Ever since we started filming automotive videos (long before TestDrive and a couple name changes) we wanted to feature the W220 Mercedes-Benz S-Class in some form. Our article from a few weeks ago covered the differences between the S-Class and 7 Series, and we discussed the reasoning behind our choice for that episode of Showdown. Our original hope was to drive that S500 didn't have time during our filming run and couldn't co-ordinate a time to go back. But luck had it that the owner of the 540i we just featured also had a W220 S-Class.
Like many early 2000s Mercedes models, rust is a huge problem and is apparent with either of the W220s we've filmed. Mostly around the panel gaps, doors, trim, and trunk. Even with the small size of the photo above you can see the rust around the front fenders and bumper. Mercedes offered original owners a deal, giving them a break on replacement parts and new paint. The way it was described to be from a Mercedes technician was doors and fenders, along with the hood were all replaced with new parts, then the rest of the body of the car was repainted. Owners had to cough up around $3,500 for this but Mercedes covered the rest. Not a bad deal if you really love your S-Class.
Considering the S500 cost around $114,000CAD new, you'd certainly want it to look as good as it cost. And overall the styling on this car is great. The design rounded out the sharp corners from the preceding generation and added some elements that we'd see on other Mercedes (and even Jeep/Chrysler) products for the next decade. While they weren't firsts on the W220, features such as soft-closing doors and power trunks were wonderful to have. AIRMATIC was the standard suspension setup for this generation, and it provided a higher level of safety and comfort over traditional systems. Owners could option Active Body Control, or ABC as it's known, which added additional computer control over the hydraulic system.
Mercedes-Benz has always introduced and refined their technology with the S-Class, and the W220 is no exception. Many options were available to owners, while some may have been introduced on the W140 S600, some of the options to look for include:
Proximity-Controlled Cruise Control (Active Cruise Control)
Parktronic System (Ultrasonic parking sensors)
HomeLink Garage Door Opener
Automatic Dimming Rear-view Mirrors
Wood/Leather Steering Wheel
Rear-Door Sun blinds
Heated & Ventilated Seats
Rear Folding Tables
Heated Steering Wheel
ABC Suspension (Standard on S600 & AMG Models)
Rear Roller Blind
Rear Air Conditioning
AMG Styling Package
KeyLess-GO (Push button Start/Stop)
4MATIC 4-Wheel Drive
Just to name a few.
The facelift models (2003 onward) include widescreen navigation along with some exterior cosmetic changes. In 2004 the navigation system was updated to DVDs, added voice control, a better 12-speaker BOSE sound system, and the addition of the 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission. Since we ended up driving a 2004 model S430 4MATIC we got a pretty full picture of what life would be like buying a late model W220 with a standard set of options, as most of the cars sold in Canada were equipped this way.
There were two things that stood out to us immediately when we took off in the S430. Comfort and quietness. I don't think I've ever driven a car so comfortable, and that includes the 2016 BMW 750Li. The seats were clearly designed with long-term driving in mind. You could fall asleep sitting in them as you sink into the soft cushioning. With options like ventilated seats or multi contour control you can find the exact features you need, though finding either is difficult as most Canadian-spec models ended up coming with heat only.
Quietness is also unbelievable unless you experience it for yourself. Driving through the neighbourhood we heard only our voices and a slight rumble of the engine. It wasn't until we took it onto the main road and gave the car a rip up to 80kph and 5,000 rpm that we heard the engine. For a luxury buyer who isn't interested in performance or noise, this is easily the car for you.
We did notice a little hesitation with the throttle but that was our only major complaint about the drive. The transmission was smooth, suspension soft, and steering light. At no point did we feel like it was a chore driving this S-Class. I think if you're looking at buying an older flagship luxury car, a 2004-2006 S-Class would suit you well. Sold in Canada as the S430, S500, and S600s, along with an S350 in 2006, and the S55 and S65 AMGs, you have several options to choose from, along with rear-wheel drive or 4MATIC. Paint options are extensive, assuming you like black or silver, and interior colours range from black to beige. Conservative is definitely the keyword when it comes to customizing these cars.
While I normally find black paint and black leather to be boring, having a mint condition facelift S500 in black looks outstanding. Finding a rust-free model will also be difficult, but well worth it if you can. Rust is what ends up ruining the look of these cars, and can make a low-mileage car look worn and tired in no time. Other issues to look for relate to the suspension components and interior electronics. The cluster computers tend to burn out and interior electronics can fail, such as seat controls, window shades, and intermittent fault errors.
You can watch our full episode of TestDrive Spotlight on the W220 Mercedes-Benz S-Class below.