After nearly 90 years, we say goodbye to the eight-cylinder Mercedes 500, as the new S-Class totally abandons its history.
The 500 – a badge that meant something. And now its a mere reminder of the near century old past because of Mercedes-Benz’s overambitious and careless marketing ways.
The release of the new S-Class came last night, with two variants – a new turbo V8 powered S580, and the new turbo straight-6 hybrid powered S500.
In the past, the 500 had been the staple of Mercedes eight-cylinder power.
Now – gone are the days of the 500 badge heritage, and we think it’s real damn shame.
It started nearly 90 years ago, with the release of the Mercedes-Benz W08 Nürburg. The first Mercedes car to ever carry the title ‘500’. Also known as the Type 500 N, the car featured a 4.9 litre straight-8 engine, producing 59kW (80hp) to rival the 1929 Audi Typ S Zwickau.
Shortly after, a second three-pointed star was put into production carrying the 500 name. Customers in the mid-thirties had a craving for power, so Mercedes took the old Nürburg’s straight-8 added a clutched roots supercharger. Power for the new 500, now K for Kompressor stood at a substantial 119kW (160hp) with the supercharger enabled, accelerating it from 0-100km/h in 16 seconds and onto a top speed of 160km/h.
A world-class luxury car of its time, the 500 K unfortunately had a short lifespan of just two years, before being undermined by the legendary 540 K.
The next few years were the forgotten years of German car manufacturing, as the Nazi Regime under the rule of Adolf Hitler erupted into World War Two.
After downsizing to straight-6 engines throughout the 50s and 60s, it wasn’t until 1979 when the 500 badge was resurrected with the W126. This brought along 500 variants of the SEC, SEL, SE and SL, powered by 5.0L V8 engines punching out up to 195kW (261hp).
AMG also got their hands on a few examples, which resulted in the 203kW (272hp) 500 SEL AMG and 500 SEC AMG.
Although a higher 560 model was offered at the time from the factory, the initial resurrection of the 500 badge would soon go on to become one of the most iconic numbers on the back of a Mercedes-Benz.
Behold, the emblematic W124 500E. The 240kW (322hp) 24-valve quad-cam V8 powered super saloon, built by Porsche between 1991 and 1995. Shared a base 5.0L engine with the 500SL and driven through a 4-speed automatic, it could hit 100km/h from a standstill in just 6.1 seconds and onto a top speed of 260km/h. The revised engine tuned by Porsche was the same to find its way into the breathtaking Sauber C9, albeit missing the twin-turbochargers.
Groundbreaking modern design met the 500 badge on the flagship Mercedes-Benz variant of the new CLS in 2004, with a bulletproof and established 225kW (302hp) 5.0L V8 engine. This generation of Mercedes also brought along many models in 500 trim, however it’s the CLS that truly stuck out – as it was the revolutionary Mercedes that finally brought the brand into 21st century design.
The W212/C207 E500 was introduced in 2009, early examples utilising a 5.5L V8 and later models with a 4.7L twin-turbocharged V8. This started the transition to modern badge trickery – after 80 years the 500 badge had finally lost its 5.0L displacement (Note: The E500 was known as the E550 in the American market).
As the models progressed, 2013 came the introduction of the final platform which would retain the 500 badge as an eight-cylinder engine. The W222 S-Class was a technological masterpiece, and its 4.7L twin-turbo V8 would be the last V8 engine to exhibit the number 500.
This brings us to 2020. With the release of the W223 a few hours prior to writing, Mercedes has let their marketing gimmickry take them over, finally ditching the eight-cylinder ‘500’ for a straight-six hybrid. No more V8’s under the 500 badge.
Okay, so the new S580 will still have a V8 engine, but that’s not the point. The point is the heritage thrown away for Mercedes to put a 500 badge on a car that realistically should be called an S450.
From 1931 to present, the the 500 badge had been reserved for a car powered by an eight-cylinder engine – and we’re well aware of downsizing due to emissions and fuel economy etc, however this new S-Class has taken a step too far. There’s nothing wrong with the car. It’s just one of Mercedes-Benz’s iconic historical numbers that has been thrown in the bin.
Switching the new S500 to straight-6 power means it also loses 15kW (20hp) of power when compared to the older 2013 model, and even with hybrid assistance and a 4MATIC system, it’s slower than the previous S500.
We know that the S-Class had never been made for performance, however this means that if two cars with the same ‘S500’ badge that were ten years apart in age lined up on a drag strip, the older one would theoretically be faster. Now, that’s embarrassing.
In the past, Mercedes’ 500 had always rivalled BMW’s 48i/50i. The new BMW 750i is rated at 390kW (523hp), while the new S500 has just 320kW (429hp). The 750i will manage a 0-100km/h sprint one whole second quicker than the S500.
Sure, other manufacturers are downsizing – but that’s not the issue here. Audi doesn’t have the same history and heritage to uphold with a badge that represents eight-cylinder power, and neither does BMW.
Throwing heritage and history out the window – say goodbye to V8 power in 500 badged cars.
The new S500 isn’t a 500. It’s a 450, and it urinates all over the heritage of 500.