2011 Mercedes-Benz S-Class


$20,498 - $26,134

2011 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2011 Mercedes-Benz S-Class was new.


Performance: 8.9

Super luxury sedans need to perform well to live up to their name, and the 2011 Mercedes S-Class does just that. The V8-powered S550 provides power that’s on par with competitors like the Audi A8 and BMW 750i, while the S600’s twin-turbo V12 bests many cars in its class in terms of power. Both S-Class models feature an adjustable air suspension, and reviewers generally appreciate the S-Class’s refined ride.

However, if you’re looking for a large car with nimble handling, rivals like the Porsche Panamera, Audi A8 and BMW 7-Series offer a more lively driving experience. Some reviewers also ding the S-Class’ transmission, which can be slow to downshift into a lower gear. The jury is also still out on this Mercedes’ steering. Some reviewers like the S550’s light effort while others call it numb, and say that they’d like more road feel.

  • "Even loaded with adult passengers, the S550 moves out from a standstill and pulls strong on the interstate.” -- Cars.com
  • "The 2011 Mercedes-Benz S-Class rides just as you'd expect from a top-tier luxury sedan. The compliant suspension ably cancels out road imperfections while also keeping body roll in check, and the cabin remains as quiet as a library even over rough pavement." -- Edmunds 
  • "As for the driving, the W221 S600 is still the same physics-defying, mind-blowing, people-pampering machine as before" -- Car and Driver

Acceleration and Power

Currently, the 2011 S-Class is available with two engines. The S550 is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 that makes 382 horsepower. Power is routed through a seven-speed automatic transmission, which features a manual mode that uses steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Power is sent to the rear wheels, although shoppers can add a 4MATIC all-wheel drive option for about $3,000. Reviewers say that the S550 offers more than enough power for most driving situations, although super luxury cars like the BMW 750i do offer slightly more power.

If you want a super luxury car that offers above-average power, the S600 might be worth a look. Its 510-horsepower, twin-turbo V12 engine offers more power than the Porsche Panamera Turbo, though the Porsche is still quicker off the line. The S600 is only available with rear-wheel drive, and power is sent through a five-speed automatic transmission that also offers a paddle-shifting manual mode.

Reviewers generally approve of the transmissions in both models, although some have noted that some that the throttle tips in a little later than expected, so it feels like it lags. Another gripe is that while the transmissions are smooth and refined, they aren’t the best about kicking into a lower gear when needed.

The EPA estimates that the S550 gets 15/23 mpg city/highway with rear wheel drive and 14/21 mpg city/highway with all-wheel drive. All the extra power in the S600 will cost you when it’s time to fill up. It gets an EPA-estimated 12 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway.

A Bluetec diesel version of the S-Class is expected later this year.

  • "Highway-speed passing power is particularly impressive. There's no discernible difference in acceleration with the AWD S550 4Matic. The S600 is stronger still, with abundant passing reserve." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "It's not the best about kicking down to lower gears -- the Jaguar XJ's six-speed automatic is better -- but the V-8's prodigious torque means you can power out of a corner even in a higher one. The transmission offers a Sport mode, which holds lower gears longer and lessens the probability that you'll need a downshift. Should you need to, Sport mode still takes its time, unfortunately." -- Cars.com 

Handling and Braking

An air suspension comes as standard equipment on every 2011 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The system allows the driver to adjust the firmness of the ride for comfortable cruising or sporty cornering. Reviewers are generally impressed with the balanced ride of the S-Class, though some note that it’s not as fun to drive as more performance-oriented flagships like the BMW 7-Series.

The steering system garners mixed reviewers. Some like the weight and feel of the S-Class’ steering, while others have called it numb or commented that it lacks road feel. Reviewers are generally impressed with the brakes, which provide the S-Class with strong stopping power.

  • "All S-Class models exhibit a peerless blend of control and comfort. The suspension offers Sport and Comfort firmness settings; Sport makes the ride slightly more taut but at little sacrifice in comfort." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "Compared to some competing models, the S-Class isn't quite as involving to drive" -- Edmunds 
  • "With an air suspension that can be adjusted to varying levels, the S550 rides with soothing composure. The BMW 7 Series is firmer, and the Jaguar XJ is downright stiff in comparison." -- Cars.com
  • "The steering is perfectly weighted, plenty talkative (except for a touch of on-center numbness), and highly accurate" -- Car and Driver 

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