Mercedes S-Class (2016) review: The 2017 refresh can’t come soon enough

Price when reviewed

In the last decade, car technology has begun to move ridiculously fast – and that was especially clear when we drove the Mercedes S-Class. We found its tech to be good, but somewhat dated: It’s autonomous driving wasn’t the most advanced we’d seen – even its high-end infotainment system looked a little ragged compared to its competitors. And in 2016, the Mercedes S-Class was actually less advanced than the Mercedes E-Class.

That’s why, a few weeks ago, Mercedes has just announced a heavily revised updated S-Class that’ll make it the tech heavyweight we expect it to be. Differences on the outside are minimal, but inside the new S-Class borrows lots of styling cues from the smaller E-Class. That means the 2017 S-Class now has a huge swathe of infotainment screen, stretching over both the steering wheel and the dash – but the changes don’t stop there.

The main upgrades are to do with autonomous driving, and should now put the S-Class slightly ahead of the E-Class in terms of driverless tech. A new Active Distance function provides autonomous acceleration and braking, and an updated Distronic cruise system should offer the same level of autonomous tech as the E-Class.

We haven’t driven the 2017 car yet, but we’ll check out those features first when we do. In the meantime, you can read our review of the previous, 2016 S-Class below.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class review

Ever since it was launched in the 1950s, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been one of the most sophisticated, cutting-edge cars around. Each S-Class has blazed a trail for Mercedes-Benz, showcasing technologies that eventually filter down to the company’s “everyday cars”. That’s one of the reasons why the S-Class’s history is studded with so many firsts: the Mercedes-Benz flagship was one of the first cars to get ABS and seatbelt pre-tensioners, and the S-Class was also the first European vehicle to come with airbags.

In 2016, we take a lot of technology for granted. Almost every car has an airbag, and things like sat-nav, autonomous parking and cameras are becoming increasingly common in more affordable cars, too. So, what is the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class doing to stay ahead of the competition? Read this Mercedes-Benz S-Class review (2016) to find out.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class review: General connectivity

When it comes to connectivity, the S-Class gives you a ridiculous number of options, so ridiculous in fact that it’s best to divide them into front and rear. At the front, Mercedes gives you easy access to two USB ports for phones and memory sticks, and it also includes an SD card slot too. So far, so normal. But on top of that, the S-Class also adds a composite/microcomposite connection for video, and includes an optional £260, old-school six-CD changer, too.


The S-Class we tested also came with the firm’s 10GB Music Register, which effectively works as the car’s own internal MP3 player. Pop a CD in and not only will you be able to play it back, but also import and convert it to MP3 and keep it stored in the car. All very nice, but for a high-end car, I’d like to have seen a little more storage space than this. In a world where 64GB microSD cards cost £15 a pop and 1TB SSDs have fallen in price to less than £100, surely Mercedes could have found room in the budget for more than 10GB.

Then there’s the rear of the car. Rear passengers have their own single CD drive, along with two USB ports and a microcomposite connector, so it’s easy for them to watch their own content on the twin 10in, seat-mounted displays. But more on those later.

The Mercedes also nails the basics, so you can stream music over Bluetooth, and there’s even near-field communication (NFC) for speedy pairing. Although not particularly useful if you have an iPhone, it’s good to see NFC in a car of this status. Alongside the Bluetooth capability, the S-Class adds a Wi-Fi hotspot to give you even more wireless options.

When it comes to apps, the Mercedes is somewhat less impressive. In our experience, manufacturers tend not to include Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in their high-end models, so it’s not surprising to see them omitted here, but the S-Class also leaves out Spotify and TuneIn integration.


In fact, the S-Class does have its own selection of apps, but they’re hamstrung by some pretty odd design decisions. The Facebook app is a case in point: after a lengthy – and often painful – login process, what you’re faced with is a long way from what you’ll see on your phone or laptop. It has been fully integrated with the Mercedes UI, but that means features are basic and navigation feels clunky.

The Mercedes doesn’t have the worst app integration, but the stilted design and lack of core apps such as Spotify mean it feels several steps behind rivals such as the Tesla Model S.

Verdict: 4.5/5

Mercedes-Benz S-Class review: Navigation

The S-Class fares better when it came to satellite navigation. The Mercedes’ COMAND system made it easy to plan routes with multiple checkpoints, and the point-of-interest search also performed well in our tests. The only catch? The place where I tested the car – North Weald Airfield – wasn’t on the car’s maps database.

Despite that hiccup, the S-Class’ satnav performed exceptionally on the road, and even provided minor road names onscreen. This level of detail would be useless without clear, prompt visual instructions, but the Mercedes excelled here, too.

Clear turn-by-turn instructions were delivered to the car’s 12.3in centre screen in between the dials of the S-Class on its equally large dashboard screen, and also via the car’s heads-up display (HUD). And about that HUD. It displays a brief, useful navigation instructions along with your speed, and its presence meant I hardly had to take my eyes off the road. The only issue? It’s a £1,230 option, and on a car where the starting price is north of £70,000, it should come as standard.

My only other complaint would be around the readability of some of the onscreen graphics. I’d prefer a slightly clearer font, such as that used that on the Tesla Model S. At times, the S-Class spindly font wasn’t the easiest to read.

Verdict: 4/5

Mercedes-Benz S-Class review: Audio quality

The S-Class comes with a wealth of connectivity, but does it have the sound system to do it justice? The short answer is yes, and the longer answer is yeeees, because the model I tested had one of the best in-car audio systems I’ve ever experienced. Available as a £6,450 option, the bespoke Burmester setup in the S-Class delivers drama and pure sound in equal measure.

The system’s party trick is its swanky motorised tweeters. Clad in anodised aluminium and engraved tastefully with the Burmester logo, these extend slowly and smoothly whenever you fire up the system, and retract with the same grace when you turn it off.

It’s achingly pretty, but mere window dressing in the larger scheme of things. When it comes to the meat of the performance, the S-Class’ Burmester system is all punch and power. It handles the higher end of the spectrum with ease, endowing delicate vocals with bags of atmosphere, while at the lower end of the spectrum conjuring up hugely controlled and thunderous bass.


Everything from sweeping orchestral symphonies to dubstep and DAB radio is delivered with equal authority – it’s a joy to the ears, and although I never got to test the standard version of the S-Class’ sound system, it’s fair to say that if you’re spending this much on a car, it’s well worth going the extra mile and paying extra for the upgrade.

But wait, there’s more. Being an S-Class, the audio system extends well beyond just the speakers; the Mercedes also comes with two pairs of Mercedes-branded cordless headphones for those travelling in the rear. Although they had more than enough bass, the supplied headphones lacked the superb detail I experienced in the rest of the system.

Verdict: 5/5

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