The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has long been the gold standard by which luxury cars are judged. An automobile for diplomats, tycoons, the famous and the infamous. A luxobarge that announces to the world that you’ve made it while simultaneously enveloping its occupants in cosseting luxury.
At least, that’s true of every generation, bar the fourth. Produced between 1999–2005, the W220 S-Class has developed a reputation for being the black sheep of the S-Class line, conceptualized during an era when the bean counters at Mercedes-Benz were tightening the purse strings across the range.
Taken out of context, the W220 was your standard world-beater luxury car. It introduced new technology, such as adaptive cruise control, a forward-collision warning system, ventilated and massaging seats, LED brake lights, voice control for 300 commands, and a hydraulic opening and closing trunk — all things that may have trickled down to mainstream models over the past two decades, but were cutting edge in their day.
But tech aside, compared to the previous-gen W140, the new car fell short of the mark. The W140 is famously regarded as one of the most over-engineered cars of its day, with scant regard for budgetary constraints during its design. The W220, in comparison, lacked the solidity and tank-like build quality its predecessor possessed. The interior trim and plastics were a few notches below what users had become accustomed to, and the exterior design itself was more rounded and anonymous than the boxy but stately W140.
That thread ran through to the driving experience. The W220 lacked the same bank-vault-like driving experience that was experienced in the car it replaced. It was still a comfortable place to be, perhaps more serene than the previous gen, but an air of vagueness permeated throughout the controls, taking the shine off what was, truth be told, a very capable set-up.
Unfortunately, the W220’s reputation has done nothing for its desirability. And with many falling into less than desirable hands on the secondhand market, good specimens are few and far between.
In this respect, it occupies a space similar to that of the Porsche 996, says Doug DeMuro, in that it’s the least desirable, sure, but it’s still an S-Class, with comfort and toys in no short supply. This means a good specimen could offer tremendous value for those looking for a second-hand luxury car from the early 2000s.