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Mercedes S-Class Vs Porsche Panamera

Chris Kaiser

In a showdown between two German heavyweights, we match the Mercedes-Benz S-Class versus the Porsche Panamera to see which reigns as the greatest luxury sedan.

Classic Forms in Modern Guise

Large luxury sedans have come a long way since the days of the classic Cadillacs and Lincolns of the 1940s and 50s. In recent years, the luxury sedan power balance has decidedly shifted from America to Europe, where the SUV has never taken hold the way it has here in the States. All that power and refinement Lincoln now pours into the likes of the new Navigator (which is great in it’s own right), ze Germans have been putting toward things like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Porsche Panamera. These two cars are yet more evidence that the sedan is alive and well, but which one deserves your high-end dollars?

mbusa.com | porsche.com
mbusa.com | porsche.com

An Excellent Engine for (Almost) Every Budget

Car companies have been putting big engines into luxury sedans going back to the early days of automobiles. That didn’t mean those cars were exactly fast. Those monstrous V8s were tasked with moving equally monstrous (as in heavy) cars. As engine technology has improved and the cars have gotten lighter, modern luxury sedans now easily contend with modern sports cars in speed and power.

Mercedes and Porsche certainly don’t disappoint with the S-Class and Panamera. Both offer five different powertrain options, and really there’s no bad choice among them. Even their “base” level turbo charged V6s offer plenty of power. As we climb the horsepower ladder and 0-60 times diminish, things get downright silly.

The Mercedes S-Class offers five powertrain options and none disappoint. The S450 and S560 get a 7-speed automatic. The AMG variants and the plug-in hybrid 560e get 9-speed automatics. All of these come with a 4MATIC all-wheel drive option excepting the AMG S65, which comes only in RWD (that’s just fine by us).

S-Class Engine Options

2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 4.0L Twin Turbo V8 Engine - carsforsale.com
2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 4.0L Twin Turbo V8 Engine - carsforsale.com
Trim  Engine  Horsepower/Torque 
S450  4.0L Twin Turbo V6  362hp/369lbs. ft. 
S560  4.0L Twin Turbo V8  463hp/516lbs. ft. 
AMG S63  4.0L Twin Turbo V8  603hp/664lbs. ft. 
AMG S65  6.0L Twin Turbo V12  621hp/738lbs. ft. 
560e  4.0L Twin Turbo V6 + 90kW electric motor  469hp/516lbs. ft. 

The Porsche Panamera also gets spoiled with excellent powertrains up and down the trim line. Porsche does its best AMG impression with their Turbo models. All Panameras come with the impeccable 8-speed PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) transmission. Technically, there are 21 different versions of the Panamera, we limit the list below to covering the major engine options.

Porsche Panamera Engine Options 

2020 Porsche Panamera 4.0L Twin Turbo V8 Engine - carsforsale.com
2020 Porsche Panamera 4.0L Twin Turbo V8 Engine - carsforsale.com
Trim  Engine  Horsepower/Torque 
Panamera 4  3.0L Turbo V6   330hp/330lbs. ft. 
Panamera 4S  2.9L Turbo V6  440hp/406lbs. ft. 
Panamera GTS  4.0L Twin Turbo V8  453hp/457lbs. ft. 
Panamera Turbo   4.0L Twin Turbo V8  550hp/567lbs. ft. 
Panamera Turbo E-Hybrid  4.0L Twin Turbo V8 + 100kW electric motor  677hp/626lbs. ft. 

As you may have noticed above, both the S-Class and the Panamera have plug-in hybrid options, which grant limited electric-only range and significant boosts to horsepower and torque. If you’ve got the dough, they’re great options.

The Antidote for Your SUV Malaise

What sets the S-Class and Panamera apart from the rest of their segment are the superb driving experiences they provide. Both deftly mix pillow-soft rides with aggressive engine options (see above) and athletic handling. That mix, however, comes in a slightly different ratios, with the S-Class leaning toward the more cosseted experience, while the Panamera stakes its claim as the sportier option.

