1992 Mercedes-Benz W140 S Class Review: The Invincible Sedan

If you aren’t aware it’s 2011 and just like every other year we get one year older. Of course, being mortal when we get older you find your body changing over time....
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If you aren’t aware it’s 2011 and just like every other year we get one year older. Of course, being mortal when we get older you find your body changing over time. You find hair growing out of your ear lobes, you find aches in places where it has never ached before a year ago and your bones creak slightly more than usual. All of these mentioned above will happen to you, unless you’re not human. However, if you’re a car, especially a W140 series Mercedes Benz S-class, you could probably go on forever.

Designed to be the best car in the world, it actually is, or was. First sold in 1991 the W140 Mercedes Benz S-class cost Mercedes Benz about $1billion to develop and had tons of innovation built into it. It was the first production car that had double glazed glass for the windows, power assisted closing for the doors and boot lid (on higher specced models), electric windows that will stop and lower itself if it detected your hands and objects in its way, an electric powered adjustable rear view mirror (so that the ultra lazy can just move their wrist to adjust it) and other incredible sounding gadgetry at the time. Some of these items had filtered to lower Mercedes Benzes and introduced into cars from other manufacturers. It was one, if not the last, over-engineered Mercedes Benz made and it basically cost 25 percent more than the outgoing W126 model because of this. Everything in the W140 felt good to the touch and also felt like it could go on forever.

The car in question that I drove was a black 1992 300SE. This was the base model in the line-up which went up all the way to the V8 500SEL and the V12 600SEL. This was pre-1994, before Mercedes Benz changed the way it named their cars – the S-classes became the S280 or S500L instead of using the ‘SE’ or ‘SEL’ moniker. It had a 2.8liter straight 6 engine that made 190bhp and about 199lb/ft (270Nm) of torque. Adequate for a barge that weighed in at about 1,880kg (for this base model). Unfortunately, due to the weight of the car, you only get 100/bhp per ton, hence the 0-60mph time of about 10.5 seconds. Not very CarThrottle, but what’s very CarThrottle about this car is that it makes the chore of driving a barge easier than you think possible in every location. With the exception of small, tight backlanes.

This car may be almost 20 years old and in car years, being 20 means you’re almost 50. In most 20 year old cars you will find a lack of refinement and a lack of performance in them. If you had a ride in a 20 year old Toyota Camry you may be grinding your teeth and you would hear squeaks rattles and clunks throughout your drive. There are some old Camrys which would still be nice to drive, but these are rare, few and far between. Not to mention utterly dull to drive. But try hop into any Mercedes Benz W140 and you’d be surprised by how much of a sense of occasion a car like this car give you. That three-pointed star up front does this to you.

The leather seats feel good, the driving position isn’t tiring at all. Half a day of dealing with city traffic and I popped out of the car feeling strangely fresh as when I hopped in the car in the morning. I also remember a few of us driving 400 kilometers in one and none of us felt knackered. It is this long legged ability and the high level of refinement of this old Mercedes that makes it worthy of a CarThrottle article.

And it surprisingly handles in an inert sort of way (blame it on that recirculating ball type steering system), slightly feel-less brakes and a typical Mercedes throttle pedal. It isn’t a small car as even this short wheelbase car seems to have tons of space at the rear.  It is actually Rolls Royce Silver Spirit huge if you want a comparison of size. But it would still do a U-turn at a busy street junction with such verve that could embarrass smaller cars and it could also be hustled down a tight mountain road if you want to but you actually won’t. I tried giving it more boot than usual around one of the highways but somehow, I seemed to settle into a serene, hushed trot at about 70mph. I suppose this is what stress-feel motoring is all about.

