Mercedes-Benz’s big S-Class sedans have a major overhaul coming, and so changes to the 2005 models are limited to Flint Grey exterior paint replacing Tectite Grey.

There are six models across the S-Class line, starting with the standard-wheelbase S 430. All others are offered in long-wheelbase: the stretched S 430, S 500, S 55 AMG and S 600.

Both S 430 models come strictly with 4Matic four-wheel-drive, which distributes 60 per cent torque to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions, and can send torque to any wheel if necessary when traction is lost. Power is from a 4.3-litre V8. Among the S 430’s many features are a five-speed Touch Shift automatic transmission, Airmatic air suspension, heated 14-way power front seats, calyptus wood trim, Bose surround sound with CD player, and DVD-based navigation system.

The S 500 is powered by a 5.0-litre V8 and is available in rear-wheel-drive or with 4Matic. Features include a seven-speed Touch Shift automatic transmission (with rear-wheel-drive) or a five-speed automatic transmission (with 4Matic), Airmatic air suspension, bi-Xenon headlamps, heated 14-way power front seats, Nappa leather upholstery and burl walnut wood trim.

The S 55 AMG features a supercharged 5.5-litre V8 and a five-speed automatic transmission with AMG SpeedShift and fingertip shift controls, Active Body Control, 18-inch AMG wheels and tires, AMG-design Nappa leather interior, Active Ventilated and Drive-Dynamic front seats, and a six-CD changer.

The S 600 comes with a turbocharged 5.8-litre V12, along with a five-speed Touch Shift automatic transmission, Active Body Control, 18-inch alloy wheels, exclusive Nappa leather interior, Active Ventilated and dynamic multi-contour front seats, six-CD changer and digital phone with voice control.

The S-Class is a car that is equally pleasant in both the back and front seat; it can be used as a chauffeured car, but when something like the S 55 AMG is available, it’s tough to justify being relegated to the rear. The AMG and the S 600 make the same horsepower, but the S 600’s 590 lb-ft of torque will propel the heavy car into the middle of next week when asked. A “Pre-Safe” feature uses sensors to detect vehicle dynamics; should it suspect an imminent collision, it will snug up the front seatbelts, adjust the passenger’s seat for a better position relative to the airbag, and if severe skidding indicates a possibility of rollover, it will even close the sunroof.

The S-Class is an impressive package, but it’s also a lot of money: compared to the S 500, the more powerful BMW 745Li is $19,000 less, the V8-powered Volkswagen Phaeton is $26,400 less, and the V8 Audi A8L is $24,000 under its price.

The S-Class is built in Sindelfingen, Germany.

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