the Attention Assist system comes into play. At speeds between 80 and 180 km/h it can warn the driver as soon as it detects signs of inattention thanks to its continuous analysis of driving behaviour. Fittingly enough its icon is in the form of a steaming coffee cup. At night the Adaptive Highbeam Assist constantly optimises the headlamp range to give you a clear view without blinding other motorists. But if you want 20/20 night vision you’ll have to opt for the Night View Assist Plus that uses an infrared camera to cover the same area as the headlights and displays the image in the form of a grey-scale picture on the display. Another optional safety feature is the Driver Assistance Plus Package that warns you when you leave a marked lane unintentionally, indicates vehicles in your blind spot and can help maintain a preset distance between you and the car in front. There are plenty more safety features but we’re running out of space.

Externally, the S500 gets some added kerb appeal from the AMG Sports package. The AMG front apron and side skirts add some power and menace to the look that is rounded off by the distinctive rear apron. That’s complemented by the five-spoke light-alloy wheels, which neatly show off the painted brake callipers. Inside, the AMG theme continues with the wood/leather steering wheel, trim in high-gloss black ash and sports pedals in brushed stainless steel.

Combine everything and you get a luxurious limousine that feels good, looks good and has the performance and safety equipment to match. Driving along the highway I taught a tailgating driver a lesson when I accelerated hard to get out of his way. The S500 leapt forward so fast that by the time the road hog had time to react I was already safely in the next lane. The S500 AMG, specked as this one was, will set you back $151,573. The look on the road hog’s face? Priceless!