2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S350 BlueTEC Road Test

Luxury goes the distance in 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S350 BlueTEC

What It Is/Who It's For
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class BlueTEC uplifts the road cruiser of yesterday into a powerful and sophisticated full-size sedan.
Best Thing
The closest thing to a self-driving car courtesy of Active Cruise Control and Lane Departure systems.
Worst Thing
Typical lack of interior storage space.
Snap Judgment
Diesel adds even more power, fuel economy to a luxurious road cruiser.

Your combined income is in the high six- or low seven-figure range. But a chauffeur and limousine are expenses you can live without; you're part of the "working rich." While you have a full-size luxury SUV to haul the kids in, you need another vehicle just for the two of you, and maybe a couple of passengers, for extended shopping sprees or hours-long road trips. Something that will leave feeling as fresh after hours behind the wheel as you did when you first sat down. Yet such a vehicle still has to impress others -- friends, neighbors, clients, heck, even the valet -- that you've made it whether by hard and diligent work or, well, let's leave it at that.

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class BlueTEC looks promising. It has the space, and from the admiring stares from your colleagues and passersby, the looks. But this S-Class was introduced way back in 2006 as a 2007 model. Does it still have the requisite features that convey "luxury?" Does the music system envelop you in sound? What about the S-Class' controls, from the dash to the entertainment system? What about metal and wood inserts on the dash? Are they worthy of being here or in a vehicle a quarter of the price?

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And then there's the engine. That "BlueTEC" badge on the trunklid means that this big Benz is diesel powered. We won't bore you with how much better diesel power is today compared to the smelly smokers of yesteryear, but is a 3.0-liter V-6 diesel really an appropriate engine for a luxury sedan costing more than $113,000? Automotive.com had rare opportunity to find out the answers to all these questions -- and more -- for you in a three-day cross-country tour.

What We Drove

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S350 BlueTEC starts at $93,425 including a $875 destination fee. That puts the diesel just above the entry-level Mercedes-Benz S-Class S400 hybrid sedan, and just below the standard gasoline-powered Mercedes-Benz S-Class S550. That's notably more expensive than competitors like the Audi A8 L, BMW 7 Series 740Li, and the Lexus LS 460 L. But you realized a long time ago that having the best or the most unique -- or both -- doesn't come cheap.

Still, Mercedes makes sure the S-Class diesel comes well-equipped to meet high expectations. You get, of course, the turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 diesel engine mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. There's the near limo-like interior space, standard all-wheel drive keeps the S350 planted to the road, and the AIRMATIC "air suspension with adaptive damping system" makes the S-Class' ride stable even on the worst roads. Notable standard comfort features include powered trunk lid and powered rear window shade; 14-way heated and ventilated driver and front passenger seats, as well as standard goodies like powered sunroof; GPS/navigation; and premium audio system. Of course.

Our test vehicle came with a plethora of optional equipment, which came with the typical European vehicle high price tag. That included upgraded leather ($2,290); burl walnut wood inserts ($325); and SPLITVIEW monitor system ($710), which allowed both the driver and front passenger to view the single screen between them but view two different things (navigation for the driver, movies for the passenger). The optional packages for the serious traveler and/or pleasure seeker include the premium package which, among other things, included rearview camera and front row massage chairs ($3,360); rear seat package and its heated and ventilated rear row seats ($3,040); and the driver assistance package which adds the chauffer, i.e., adaptive cruise control ($2,950). Throw in the $5,900 sport package to make the exterior look even better and our 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class S350 BlueTEC dropped at an almost faint-inducing $113,270.

Neither the federal NHTSA nor the private IIHS have rated the Mercedes-Benz S-Class for safety in their crash tests; who wants to buy a bunch of $100,000 cars just to smash them into walls? The 2012 S350 BlueTEC, like all Mercedes-Benz, is chockfull of safety features to protect one's plastic surgery-enhanced hide including tire pressure monitoring system, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, eight airbags, as well as active systems like NECK-PRO, which configures the headrests to minimize neck injuries in the case of an accident.

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The Commute

Slip into the driver's chair. The opening is wide and expansive for even the tallest and widest among us. The premium leather felt sumptuous, the seats cushioned in all the right places for sitting back for hours cruising on the open road or crowded highway, yet equipped with enough side bolsters when one wants to make more "spirited" moves on the freeway. Even better, you can configure the bolsters to actually grip your legs and backside as the S-Class twists and turns on the road as part of the car's Driving Dynamic systems.

This feeling of richness continues throughout the Mercedes-Benz S-Class airy cabin. The dash and interior panels are awash with double-stitched, soft-touch leather, with real wood and metal accents strategically placed to frame the air vents, inner door handles, and various controls. An expansive canopy shields the instrument cluster and navigation screen from all but the most direct sunlight. The S350's rear row feels even more cavernous, offering tons of leg and headroom. Three full-sized adults could sprawl back there though only two can take advantage of our S350's rear seat package which includes reclined seating. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class BlueTEC offers a quiet cabin to still your mind after the latest stock market drop, or to create your own personal orchestra thanks to the hardon karman audio system.

The Mercedes S-Class chrome-rimmed cupholders are just adequate to hold our drinks. In fact, knick-knack storage space is surprisingly limited, something that becomes more pertinent on a long drive, as we'll see below.

Any doubts about the diesel engine vanish as soon as you press the accelerator. While the S-Class' six-cylinder engine's 240 horsepower doesn't sound like much, its copious low-end thrust -- known as torque -- makes merging into traffic, or showing up a couple kids in their Honda Civics child's play. Yet it does this with the smooth, quiet delivery you'd expect of a car like this, and an observed 28-31 mpg that's eye-popping for a subcompact, much less a giant luxury sedan. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class brakes are strong but easily to modulate in stop and go traffic. You'll discover, though, you'll be doing that very infrequently thanks to the S-Class' Active cruise control system which keeps the car within a fixed distance of the vehicles ahead, even stopping it at a stoplight. Don't want to mess up your new Allen Edmonds, do you?

