New vs. Classic: 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and W140 Luxury Battle

In the world of luxury cars, used is sometimes almost as good as new. And that even applies to some Mercedes-Benz models. But what about a brand-new car vs. its classic forebear? More specifically, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the German brand’s luxury flagship, vs. the classic W140 S-Class? That’s the question YouTube team Throttle House posed in its latest video. And as it turns out, the answer is more complicated than you might think.

2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class vs. 1997 W140 S-Class is a battle of features and build quality

A black 2021 Mercedes-Benz S 580 4Matic S-Class on a mountain road
2021 Mercedes-Benz S 580 4Matic S-Class | Mercedes-Benz
Spec2021 Mercedes-Benz S 580 4Matic1997 Mercedes-Benz S320
Engine4.0-liter twin-turbocharged mild-hybrid V83.2-liter inline-six
Power496 hp228 hp
Torque516 lb-ft232 lb-ft
TransmissionNine-speed automaticFive-speed automatic
Drive typeAWDRWD

As the specs above indicate, there’s a significant gap between the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the earlier W140. And the drivetrain details only show part of that gap. That’s to be expected, given that the S-Class is what Mercedes uses to show off new luxury and safety tech.

In that regard, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, especially in non-Maybach range-topping S580 trim, is a luxury tour de force. The latest S-Class comes standard with air suspension, Nappa leather upholstery, heated and ventilated massaging front seats, power sunshades, and a cabin fragrance system. It also comes with Mercedes’ latest MBUX infotainment system, a 12.3” digital gauge cluster, a 12.8” center touchscreen, adjustable multi-color ambient lighting, and navigation. Plus, a full advanced driver-assistance system suite, wireless charging, and a Burmester 3D Surround Sound system.

The rear view of the tan Nappa leather interior of a 2021 Mercedes-Benz S 580 S-Class
2021 Mercedes-Benz S 580 4Matic S-Class interior rear view | Mercedes-Benz

All of this and we haven’t even gotten to the options. The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class offers an optional Burmester High-End 4D Surround Sound system, a 3D instrument cluster, rear-seat wireless charging, extra screens, and augmented-reality navigation, MotorTrend reports. You can also augment the air suspension with hydraulic ‘E-Active Body Control’ dampers and rear-wheel steering for tighter turns.

The W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a different take on luxury

The side view of a black W140 Mercedes-Benz 600SEL S-Class
W140 Mercedes-Benz 600SEL S-Class side | Mercedes-Benz

However, there’s a reason Autotrader and MotorTrend consider the W140 to be one of, if not the best S-Class generations. True, it doesn’t have all of the S580’s bells and whistles. But it’s arguably one of the last ‘cost is no object’ Mercedes, along with the W124 and R129 SL. And while it’s not as powerful or tech-heavy as the 2021 S-Class, the W140 has some modern-style features.

For example, like the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the W140 has navigation, soft-close doors, and voice commands. It doesn’t have parking sensors, but it does have two metal sticks that deploy when you reverse to serve as edge finders. And it has leather upholstery, electronic stability control, wood trim, double-glazed windows, a power-operated rearview mirror, and emergency-braking assist. Plus, it was the first production car to offer four-zone climate control, Car and Driver reports. And you could order it with a built-in fax machine.

Also, the W140 offered something you can only get in the Maybach S680 version of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Admittedly, it’s not available in the 1997 S320 that Throttle House drove. But the W140 S600/600SEL, though, came with a 402-hp 6.0-liter V12.

Is a classic W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class as luxurious as the 2021 S580?

Besides more power and tech, there’s something else the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has that the W140 does not: 20” wheels. However, they’re something the Throttle House hosts would rather go without. That’s because, as is often the case with large wheels, they introduce more road noise and ride harshness. As a result, the W140 S-Class has a noticeably comfier and smoother ride.

It’s worth noting that the 2021 S580 Throttle House drove didn’t come with the E-Active Body Control. But it did have the 4.5° version of the rear-wheel steering system, which genuinely makes the sedan feel nimble, MotorTrend says. Plus, unlike the W140, the modern S-Class has multiple driving modes, including a Sport Mode. As a result, while the S580 isn’t a sports sedan per se, it is easy to drive, Throttle House reports.

In addition, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has comfier seats than the W140, Throttle House notes. But that might be partially due to this 1997 S320’s age, which also shows in some minor power-window quirkiness. And the W140 isn’t as sporty or as quick as the S580, nor is it quite as quiet. However, when to comes to ‘wafting’ down the road, the W140 feels “like a big luxury boat,” Throttle House says—in a good way. Plus, for those who aren’t fans of touchscreen-heavy controls, the older car is all analog.

In short, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class benefits from technological and material improvements. But that doesn’t mean the W140 has nothing to offer when it comes to luxury.

How much do these luxury sedans cost?

The W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class does have one more significant advantage over the 2021 S-Class: price. For 2021, the S580 4Matic starts at $116,300 before options. And speaking of, the padded headrests Throttle House praised in the video cost extra.

In contrast, the 1997 S320 in the video cost just over $5500 at the time of writing. But even an excellent-condition six-cylinder W140 costs less than $17K, Hagerty says. And an excellent-condition V12 example typically costs about $22.5K, Hagerty notes.

True, the average new S-Class buyer isn’t cross-shopping classic models. However, if you want to experience what the S-Class name stands for, going vintage is a cheaper option. It all depends on how much you want or need the latest tech.

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