In October of 2016 TestDrive wasn't even a name yet. It wasn't until the next video after the 1988 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL that we even adopted the name, and it wouldn't be another 6 months before we refined the show format to what we have today. Less than a year later we had the opportunity to do right by the W126 Mercedes-Benz S-Class by reshooting the '88 560SEL along with a '91 300SE.
It's funny that interest in the first W126 video we did has increased over the past few weeks and month leading up to the publish date for this video and article. It's been one of the most requested cars after the W140 S-Class. When we put together our Full Tour back in November we only went over the interior and exterior features of the car, but this time we had a chance to drive it, and it wasn't disappointing. Seeing the W126 LWB in a garage is impressive. The car looks larger than you'd expect both in width and length, however seeing it on the road is a different story. On our way to film these cars we drove through some residential streets, and early 2000s Corollas looked to be bigger than this 80s luxury icon!
It isn't a problem though. It's no secret cars have gotten larger over the past couple decades, with newer compact cars being larger overall than mid and full-size cars from the 80s. The 560SEL's interior is no match for current offerings, however some of the interior trim dates the car more than it's 91 brother.
Pictured above is the interior of the 1991 Mercedes-Benz 300SE, a short wheelbase 6 cylinder version of the W126 offered in North America. The wood trim differs from that on the 560SEL, but feels brighter and fresher when contrasting against the black leather. The major upgrades the later models brought were with the seats. The older ones had a spring to them, something we've mentioned with the 1988 Mercedes-Benz 300E we featured a couple months ago. The newer seats are firm and sturdy, much like those found on the later W124 E-Class we also featured. The main element that dates the older cars are the cargo nets behind the front seats, which were replaced with single panel leather for the 300SE which gives the car a modern feel.
The 300SE is also 5.5" shorter than the 560SEL and loses some of those rear-seat features like heat, power reclining, and the rear sun shade. Overall though the design is very similar between both cars with minor changes between the generations and before end of production.
The main thing we missed out on with our first video was the driving experience. It's outstanding, something you really can't find with other 30 year old cars. The ride quality is exactly what you'd expect from an S-Class, absolutely smooth. When thinking of the 2004 S430 we featured we'd say that both cars had similar comfort which is impressive, most say that BMW is the company that has a consistent driver experience between models and generations, however we found the S-Class to be consistent throughout. Our hope is to find a W140 to get a full experience of what life was like behind the wheel of the most luxurious car Mercedes made.
We discuss the common issues and what to look out for on our Spotlight of the 1988 Mercedes-Benz 560SEL so make sure to watch it if you're curious to learn more about this old school luxury flagship.