First the SUV crossover arrived, with its imperious road presence and promises of lifestyle to become the de facto family vehicle. Then came the rise of electrics, with their tech-forward outlook and seductive torque. So where does a petrol-powered sedan fit in today’s automotive landscape? The answer is simple and traditional: for luxurious executive transport. It may be more niche than ever, but it is the niche that the Mercedes-Benz S Class has occupied for more than fifty years.
It is available today as the S 580 e (RM718,888), on the W223 chassis that was introduced in 2021. Unlike decades past, it has an in-house rival in the all-electric, and equally full-sized, EQS sedan. It is not too much of an oversimplification to say that they seek to accomplish the same objectives. They are both roomy four-doors built with luxury in mind, with interiors that are quiet, comfortable, roomy, and well-cushioned from the road via self-levelling air suspension. The operating system is similar—though the S 580 e lacks the slicker-looking pillar-to-pillar Hyperscreen, its own instrument cluster and expansive portrait-oriented central screen offer plenty of real estate and responsive touch functions.
But as much as Malaysian electric charging infrastructure has advanced in recent years, it is not yet ubiquitous. This is where the S 580 e comes in, but even so, it is not a total anachronism—it is a plug-in hybrid, with an electric motor supporting its 3.0-litre inline-six for a total power output of 510bhp and a 0-100km/h time of 5.2 seconds. It even has a considerable electric-only range of around 100km, which means a carbon-zero city commute is a possibility, reserving the petrol use of outstation ventures. The tried-and-tested nine-speed 9G-Tronic transmission impresses as always with efficiency and smoothness—but in terms of passenger comfort, this is an aspect where the EQS has the edge as the linear response of electric propulsion cannot be matched by traditional gearboxes. One would think the EQS has the advantage in quietness as well, but the S 580 e has such effective sound dampening that its combustion engine is only noticeable during the occasional aggressive overtaking manoeuvre.
In long tradition, the interior is tailor-made for roadgoing comfort. Flowing lines encourage relaxation and sinking into the soft Nappa leather upholstery. It is a high-tech environment, too. The driver has access to the car’s sophisticated assistance systems, including collision avoidance and cruise control that is aware of lanes and traffic. The instrument cluster can be toggled through several screen options to bring particular functions to the fore—navigation or driving assistance, for example. Unprompted but helpful cues pop up on the central screen when the situation calls for it, such as a front camera view to help keep an eye on traffic lights, or an augmented reality live feed to help with navigation and finding the right place to turn. The seats are marvels on their own—massage functions are a given, while lumbar support can be dialled in on two axes on the touchscreen. The rear seats have their own screens, and an uncommonly wide range of adjustments including a surprising amount of recline. The chauffer package also means the front passenger seat can be folded down, with the headrest retracting as well. This gives the rear passenger on that side even more room and, with the pop-up leg- and footrests, a bona fide lounge seat.
There are few options on the market with as complete a set of features as this. The S Class may have been around for a while, but it still makes a powerful statement of roadgoing comfort. There are other form factors that are more practical and versatile, but none do executive luxury quite as like this.