I've always had big luxury sedans. The cars I owned prior to this were a '95 Buick Roadmaster Limited and a 1992 Cadillac Sedan deVille. But this Mercedes, by far, beats them both out overall. Sure, it may not have the power of the 350 LT1 in the Roadmaster, or the classic luxury feel of the deVille, but it's an amazing machine.
Anyways, back to the S320.
I can remember going to the Minneapolis/St Paul auto shows back in the late '90s, when these cars were new, and I always loved seeing and sitting in them. The memory that's most prevalent in my mind is seeing those windshield wipers on the headlamps, and thinking that was the coolest thing ever. Of course, I was like 11 back then, so my automotive priorites have changed between then and now.
This car has an aura of elegance, confidence, power, wealth and a little bit of cold indifference and arrogance. It looks expensive without trying very hard or being overly flamboyant. In my honest opinion, I think this is one of the best looking cars ever produced. It's like M-B got everything right when they did it, and they should have considering the budget (or lack there of) when designing the car. M-B spent over $1,000,000,000 back in the late '80s, early '90s on the W140, and it really shows. This was the last model they did that "money is no matter" theory with. Everything that came afterword was budgeted, and honestly, it shows. Like M-B used to say, "the most overengineered cars on earth".
The interior is fantastic also. It carries the same theme as the exterior... elegance, confidence, wealth and a bit of coldness and sterility. It's not as flamboyant, plush or baroque as interiors in Cadillacs or Lincolns, but that's the way the Germans do it, and it took me a long time to adjust to that. The seats are very comfortable, yet firm. I didn't like that at first, but after 5000 miles, I really like them. There's loads of room everywhere, it's got more backseat space than anyone could ever need. The gauges are all straightforward and there's plenty of info to be had, even with the lack of a trip computer or any sort of a driver's information center. We've got a Speedometer, Tachometer, Oil Pressure gauge (in bars, not PSI), temp gauge (C, not F), analog MPG indicator, fuel gauge and analog clock. Nothing says class like an analog clock!
Let's see... what else..the leather is firm and of a high quality... no tears and very few creases. The Bose 11 speaker stereo system sounds amazing, but I cannot understand why I can't just crank the volume while on the highway. I can spin the knob to my hearts content, but it won't go past a certain point.. which isn't very loud, at least to me.
It's got dual front heated seats and dual rear vanity mirrors. Dual front automatic HVAC..love that feature. Warms up quickly and leaves me always comfortable, it's an incredibly complex system. For example, it will blow air out of the dash vents, windshield vents and floor vents, all at the same time, automatically. Or if you want to shut off individual dash vents, you can do that. Or perhaps if it's cold out, and you want a blast of warm air in your face (the system won't let you put it entirely to your face in the winter for whatever reason), you can push a button on the dash, separate from the rest of the HVAC controls, and it'll bring either hot or cold air through the two middle dash vents. Neat!
When they designed the car, M-B saw that the newly introduced LS400 and Q45 had a lot of neat features that the public loved, and those cars, especially the LS, were selling like hotcakes and taking away from the S Class. And they couldn't have that! This was one of the causes of the way over budgeted development costs. Mercedes realized their supremacy was in danger and they realized they had to have one of the best cars out there, hence the neat features they offered in the W140. I mentioned a lot of them, but things like the soft close doors (will shut themselves once they get into the last 1/4 inch) and dual paned glass were introduced with the W140 and "stolen" by other manufacturers.
One of the reasons I went with the S320 versus a S420 or S500 (or god forbid an S600), was I heard that the 320 is the "cheapest" to own and maintain, and for the most part, it's probably not cheaper to maintain than the V-8 models, but definitely more so than the V-12 S600. For example, at the dealer I go to, they charge $99.95 for an oil change on the six or eight cylinder cars, and $279.99 for the V-12 models. So I didn't save any money there, at least when compared to an S500. But the S500s, with similar miles, were $3-4000 more than my S320, and I couldn't justify buying an S420 when the performance isn't that much better than the 320. But, I'd heard that the 3.2 I-6 was one of M-B's best motors, and I gotta believe it.
The M-104 3.2 DOHC I-6 is a trooper. It's torquey (well, relatively, it does well for only being 3.2 liters hauling 4500 lbs of car), it's got a great powerband, wide torque peak and is pretty fun to wind out and it gets great mileage, 18 city, 26 highway. It's not the quickest car out there, but it's not bad considering what sort of weight it's pushing around. The power at lower speeds is decent, but as speeds increase, the acceleration and "feel" increases. Mercedes quoted the 0-60 at 8.8 seconds and I've timed it and it's always come close to that. If I punch it from a stop, it sort of bogs out until I get to about 3200 rpm (25 mph), then it really opens up and pushes you into your seat pretty decently. It's best acceleration happens from a 80mph roll. I'm not sure why, but at those speeds, WOT acceleration is almost fierce (for a 6 cylinder). It's actually downright quick! Mercedes quotes the top speed at 140, which is downright impressive for the tiny little six, and I've had it at 132 once before I backed off.
High speed is something this car was designed in mind with... and it feels completely competent at speeds over the triple digit mark. The ride is always smooth and silent, with very little intrusion into the cabin, whether it be from noise or vibration.
Handling is great too. It goes through turns like not many other full sized sedans can. It gives a feeling of complete confidence when manuvering through a tight turn at higher speeds. It's probably not as good as a contemporary 7 series or XJ8, but still very very good. Miles ahead of that deVille I had, and that was 900 lbs *lighter*! But again, I'm comparing apples to oranges.
I like the transmission. It's a driver adaptive 5-speed automatic. That means if you feel like being lazy and driving casually, it'll upshift without you even knowing it and do it at the first possible chance. Now if you feel like really getting into it, it'll hold the gear for as long as possible (reaching redline if it has enough time) and shift quickly and smoothly. Love it! My only pick against it is sometimes it can really hesitate to downshift during moderate acceleration.
The steering is brilliant also. It's light, like a Cadillac, but communicates superbly. There's no play in the steering at all. It's a great mix of luxury and sport.
As far as maintenance and repair costs go, remember, this is a Mercedes. For example, I'm a huge believer in preventative maintenance, so shortly after I purchased my car, I had all the fluids flushed. The oil change was $118 after tax, the transmission flush and filter was $371, the coolant flush was $150 (actually, not too bad) and to have a new serpentine belt installed was $238. All of this work was done at the dealer. And in the oil changes' defence, M-B recommends to do a change once every 12 months or 12k miles, but the dealer says to do it every 6 months or 6500 miles. For safety's sake, I'll go with the dealer's recs, but still though, $240 for a year of synthetic oil changes at the dealer isn't too bad. It takes 8 quarts of Mobil-1 and a $28 canister style filter, so even doing it at home is expensive.
The repairs are going to be expensive too, but only because of the parts prices. The labor rate is very comparable... $115 an hour. For example, when my MAS was on it's way out, they quoted me $790 at the dealer to have it done, and that's only with .5 hour labor. Luckily, I found one online (the exact same Bosch model that it had) for $205 and scored that one.
So it's not a cheap car to own, but then again, it was $70,000 new.
Overall, I'm extremely happy with the car and would highly recommend one to anyone who wants one of the finest luxury automobiles ever made, and the last of the "old school" of Mercedes design and engineering.
Hope my review has answered any questions anyone might have if they're looking at buying one of these W140s.