The 1990s will be remembered for many things; Nelson Mandela got out of prison, Tupac and Notorious BIG shot, boy bands, the bowl haircut, OJ Simpson in the Bronco, etc. But there’s also the W140 Mercedes Benz S-Class, probably one of the best Mercedes Benzes ever made.
Having driven a 1997 S300 TD on several occasions, the first thing that strikes you is how long the car actually is – 5,113mm in length. The second thing you will notice is how light the steering is, it is easily one of the most effortless systems to use. You don’t get much in the way of detailed feedback though, but that’s irrelevant in a car like this. Instead you appreciate the fact that the response to steering input is more than acceptable, and that the ride quality is superior to many modern big saloons.
Even in 2012, the ride quality is superb. It has the ability to make even the roughest of roads seem smoother than they actually are, with the whole structure of the car being extremely composed, and absorbing speed bumps and imperfect surfaces that give many modern cars a bit of a sweat.
The S300 TD I drove showed just how wonderfully stable the W140 is on the highway. Although it has a modest 177hp from its turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine, the power delivery is quite smooth – depending more on its 243lb ft of torque to get it up to desirable speeds. Also, thanks to double glazing, wind noise is pleasantly low too – only a distant rumble of the diesel engine can be heard at motorway speeds. Mercedes Benz quoted this model as being able to achieve 35mpg on the highway, 27mpg combined, and 20mpg in the city.
The W140 had a number of engines made available to it during its seven years in production, depending on market. There were two diesels available; a turbo 3.5-litre straight six producing 150hp was available upon introduction in 1991, but was then replaced in 1996 with the 3.0-litre unit found in the test car. Petrol engine options included; a 2.8-litre straight six with 193hp, a 3.2-litre straight six with 231hp, a 4.2-litre V8 initially producing 279hp then rising to 286hp, a 5.0-litre V8 with 335hp, and a 6.0-litre V12 outputting 400hp then 408hp – the engine found in the Pagani Zonda supercar is based on this unit.
As for comfort, the air conditioning system will blow very cold air on a hot, humid day, and its sound system (with a six CD changer) has plenty of bass to please even the loudest music-playing teenager. Legroom will never be an issue unless everyone in the car is an NBA player, it will easily seat five average-sized adults in comfort. Parking sensors were around in the 1990s too, which is good considering the size of the W140, so manoeuvring isn’t as hard as you would expect.
The only reservation one might have about the S300 TD is the fact that it might seem a bit slow if you are trying to make brisk progress – the engine does have to cope with nearly two tons (1,920kg) after all. Luckily, the petrol-powered versions are more willing and capable of coping with the heft of the W140, and the V8s give a pleasant soundtrack when a few revs are dialled in as well.
Prices for a used S300 TD obviously vary from the condition, to the mileage, to the year it was made. A 1998 S300 TD with around 150,000km can be found for as little as €7,000 in the euro zone. However, a more powerful and quieter S500 with around the same mileage can be found for as little as €6,000. In the United States an S500 with less than 100,000 miles can be found between $6,000 - $7,000, and around £3,000 in the United Kingdom for a car with similar mileage.
By Alex Kisiri