The Grocery Run

Your friends called, and it's time for a little retail therapy after a rough week managing a multi-million dollar account. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class offers plenty of room: a huge second row, and cavernous trunk space. Three large Gucci luggage bags for yourself and your passengers? No problem. Just pop the powered trunk lid and slide the bags in. Rare oil painting from that new gallery down the street? Slip it against the front row seats while the passengers back there stretch out to hold it with their toes. The Mercedes S-Class smooth steering is responsive but light, making it easy to maneuver the full-size sedan in most parking lots but steady enough to keep the entire car focused straight ahead.

Good as the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class BlueTEC is in transporting people and large items, it fails in holding the small stuff Americans carry as a matter of course. The S-Class, for example, is equipped with only four cupholders, less than all but the most entry-level subcompacts. You and your exercise companion will have to ditch those water bottles when you leave your personal trainer; same with your kids as they climb in after soccer practice.

Storage space in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is confined to a lidded trays located between the front and back row seats barely deep enough to house a tablet or a couple of CDs/DVDs. The S350's glove compartment box offers more space but gets marred by wiring for ipod adapters and smartphones. Shouldn't those be located on the more easily accessible center stack? At least the glove compartment box is lockable. You may have to give serious thought in buying those collapsible cargo storage containers for both the front and back rows. They'll be, of course, made of environmentally-friendly materials.

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The Weekend Fun

Mercedes gave us the opportunity to put the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class BlueTEC through its paces in a three-day, nearly 1,500 mile road trip from Los Angeles to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. To no one's real surprise, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class performed flawlessly.

Luxury also means controlled, and the Mercedes S350 sound suppression system keeps engine noise to a whir, road noise to a soft thump, and wind sound to a low, low whisper. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class BlueTEC does the same with the suspension, allowing in just enough of the road to feel its imperfections without loss of comfort. The Mercedes S350's suspension, steering wheel, and powertrain can be configured to push the Mercedes-Benz S-Class at higher speeds on twisting, turning roads, with a sport mode that lowers the sedan to feel more stable at such speeds. Still, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class works best as a cruiser, though.

Two major features made the trip extremely comfortable. First, the S-Class BlueTEC diesel engine. The EPA says the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class BlueTEC gets 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, and 25 combined mpg, excellent for such a big, heavy car. Combined with the 19 gallon fuel tank, we estimated the S-Class able to get a staggering 700 miles per tank on the highway. And that's what we got; from Orange County to Nevada, we drove more than 800 miles before having to refuel, then drove another 767 as we passed through Utah and into Wyoming. We had hoped to make the entire trip with two tanks, but the higher elevation and colder weather in Wyoming lowered the fuel economy; still, the sedan sipped an additional 203 miles from the third tankful in the last leg of the trip. We found it extremely irritating how the Mercedes-Benz MBRAC system blocked how many miles we had left in the fuel tank when running low, instead filling the instrument cluster screen with a warning that we needed to refuel. Our final average over the trip was slightly better than 31 mpg.

Second, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class' Distronic system, or active cruise control. The system works like regular cruise control, maintaining the S-Class at a set speed, but it also maintains a set distance from the vehicle in front of it, slowing down and speeding up when necessary. It was surprising how small a vehicle it could monitor, at one point keeping pace with a moped. Several times the S-Class rapidly slowed, then halted at a stoplight within feet of an eighteen wheeler. Coupled with Distronic was the Lane Departure system, which uses a camera to monitor the lines on the road and make sure the S-Class stayed within its lane. If the sedan drifted, the system vibrated the steering wheel, alerting us. But here's the kicker; ignore the vibration, and the system actually swerves the sedan back into the lane. The combination of both meant that that Mercedes-Benz S-Class nearly drove itself for much of the trip, from busy highways to long stretches of open road.

These two features freed us to explore the S-Class sedan's numerous features. The superb harman hardon audio system converted the sedan's interior into a mobile concert hall, while SiriusXM satellite radio provided plenty of choice music and amusing commentary. But our favorite feature, hands-down, were the front-row massage chairs. Using a series of inflatable bladders, you could image human hands pressing and kneading your lower back muscles into submission. Mercedes staff later told us studies show relaxed drivers suffer less travel fatigue and accidents than their non-stressed counterparts. We agree. And don't worry; if you get too relaxed, the S-Class's Attention Assist system monitors you, setting off chimes and flashing a warning if it detects you're too drowsy to drive. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class COMAND infotainment system controlled most of these systems, which we found easy to use. Turn the dial, highlight your selection, and press.

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It's hard to stand out, even among the upper levels of society traveled by the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTEC. Our well-optioned sedan matched its competitors nearly feature to feature, the prices almost moot at this level of luxury. We found the diesel option for our S-Class made it an interesting "wild child" among its S-Class kin; it has better fuel economy than the S400 hybrid and almost the brawny power of the "standard" S550. Someone looking for a long-distance cruiser with plenty of power to muscle around the city would not go wrong in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class BlueTEC.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $113,270
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 21 mpg
EPA Highway: 31 mpg
EPA Combined: 25 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 595 miles
Cost of Ownership: Below Average

Notebook Quotes

"There's something about this Benz that transcends the pile of luxury stuff that comes with it. It just works so well as a whole vehicle." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director
"The latest S-Class is the epitome of luxury and refinement. Soft-touch appointments as far as the eye can see and the ride just felt comfortable thanks to the ability to keep the usual cement road hop found in a larger vehicle to a minimum." -Trevor Dorchies, Assistant Editor