The S-Class is the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz lineup for a reason. Actually, as the 2021 model demonstrates, with its plethora of luxury and safety features, several reasons. Although some cars, like the Citroen DS, matched the Mercedes S-Class in innovation, fewer matched its reputation for quality. And according to Doug Demuro, that’s especially true for the W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Why is the W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class held in such high regard?
Technically, the S-Class nameplate didn’t exist until 1972, when Mercedes-Benz launched the W116 model, Hagerty reports. However, the model’s predecessors date back to the 1954 W108, Car and Driver reports. The 2021 S-Class, aka the W220, is actually the 7th-gen model. And the 1992-1998 W140 Mercedes S-Class is the 3rd-gen version.
Although the previous-gen W126 model is still highly regarded, Hagerty reports, both Autotrader and Autocar rank the W140 S-Class higher. Mostly, that’s because the W140 was arguably the last Mercedes-Benz S-Class built with a ‘money is no object’ mentality.
Its successor, the W220, was more technologically-advanced, Car and Driver reports, but had cheaper interior materials and shoddier paint and rust-proofing quality. Not to mention, all those fancy electronics broke fairly often.
Also, consider this. The current Mercedes-Maybach sedan is based on the out-going W221 S-Class. But its predecessor, the Maybach 57S, isn’t built on the W220’s platform. It’s actually built on a W140 chassis combined with a few W220 components.
But the W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class’ reputation isn’t based purely on build quality. It was the first Mercedes model that offered a V12, Car and Driver reports. Specifically, a 6.0-liter V12 with 394 hp, Classic & Sports Car reports. The Ferrari F40 supercar made just 50 more hp. Plus, that V12, bored out to 7.3 liters, eventually powered the Pagani Zonda supercar, The Drive reports.
And then there are the W140 Mercedes S-Class’ luxury and safety features.
The W140 S-Class is still solid and luxurious today
Hagerty describes the W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class as “a technological wonder of its time.” And based on features alone, the W140 is surprisingly modern for an almost 30-year-old car.
The W140 offers stability control, traction control, navigation, voice controls, double-glazed windows, and soft-close doors. The trunk is soft-close, too. It also has HID headlights, side-curtain airbags, and rain-sensing wipers. And starting in 1995, the sedan came with ‘Brake Assist,’ a kind of early form of automatic emergency braking. This Mercedes S-Class was also the first car to have 4-zone automatic climate control.
Then there are the W140’s more subtle quirks and features. The trunk handle retracts electronically so you don’t get fingerprints on the paint. The rearview mirror is power-adjustable, Car reports, and it’s linked to the seat memory settings. And one of those settings is the seat bottom position, which can move independently.
The W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class was also one of the first cars with power-folding mirrors. Admittedly, it doesn’t have a backup camera or rear parking sensors, despite being so long. Instead, 2 chrome antennas pop out in the back to serve as markers when you reverse.
Yet for all its length and mass—the S600SEL weighs over 2.5 tons—the W140 Mercedes S-Class is remarkably maneuverable, Car and Driver reports. The standard adjustable air suspension makes for a comfortable ride and good handling, Automobile reports.
Even with the V12, the W140 isn’t a particularly loud car. At least, not in factory trim. However, as the video above demonstrates, there’s a Japanese exhaust builder who can change that.
Pricing and buyer’s guide
Michael Jordan owned a W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, a V12-powered S600 tuned by Lorinser. It recently for $202.2k, Hagerty reports, a record-setting amount for an S600. Even a pristine example typically goes for closer to $40k, Hagerty reports. And you can often find one on Bring a Trailer for less than half of that.
Keep in mind, though, that a W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class originally cost close to $100,000 in 1992. As such, repairs and parts can be pricey, especially for the V12 and V8 models, BenzWorld and PistonHeads forum users report. The A/C system is especially tricky to service, as it requires removing the center console. That being said, a well-maintained and regularly-driven W140 makes for an excellent luxury car.
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