Buying a Mercedes-Benz S-class with a six-cylinder engine is like buying the smallest yacht that can still cross the Atlantic Ocean. No matter what’s under the hood, the biggest and baddest Benz sedan is a highly indulgent purchase—so why would anyone skimp on the engine just to save a few bucks?
Indeed, six-cylinder S-classes in the United States haven’t enjoyed nearly as consistent of a history as their V-8 and V-12 counterparts. Excluding hybrid and diesel options, few American S-classes in recent memory have offered six-cylinder variants. The current W222-generation car’s predecessor, the W221, did without one, and the W220 S-class before that offered a V-6 S350 model in America for only a single model year (2006).
New V-6, Not Like the Old V-6
Mercedes-Benz’s V-6 engines have come a long way since then, however: Compared with the 2006 S350’s middling 3.7-liter bent-six with a then impressive 241 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, the three-pointed star’s latest and greatest V-6 is a highly sophisticated, potent piece. (Maybe that’s why the badge now reads S450 despite the engine’s sub-4.5-liter displacement.) The twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter unit in the new-for-2018 S450 model puts out 362 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, and it mates with a standard nine-speed automatic transmission and either rear- or all-wheel drive. We tested both the rear-drive and 4Matic versions for this review.
The drivetrain propels the S450 to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds (add 0.1 second for the 147-pound-heavier all-wheel-drive 4Matic model). While that seems swift enough for a land yacht, it trails BMW’s six-cylinder 7-series, the 740i, by half a second, and the latest V-8–powered S-class, the S560, by more than a second. A sub-14-second quarter-mile time can hardly be considered slow, but the S450 does lack the entirely effortless amounts of power we expect in an S-class.
Mercedes does do a good job of isolating the V-6 from the S450’s cabin; it’s sublimely quiet at speed, emitting just 65 decibels at a 70-mph cruise—exactly as quiet as its posher Maybach S560 sibling. The key hints that you woulda, coulda, shoulda splurged for the V-8 are the slightly raspy mechanical tone that the V-6 emits on startup and a higher pitched engine note that reveals itself only higher in the rev range, which you won’t often visit if you cater to the S-class’s desire to motor sedately.
Less Tire Is More
The two fewer cylinders under the S450’s hood result in some weight savings compared to the S560. Comparing 4Matic models, the V-6 car weighed in at 170 pounds less than the V-8. This makes for a somewhat more agile feel, and the big sedan is remarkably light on its feet and changes direction ably. Our test S450s rode on fairly pedestrian Michelin Primacy MXM4 ZP run-flat rubber, however, that did not grip as well as the more aggressive Goodyear Eagle F1 Asymmetric 2 run-flat tires installed on the S560 4Matic, which pulled 0.90 g to the S450 4Matic’s 0.87 g. The upside of the 19-inch all-season Michelin rubber is possibly the cushiest, plushest ride available on any S-class; both S560s we tested were riding on 20s.
Fuel economy is another advantage for the V-6 S-class; the EPA estimates it only a tick higher than the V-8 S560, but both of our V-6 test cars overachieved in our real-world, 75-mph highway test. The rear-drive S450 hit 31 mpg, 3 mpg higher than its rating, while the all-wheel-drive S450 still managed 29 mpg, 3 higher than the all-wheel-drive S560 we also tested on the same loop. Combine this remarkable efficiency with the S-class’s huge fuel tank and you get a bladder-busting road-trip range of up to 760 miles.
Still a Splurge
Mercedes doesn’t skimp on the option set for the S450, offering nearly all the same creature comforts as does the S560—at a cost, of course. Our test cars were prime examples: despite both carrying a base price under six figures (4Matic adds $3000), generous loads of extras took these S450s comfortably past the $100,000 barrier, with the rear-drive car coming in at $106,245 and the 4Matic car ringing up at $115,645. Key options on both S450s included a $5000 Premium 1 package (surround-view camera, ventilated front seats, park assist, massaging front seats, and a few other things), a $2600 Warmth and Comfort package (heated everything, including armrests), and a $2250 Driver Assistance package (adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and several other active-safety features). Let’s just say that a fully optioned S450 approaches the pricing realm where AMGs and Maybachs reside.
Now that we’ve carefully considered all of the rational arguments in favor of the V-6 S-class, we’ll go ahead and throw all that out the window in saying that, given the option, we’d be hard pressed not to get the V-8. Unless you’re running a livery company, the increased performance and more special character of the S560 seems to us to be worth stretching another $10,000 or so. It’s an S-class, after all—why settle for less when you can have more?
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear- or all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
PRICE AS TESTED: S450, $106,245 (base price: $90,895);
S450 4Matic, $115,645 (base price: $93,895)
ENGINE TYPE: twin-turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 183 cu in, 2996 cc
Power: 362 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 369 lb-ft @ 1800 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 124.6 in
Length: 206.9 in
Width: 74.8 in Height: 58.8 in
Passenger volume: 101 cu ft
Trunk volume: 16 cu ft
Curb weight (RWD/AWD): 4658 / 4805 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS (RWD/AWD):
Zero to 60 mph: 5.3 / 5.4 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 13.0 / 13.2 sec
Zero to 120 mph: 19.3 / 19.5 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 5.8 / 6.0 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.2 / 3.2 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.0 / 3.9 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 13.8 sec @ 103 mph / 13.9 sec @ 103 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 129 / 130 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 173 / 171 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.86* / 0.87 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY (RWD/AWD):
Observed: 20 / 20 mpg
75-mph highway driving: 31 / 29 mpg
Highway range: 760 / 710 miles
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 22/18–19/28 mpg
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