1999 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S500 5.0 litre 315hp from North America
CD changer stopped working one month into ownership. It worked for a bit after reseting it by disconnecting it for a few days. However that trick no longer works. It would be about $500 to replace, however I don't use it. The odd time the sound system has done odd things, like emitting a high pitched squeal that is somewhat painful to listen to. I'm worried about the amplifier going as it is about $1200 from what I hear.
Vacuum pump has been acting up, and the trunk no longer closes. Like the CD changer, if you reset the pump by pulling the fuse, it would work for a bit, but again, the trick doesn't work anymore. I have no closing assist for the driver's door and the trunk lid isn't sitting flush with the back end of the car. It will be close to $1000 to replace, but hasn't been done yet, perhaps it only needs an adjustment in pressure, or a hose could be loose, I'll do some investigating.
There is a strange vibration around 1500 rpm that is only felt in the back end of the car. Apparently the manual states that it is just the catalytic converters, and it's quite normal. I find it a little annoying.
Overall it's pretty reliable and the problems listed above are minor, though expensive.
It's a little sad that the average person will never realise just how amazing a w140 S-class is. Other motorists will see the car as just another big Mercedes, yet not realise the technological achievement that it is. Apparently Mercedes invested $1 billion into the car (top gear test claims).
Despite the S500s huge appetite for fuel (100 litre tank) The w140 was created with the environment in mind. The process in which the car is built, is friendly to the environment. The interior wood isn't from an endangered forest, and little if not no CF-Cs were used in its creation.
Some very special features include the double glazed windows, providing sound and temperature insulation. Many w140s featured the soft close system to gently pull the doors and trunk lid shut. When you close the trunk lid, the handle disappears. Older w140s featured an electrically adjustable interior mirror, though that feature was dropped for some reason. The S-classes also featured pop up parking aids which would help with backing into parking stalls. This was dropped when Parktronic became an option, which our car lacks, and could use.
Sadly we don't have the power adjustable rear seat like in our old 560SEL. The S500 doesn't have the leather exclusive package like many other S500s I've seen. The leather exclusive package has almost every surface covered in wood, leather or suede. The dash, window sills etc... are lined with leather. The ceiling and pillars with suede or alcantara. To me, it's a bit overdone.
Then there is the Bose sound system. It features 11 speakers, with one mounted between the windshield and rear view mirror, to create a more atmospheric sound. It's simply amazing to listen to.
The car is amazing to drive, like a hippopotamus performing ballet. It's large, and it doesn't let you forget that when it comes to maneuvering into tight spots, yet it handles ever curve with such grace and ease. It's even more impressive to be a passenger in the rear seat, down the highway, it feels as if the scenery is moving and not the car.
The car looks quite arrogant from the outside. It's a bit like the old German chancellor Helmut Kohl. Overweight, fat and conservative. Inside the interior seems to be quite serious. It does bother me though that with such a precise design, the centre air vents do not line up with the console below. But I'm a bit picky.
The engine is incredibly smooth, and one of the most advanced when it first came out. It's smoother and more powerful than the 302hp (306hp outside of North America) engine that replaced it. 0-100km/h takes about 7.2 seconds on paper, though feels quite a bit faster. The power is effortless.
In comparison to the 560SEL I drive, the w140 feels a little more detached, less emotional and not as much fun to drive. However it does everything with perfection.
The interior fit and finish is excellent. Everything in the car feels like it is built like something to be passed on down the family for generations. It's built far better than it needs to be.
I think many people confuse durability for reliability. When the w140 first came out it had 5 million test kilometres behind it. It's the car that won't die, and could be trusted on a long trip through extreme conditions. However, when it comes to reliability, the luxuries usually don't stand the test of time, such as the closing assist, sound system, evaporator for the air conditioning and so on. It was the most advanced car of its time, and like NASA, despite all of their knowledge and research they have problems. Yet the automotive world needs a company like Mercedes to be a technological trail blazer. A Honda Civic won't have many problems, but it certainly doesn't have a soft closing system, nor double glazed windows.
Overall, the S500 is highly recommended. I would choose one of the last ones produced. Most of the kinks were ironed out by then, plus they look much better after the mid life face lift. The S500 is very nice, though an S320 is a more practical choice. The S600 is quite overdone, and the V12 is costly to maintain.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 15th July, 2006
Nicely written, and all true. I took my S for a 5000 Mile jaunt with my family this past summer and it was bliss. Driving 500 miles in this car is nothing and you are still fresh when you finish.
Just an update. The CD changer and Vacuum pump were replaced under a third party warranty and both work fine now. However the antenna is now stuck up and we are waiting to hear about that. Other than that nothing serious has come up since purchase nearly two years ago.