2003 Mercedes-Benz S600L review: classic MOTOR

Merc’s über-limo packed 800 Nm of twist. And it was de-tuned

2003 Mercedes-Benz S600L review classic MOTOR

I dunno what those guys from Mercedes are on, but I want some of it now. Let’s face it, every time you look around they’ve managed to come up with something new and exciting. If they can bung a blower on it and you’ve got the wedge there’s probably something fast enough for anybody in the land of the three-pointed star.

This review was originally published in MOTOR’s May 2003 issue

A case in point regarding (a) bang and (b) bucks is the facelifted version of the S-Class. It has received a general freshen up with slightly different front and rear ends and revised switchgear in the interior, and the “base” model is now the S350 powered by a larger 3.7-litre V6.

2003 Mercedes-Benz S600L front view

But it’s at the upper end of the scale where things get interesting. There are two new models, starting with the S55 AMG, which unsurprisingly perhaps, comes with the same 5.4-litre, humongously powerful supercharged V8 as found in the SL and CLK55 versions. Bald figures are 368 kW, 0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds and a price tag of $349,900.

And that’s just how it goes as well. Strange to have a two-tonne limo charge into corners with this sort of aggression, but that’s what the S55 AMG is all about. And, just like it is in the other Benzes fitted with this motor, the noise is unbelievable. Listening to this at full noise should be on the must-do lists of every car lover.

2003 Mercedes-Benz S600L interior

Still, for all its awesome pace, it is lighter, firmer and somehow less assured in its on-road feel than its big brother, the S600L.

The S600L has a longer wheelbase version of the S55’s body, fitted with a 5.5-litre V12. Sounds like one for the chauffeur and not the self-steerer, but that’s not the end of the story. In their wisdom, the Mercedes boffins have bolted on a couple of turbos with the results, on paper at least, looking very similar to the S55. That is, there’s 368 kW, zero to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds and a $349,900 sticker.

2003 Mercedes-Benz S600L rear seats

What gives? To establish why Mercedes has chosen two different routes for similar results, you have to look at the torque figures. With 700 Nm on tap at 2750 rpm the S55 ain’t exactly peaky, but does start to look like a screamer against the S600L’s maximum grunt output of 800 Nm from just 1800 rpm.

The V12 is, in fact, a slightly detuned version of the engine used in the much heavier Maybach limo, so at about a third the price of Stuttgart’s Rolls Royce wrangler you could almost make a case for the S600L being a bargain.

There has probably never been a car that has managed to combine sheer effortless refinement with absolute and bloody-minded grunt in such enormous quantities. There’s the temptation with only light throttle openings to wonder what the fuss is all about, because the S600L is so quiet and so smooth that while it wafts along like a good limousine, you suddenly realise its actually “wafting” at a pretty rapid rate.

2003 Mercedes-Benz S600L side viewNail it, and there’s one of those long, unending shoves in the back usually reserved for zero-to-rotation in a 747 or, presumably, the kick delivered by a launching space shuttle. You also know the only thing that will stop it is a regard for the law or, followed not much later, the 250 km/h speed limiter.

It’s all delivered with so little fuss – no clunking rear ends, no beeping rev-counters and no manual gearshifts – that it makes any other so-called muscle car look pretty crude and stupid. The S600 is so heavy and so planted on the road it’s not fazed by cross-gales, but switch off the ESP, boot the throttle, apply a little lock and it will smoke rubber like the hottest of HSVs.

But it is a limo, with sprawling space in the rear, and every gadget from sat-nav to keyless-go. You just kind of want to imagine that its owner will spend his weekdays being carted around in the back seat as a Captain of Industry, then spend Saturday nights blowing away WRXs and HSVs at the traffic lights. Watch out for ’em.

Mercedes-Benz S600 L

DRIVE: rear-wheel 
ENGINE: 5.5-litre, 36-valve, twin turbo V12
POWER-TO-WEIGHT: 368 kW/2135 kg
PRICE: $349,900


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