The Mercedes-Benz S-class is synonymous with luxury, prestige, and sheer mass. They command an esteem worthy of both presidents and pop stars. But there are elements of the S-class character that most owners never explore, elements most evident in this 2003 V-12 S600. So let’s jump behind the wheel and expand our S-class vocabulary.
Improved. Now there’s a simple but apt word to describe the 2003 Mercedes-Benz S600. And from its serious sedan safety to its dual turbocharged V-12, the S600 is nicely improved, and safer and faster than ever.
Proud of their Mercedes-family styling, the S600 receives only a minor facelift for 2003. A new front fascia and headlights meld nicely with a beefed up bumper and a larger radiator grille. A unique rear bumper, twin exhaust outlets and elegant taillight lenses also give the posterior a fresh look. Since its redesign three years ago, this Mercedes is aging like a fine wine. And, like the bouquet that tempts a connoisseur, the S600 tempts us with its new turbine-flavored V12 hiding beneath the hood.
Its twin turbo 5.5 liter 36 valve engine boasts some very impressive numbers. It hauls out a hefty 493 horsepower. That’s 131 more than last year’s normally aspirated V-12, and 590 pound feet of torque, or more oomph than the AMG tuned S55. It runs that huge herd of ponies through a 5-speed automatic TouchShift transmission and holds steady power whether shifted manually or left to the ‘‘servos.’’ Bolting from 0-60 in an amazing , another crystal clear S-class word , 4.5 seconds. Then it steals the quarter mile in 12.8 seconds at 114 mph. Showing up its predecessor, the turbo action of this V12 winds up with a quick vengeance. Our driver reported the most intense mid-range punch ever from a big sedan. A true ‘‘warp drive’’ experience that keeps you pinned in your seat through the entire run.
Stopping this 4,610 pound freight train are oversized 4-wheel ABS vented disc brakes with Brake Assist. They plant the S600 from 60 to 0 in a short 120 feet. Very little weight transfer was detected and stability was solid and straight every time. Add extraordinary to our word list.
Even through repeated high and low speed slaloms and lane changes, the rear-wheel drive S600 handles its weight easily. This massive Mercedes remains responsive, flat and quite nimble. With the suspension in Sport Mode, body roll is slight, and only when pushed quite hard. A sign that the Active Body Control system, which assists the four-wheel independent active suspension system, really works in cornering, braking and acceleration. Steering is light and quick, sometimes allowing the driver too much input. But overall no drama and only very minor understeer.
Speaking of drama, Mercedes pulled out all the stops with some pretty dramatic safety precautions for the S600. The next big step in occupant safety starts with Mercedes Pre-Safe system. This forward thinking safety link utilizes a variety of sensors and on-board computers to recognize an unavoidable impact before it occurs. PreSafe responds by adjusting seats to an optimum safety position, closing the sunroof and regulating the force at which airbags deploy and seatbelts tighten.
A redesigned instrument panel, larger COMMAND display with GPS, and a 10-speaker Bose Premium sound system round out the wide array of amenities. The supple leather trim makes the 14-way power front seats immensely suitable for long and comfortable drives. Seated comfortably in back, rear passengers can also enjoy roomy power adjustable seats and separate climate controls. And, one final interior note, the trunk offers a decent 15.4 cubic feet of wide, low cargo space.
Pricing for the 2003 Mercedes-Benz S600 starts and ends in the 6-figure arena. Base is $123,805, including gas guzzler tax. Our track model added only heated steering wheel and came to $124,205.
Not pocket change to be sure, but what would you expect to pay for a car that so clearly defines luxury and prestige? So we won’t add affordability to our vocabulary in describing the 2003 Mercedes-Benz S600, but we will add desirable, make that very desirable.
Engine: 5.5 Liter, 36 Valve, Twin Turbo, V-12
Torque: 590 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 4.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 12.8 Seconds @ 114 MPH
60-0 MPH: 120 Feet
EPA Mileage: 13 MPG City 19 MPG Highway