Mercedes-Benz is offering all-wheel drive as a free option on the two most popular models of the 2005 S class.
The option is designed to boost sales before a redesigned model arrives in early 2006.
The S class was introduced in 1999 as a 2000 model. The Audi A8 quattro and Volkswagen Phaeton are the only large luxury cars sold in the United States to offer awd.
Awd costs $2,900 on the S class. Rather than make awd a standard feature, Mercedes is letting buyers decide if they want it.
"There are certain places, like California or Texas, where you do not get snow or rain, and people do not see the value of all-wheel drive," says a Mercedes-Benz USA spokesman.
Free awd will be available on both V-8 models, the 4.3-liter S430 and the 5.0-liter S500. Mercedes increased the base price of the 2005 S430 by $1,050 to $76,020 including destination and the 2005 S500 by $1,200 to $84,620.
Awd has never been available on the high-performance S600 or the S55 AMG.
About 30 percent of the 2004 model-year buyers purchased the awd 4Matic S class, Mercedes-Benz says. The automaker designs and manufactures 4Matic.
BMW does not offer awd on the 7 series. Tom Purves, CEO of BMW of North America LLC, says BMW is unlikely to offer the feature on the current-generation car.
Mike Chung, a pricing and marketing analyst for Edmunds.com, an auto consumer Web site, says Mercedes is jumping into a market that Audi pioneered.
He says Mercedes also is using a strategy that the "Japanese are famous for." They add features at the end of a vehicle's life "to boost resale values and to add some luster to an aging model lineup."