I got my first ride in an S Class Mercedes-Benz in the mid-1980s, when Arnold Krauss, president of the stock brokerage where my father worked, game me a ride to school one day in his 560SEL.
To me, that car defined just how well a car could be built. Everything about the car seemed perfect. It had a bank-vault feeling unlike any other car I had been in.
Since then, Mercedes S Class has been the measuring stick to me for high-end luxury cars. Except for the offerings from Rolls-Royce, the S Class simply has no equal.
That was confirmed recently when I drove a 2021 Mercedes-Benz S580 to the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance. The car is just about perfect in every way. The materials used are the best available and the overall feel of the car was like a modernization of that impressive 560SEL.
After the car was delivered, I took it out to become familiar with the switchgear for comfort, lighting, and performance settings. Though there are many options, this was not a complicated procedure. I set my preferences in a personal profile and went for a 30-mile drive.
While the S580 is a luxury car, that does not mean that it is a weak performer. With its twin-turbocharged V8 producing 496 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque, this S Class car definitely move at a rapid pace. Test data suggests that the car can reach 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, simply extraordinary for a car that weighs 4,992 pounds. The way that speed comes on is one of the most interesting parts as the S580; it seems to get to speed with the driver not realizing just how it all happened. It is that well isolated from the outside world.
Happily, the engine does make itself known and sounds great when you give the car a bit of boot; you can hear that tone despite the hundreds of pounds of sound-deadening material, which include double-pane glass.
The interior of the S580 is nothing short of perfect. Every control feels as if it was crafted from the best materials available. My only — and slight — gripe about the cockpit was I wish Mercedes made Alcantara the standard material for its headliner, but it’s not just Mercedes. I feel the same about the headliners in BMW and Lexus. This feature should be standard on cars at this level.
During the weekend at Greenwich I had the opportunity to drive a number of people, including former GM global design head Ed Welburn, as well as Diane Parker and Jonathan Klinger from the Hagerty Drivers Foundation, and others, all of whom were extremely impressed.
One of the fun things I showed them was a feature Mercedes calls Energizing Comfort. The feature has different modes, designed to create a mood for the car’s occupants through sound, lights, seat massage, and even scents. The most fun one was what Mercedes called Vitality, which I renamed Rave due to the amazing pink, purple and blue light show combined with a deep house music soundtrack.
While Welburn was riding in the car after a Friday night diner, he renamed it the Dubai mode, which actually might be more appropriate. That being said, all were impressed with this feature and thought it was quite fun and an interesting interactive feature that can be enjoyed regardless if you are a driver or a passenger.
During the Greenwich weekend I also ran into fellow motoring journalist Larry Printz, who was driving the Maybach version of the S580. We compared notes and came to the conclusion that not only did we both favor the styling of the standard non-Maybach version, especially the grille treatment, but neither of us was convinced that the Maybach was really worth the extra $60K or so differential.
Back home after the concours weekend, I needed to take my mom to the hospital for a surgical procedure and her home-health aide suggested she ride in our 2018 BMW X5 because it would be easier for her to get in and out. I asked mom her preference and she chose the S Class.
On the ride over she said how how much she liked the car, commenting on the leather, how she loved the massage function, and especially how much she liked the scented air option. She told me I should seriously consider buying such a car. I pointed out that the car cost $138,530.
Sadly, this was the last car ride she was able to take before her passing, but I am so happy that she enjoyed the car so much.
Yes, you can get a Genesis G90 or a Lexus LS for quite a bit less money, and both of those cars are likely to have much less expensive service costs, but if what you are after in a luxury car is the very best available and cannot afford a Rolls-Royce Ghost, the S580 simply has no equal in my book.
2021 Mercedes-Benz S580
Vehicle type: 4-passenger sedan, all-wheel drive
Base price: $117,350 Price as tested: $139,545
Engine: Twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, 496 horsepower @ 6000 rpm and 516 pound-feet of torque @ 1800 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 117.4 inches Overall length/width: 196.4 inches / 74.9 inches
Curb weight: 4,237 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 15 city / 21 highway / 17 combined
Assembled in: Germany