Road test: Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a window to the future
SCOFF at the price-tag if you must, but this $200,000-plus saloon has workmanlike qualities.
For this is the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It sits at the pinnacle of the brand and represents everything that has made the three-pointed star revered around the world.
It's a trailblazer.
Take a look at your own car…chances are it has the essence of S-Class. This salubrious sedan is often the forbearer of what's to come - not just for Mercedes but also other marques around the world.
Here's a prestigious list. Those seatbelt pretensions which hold you in a place during an accident were first seen on an S-Class. The same with anti-lock brakes. Radar cruise control, front and rear crumple zones, airbags…yep, you guessed it - it all began in the S-Class.
Mercedes doesn't roll a new S-Class off the line every couple of years. It's nearly a decade between models and each is a milestone in automotive engineering.
This latest model is no different. Innovation and technological wizardry lives up to the name "sonderklasse" from which S-Class is derived - meaning special class. It almost needs Bruce McAvaney to do it justice.
Five models have been released with a choice of three engines, while another two powerplants - including a hybrid - will arrive early next year.
From any vantage point the S-Class is a sumptuous ride.
There is no noise from the drivetrain, just some tyre rumble as it cossets the occupants over the bumps and lumps. It's all aided by electronically adjustable engine mounts, reduced body openings and a multitude of incremental improvements which add up to a whole lot of nothing in the noise department.
We sampled a variety of specifications, some complete with goose down headrests. Then there's the comfort seat option, which adopts the hot-stone massage principle.
Available front and back, the pews can be armed with 14 separately actuated air cushions in the backrest, as well as an integrated warming function. Choose from six massage programs, and two of them use the warming functions.
Those pews even have a special fan which operates in both directions, with an ability to suck in the air and expel it to heat and cool the seats faster.
Two large digital colour screens feature on the dash, one for the driver while the other features the sat nav, radio and all the other vital information.
As expected of this ilk, it's lavishly appointed. Circular themes have been adopted and the design line swoops around the dash to deliver a feeling of enveloped opulence.
Additional space front and back means greater head, leg and knee room no matter which corner you sit.
There are no conventional light bulbs in the S-Class.
About 500 LEDs do the job, including about 300 inside the cabin. You can even choose between seven internal hues depending on what takes your fancy.
Why LEDs? They last longer and are more efficient…resulting in fuel consumption gains of 0.05 litres per 100km. Hey, it all adds up.
Even the air-conditioning smell can be altered depending on your flight of fancy. Get the "Air-Balance" package and you can change the fragrance via a spot in the glovebox to individualise the scent.
The air conditioning system can even uses solar sensors, combined with GPS data to analyse the sun's elevation and position, to help regulate the various cabin zones.
On the road
For a car of this size and bulk, the S-Class feels remarkably light and nimble. It has an ability to shrink around the driver.
An option for the eight cylinder models, and standard on AMGs, is Magic Body Control. This uses radar sensors to analyse the road and prepare the suspension for any undulations or challenges ahead.
Previous systems have been reactive, but this proactive. And true to its name lives up to the moniker with a magic carpet-like ride.
Although despite pampering you over the bumps the S-Class manages to tackle a bend with confidence and also managed get along nicely with some ultra-sharp 0-100kmh sprint times.
This S-Class is lighter too, with about 50% aluminium parts yet torsional rigidity has improved. Copper wiring has been replaced with aluminium wiring. That combined wiring length has also been reduced, down to a combined total of about 5km.
What do you get?
Everything you'd expect comes standard, like automatic parking, radar cruise control, 18-inch alloys, keyless entry, heated and ventilated front pews, eight airbags along with a suite of cool safety features.
Then there is the 3D sat nav and stereo system with monster 31.2cm screen. It can play just about any file imaginable and has a 10GB hard drive…it can also hook up to your smartphone for internet access, as well as become a wi-fi hot spot for others in the car.
Yet get into the options list and there is some uber smart stuff. Things like business-class individual rear seats, massaging chairs, airbags in the rear seat belts, Burmester sound system, a split view screen so the passenger can watch movies or TV while driving and different grades of leather.
With the three-pointed star proudly adorning the hood and a 1m-wide grille, there is little doubting what is coming your direction. Paying homage to its heritage you can't even option an avantgarde trim where the star is embedded in the grille.
It actually looks more natural in long wheelbase form - Benz originally designed it in the bigger format and shortened it for the standard wheelbase models.
In profile the wedge-shape is gone, replaced by a convex-concave effect of the entire flank. The beltline runs from the front to the rear wheel arch and manages to somehow make a large car appear taut.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
What we liked: Astounding attention to detail, silky smooth ride front and back, three-pointed star bonnet ornament.
What we'd like to see: Fewer options, lower price - but you get what you pay for.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is every 25,000km or 12 months (every 20,000km for AMG varaints).
Model: Mercedes-Benz S-Class (222 model series).
Details: Five-door rear-wheel drive upper-large luxury saloon with long wheelbase option.
Engines: 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel generating maximum power of 190kW @ 3600rpm and peak torque of 620Nm @ 1600-2400rpm; 4.7-litre V8 petrol 335kW @ 5250rpm and 700Nm @ 1800-3500rpm; 5.5-litre bi-turbo V8 430kW and 900Nm.
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic.
Consumption: S350 - 6.0 litres/100km (combined average); S500 - 9.2L/100km; S63 - 10.2L/100km.
CO2: 159g/km; 215g/km; 239g/km.
Bottom line: S350 $215,000, S350 long wheelbase $222,500; S500 $285,000; S500 L $310,000; S63 AMG $385,000.