Now being a typical Mercedes from the 1990s it will tell you that it’s understeering very early into a corner. So you have to actually adjust your driving style to suit it – not the other way round. If not it would be akin to wrestling a bull (and it is bull-sized). Drive within its limits and it does its job well. I suppose you shouldn’t hustle a Mercedes S-class as it is more suited for ushering captains of the industry from one meeting to another instead of tackling the Nurburgring. You could take this W140 to the nearest Autobahn for a workout. Even this base model will hit 130mph if it had enough road to do so. It could also do a 100mph cruise all day if you wanted to. And cruising at 100mph in one feels like cruising at half the speed. Such is the refinement of the W140 S-class that you could do this 20 years on without any problems. In fact, if you sat in the later W210 S-class that came after this model you would be hard pressed to differentiate the ride quality and quietness of the cars.

Did I encounter any problems with this car? No. None whatsoever. The individual air-conditioning controls still worked perfectly in this car, the car’s original 6 cylinder engine still sounded sweet (with only a top or cylinder head overhaul to its name). Most of the electrics basically worked fine and there were no sounds of creaks or squeaks aside from the usual leathery squeaks. The 4 speed automatic (pre-1994 models mostly came in the more basic gearbox) worked decently well too.

I suppose the best things about cars like these is that they are now dirt cheap with prices of between a thousand or so pounds to about three thousand pounds for this base 300SE model and you could even get the fully loaded S500 versions for about the same amount (depending on condition of course). Parts may be pricey as it is an S-class – and spare parts for these cars were never as cheap as the smaller C or E class Mercedes. This was the best car in the world, circa 1992, and in 2011, it still drives better than some of the cars today.

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  • http://www.saabsnaab.com James

    One of the last true Benzes, that looks, feels, smells, and drives like a Benz. But it DOES cost a fortune to keep one running. I’d imagine these straight-six models are cheaper to run than the 500SE or 600SEL but I’ve heard nasty things about labor rates. Still, the fact that this came out in 1991 and still compares favorably with a lot of new cars is impressive. Sweet car – but it needs more V8!

    • Bernie

      A great car indeed perhaps one of the last cast-iron made Mercedes of all times (W140/124). Best buy (weight/power) is the 4-litre V8. Parts are reasonable these days yet labour is a problem. All in all, despite its age, a great car, spacious, comfortable and safe cruiser and when driven with caution reasonably economical (9 km/litre 500SEL) and long-lasting (500,000 km or more are possible).

      Although some models were over engineered, the basic design wasn’t at all (single air bag, no side airbags, no boot unlock from the inside etc.) compared to later models and literally rust free. And the W140 is among the safest cars according to accident stats taken at the time. And braking power is stunning, designed for German Autobahn racing.

      Best buys are the V8 4-litre models. Fuel consumption, maintenance and repairs are marginally lower than the V8s yet performance significantly lower (V8 0…60 MPH 7,3 seconds compared to 10 seconds for 6-cylindre models).

      I used to drive a E220/1994 and was told that the successor W210 was designed for a life span of 15 year whereas the W124 was designed for 25 years. It could well be true given ever faster model changes. And if this is true then it is equally true for the W140.

      The lack of safety features (side airbags etc.) of earlier models isn’t an issue for as long as your buckled-up. The W140 can take serious knocks.

      My 500SEL 1991 262,000 km has given me lots of driving pleasure and I am sure she will go on for another 20 years.

  • Ronan

    These were apolalyptic with a diesel. They’re nicknamed “the rod bender”.

  • Paul Ang

    Those who drove a Merc will never drive another. Many of us will keep it more than 20 years and it’s always a pleasure to drive it. With regards to your comments on Camry, no one will keep them after 10 years, not even a Lexus. Well, a Seiko can never be a Rolex.

  • homer rodriguez

    El Mercedes Benz W140 es un excelente automovil sedan, de excelente febricación y de una insuperable estabilidad.

  • Winston

    Would love to see the back of this ride, just to see what the tail lights look(ed) like! Great post!!

  • Rom Parani

    Great car overall especially in a long drive from Florida to Wash. DC. Won’t trade my baby for any other car,

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