2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class - mercedes-benz.com

2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class – mercedes-benz.com  |  Shop 2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class on Carsforsale.com

The word “commanding” usually gets applied to road dominating SUVs and full-size trucks. But from behind the wheel of an S-Class, that smooth and quiet ride meshing with that breakneck propulsion resting just a subtle toe-tap away, you feel like some Old Testament potentate, both wise and powerful. Even with 4MATIC all-wheel drive equipped, the S-Class feels like a RWD car around corners. The faultless 7 and 9-speed transmissions are responsive and eager to downshift. The quickest version of the S-Class, the AMG S63, hits 0-60mph in an even 3.0 seconds. Even the “slower” versions provide a wonderful, torquey response from the throttle.

2020 Porsche Panamera - porsche.com

2020 Porsche Panamera – porsche.com  |  Shop 2020 Porsche Panamera on Carsforsale.com

The promise of the Panamera is getting a Porsche sports car experience out of your beefy luxury sedan. The Panamera delivers in spades. That signature Porsche excitement is alive and well here, with a low seating position, raucous V8s, and the peerless PDK stealthily shifting gears. And while the Cayenne and Macan are exceptional SUVs from behind the wheel, it’s the Panamera that offers that genuine Porsche experience the whole family can share. Fleetest among the Panameras is the Turbo S e-Hybrid, which does 0-60mph in just 2.9 seconds.

Against any other rival, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class embarrasses the competition with its power and precision on the road. But the Porsche Panamera exists, and that being the case, it noses out the S-Class as the best driving large luxury sedan.

Put on Your Fancy Pants

The experience of the large luxury sedan doesn’t stop when you let off the throttle. Amenities and finish are no less tangible than raw horsepower. The S-Class and Panamera arrive sharply appointed. Each have exhaustive laundry lists of add-ons and accoutrements to make them even more posh and personalized. Piling on these features does balloon the final price, but let’s face it, if you’re spending over $100,000 on your next luxury car, you want it the way you want it.

Judging by sheer sumptuousness alone, the S-Class distinguishes itself from the Panamera immediately. That’s not to say the Panamera isn’t nice, isn’t “luxury” level, because it is, but the S-Class is a step above. The modern design, the quality of materials (there’s leather and soft touch materials on nearly every inch of the S-Class interior), and the meticulous attention to detail all lend a feeling refinement and splendor to the S-Class.

In a vacuum, the Panamera makes a strong showing from a luxury standpoint. Materials are all high quality, fit and finish are excellent, but the design is more reserved, more subtle than the monocle-wearing S-Class. If you’re a Porsche fan, you won’t find that objectionable, and perhaps even desirable.

Both cars are exceedingly comfortable for passengers. There’s plenty of room in front and back. If you still need additional leg room or plan to be chauffeured, there are also extended wheelbase versions of each car. The S-Class backseat focuses on blissful relaxation, the quilted leather seats and quiet ride cocoon occupants. The Panamera’s backseat is similarly comfortable, with its well-bolstered seats evoking that “hold on to your hats” race car-like experience. The S-Class and Panamera both have air-suspension options available, which we highly recommend.

Obviously, the S-Class wasn’t going to be satisfied winning the “most luxurious” battle. Mercedes heaps on the refinement and features in their Maybach S650 edition (that’s pronounced may-bock, as in Johannes Sebastian or your 2nd favorite kind of beer. Sorry Yeezy, you’ve been saying it wrong). The Maybach S650 piles on the fancy with an extended pinky finger. There are the two-tone paint options, the exclusive grille and wheel options, the imposing V12 engine, the extended wheelbase, and the full-reclining rear seat (passenger side only) complete with extendable footrest, to name but a few of the options that make the Maybach S650 the most opulent and expensive S-Class you can buy.

The Best Don’t Need to Flaunt It

One could argue that the differences between the S-Class and the Panamera boil down to personal preference. They’re both amply supplied with generous amounts of horsepower and possess agile handling. The Panamera is a triumph, because it replicates all of what we love about the rest of Porsche’s lineup in sedan form. But the S-Class feels the statelier of the two. The layer after layer of interior leather, a refined finish throughout, and a dizzying amount of tech gives the Mercedes a leg up in this competition.

Where the Mercedes a hair slower or less nimble, the contest would have been closer. But when you’re not sacrificing much (if anything) in the driving experience while rolling in one of the nicest cabins of any car on the market, the choice becomes clear.

WINNER: 2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class - mbusa.com
2020 Mercedes-Benz S-Class - mbusa.com

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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