I'm not always a fan of sitting in the back seat of cars. Unless of course, it's a car designed around that back seat. There are only a few models where you truly feel the driving experience is all about you while sitting in the back but one of them is definitely the Mercedes S Class.
There's a reason the S Class has been the car of choice for dignitaries, royals and world leaders for decades. It's because sitting in the back you feel completely looked after. The good news is that the experience for the driver isn't too bad either.
To find out just how good, I tested the new top-of-the-line S580e Long AMG Line Premium Plus Executive (only the Maybach sits higher). This plug-in hybrid (PHEV) features a 3-litre straight-six petrol engine, capable of 367hp, plus a 28.6kWh battery that will give you 150hp. Use them together in Sports Mode and that's a lot of power.
If you want a fully electric version there is the Mercedes EQS, which also comes in an AMG version, but unlike the BMW i7, it's a slightly different car to the rest of the S Class range.
Mercedes S580e design and features
The benefit of having the fully electric line separate is that it was able to play with the design while leaving the S Class a little more traditional. For fans of the S Class, this model looks and feels every bit the classic W223 – only the seventh generation since 1977. When you look closely though, there's a lot of technology going on.
From the digital lights with ultra range high beam – that create blackout zones around other cars so as not to dazzle them – to the 7-inch rear MBUX tablet for the passenger to control the seats, blinds and lighting, this is every bit a tech fan's playground.
In the front, there's an array of displays to access. In addition to the 12.8-inch OLED central screen, there's a 12.3-inch 3D display in front of the steering wheel that really gives a convincing 3D map view of your route. Then there's a head-up display on the windscreen so that you can keep your eyes on the road. This was actually far clearer than many I've seen and was still visible through polarised sunglasses (many aren't).
The MBUX system is a very useable OS and I found myself quite comfortable using the "Hey Mercedes" voice command for everything from selecting a destination to lowering the rear blinds. You can, of course, link it to your phone for Android Auto or CarPlay functionality but if you have the data package – or tether from your phone's data – you can sign into your music subscription service in the MBUX and play music directly. That's also a benefit when it comes to sound quality, as the Burmester 3D surround system includes sound personalisation to get the sound the way you like it, and Dolby Atmos in all 2023 cars, which sounds incredible.
The system loads your MBUX profile on entry and it can be secured with a fingerprint scan, voice recognition or face ID from the driver-facing camera behind the steering wheel. It meant that when I signed in, the driving settings I had used on previous Mercedes were loaded in and even my seat position was adjusted.
Talking of seats, there's a huge amount of control available in the Comfort section of MBUX for the driver and passenger. Seat dynamics allow you to change the lumber support and the side bolsters can hold you in place around corners, which feels strange at first but is actually useful. There's also massage functions on both front seats with a range of styles, from energising to hot shoulder massages for long journeys.
In the rear, there are also seat controls to recline, heat and cool, and with the Chauffer package, the front passenger seat folds forward and gives a small footrest to add to that comfort. Surprisingly though, there are no massage functions on the rear seats, no leg supports and no option for the rear seat entertainment screens, as in the Maybach model.
Mercedes S580e driving and performance
While many drivers are reticent to go to a fully electric car, hybrids offer many of the benefits without that range anxiety. Being a Plug-in Hybrid, the S580e is exempt from the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) fees that now apply in many cities, and for the 100% discount on the London Congestion Charge, when driving it in electric-only mode. For this, the battery will give you up to 63 miles of range.
It's the combination of battery and electric though which is most impressive on this car. It uses the battery as a boost and then uses braking regeneration to put power back to the battery. That combination means better fuel efficiency, taking an otherwise 34mpg up to 60mpg or more on some drives. This can drain the battery pretty fast though in Sports mode and even switching to the Battery Hold mode (only using the engine) I was unable to add back more than a couple of miles to the electric range.
The good news is that, unlike many PHEV batteries, this one is capable of DC fast charging, which means you can charge at a fast charging station at up to 60kW. That should get you from 10% to 80% in around 20 mins. If you have a home charger, expect it to take a few hours.
For a car that weighs nearly 2.5 tonnes, the S580e is pretty quick off the mark, giving a 5.1-second 0-62mph. Due to the suspension, noise dampening and seat support though, you don't really feel that acceleration – you just reach the speed before you know it. Only when holding the battery power back (going petrol only) could you really hear that engine come to life.
When braking though, you do feel the weight of the car. Luckily the brake pedal has a very long range, allowing you to press gently to allow a slow deceleration, or really stomp on it when you need to stop fast – which it will do when asked.
Despite the generous air suspension the S580e never wallows or rolls around those corners. It's not the kind of car you'd want to take around a track but you know it will stay on point when needed. This is, after all, a car designed for comfort first.
Should I buy one?
With prices starting from £104,490 for the S580e AMG Line, going up to £113,880 for the Premium Executive model tested, this will cater to a very select audience. However, if you are looking for a high-end luxury limousine, the S580e is probably the most sensible model to buy.
Not only is this an incredibly luxurious car, with all the tech, but the plug-in hybrid battery will save you money on fuel, and congestion charges. While the Mercedes EQS has a more modern design and the environmental benefits of being a full EV, the S580e has a classic style and gives you a much greater range for those long drives, without having to search for charging stations.
If you want to arrive in style, this is the car that makes an entrance. Meanwhile inside you benefit from beautiful surrounds, incredible music and all the latest tech.