The new Mercedes S-class is out to regain ‘world’s best car’ status from luxury contenders like the new Range Rover and Rolls-Royce Phantom, armed with a suite of safety, efficiency and comfort features – not to mention the ability to drive itself. Is it a gimmicky tech overload, or the finest car in the history of the marque that gave the world the automobile? Read on for the definitive review.
Which Mercedes S-class will most UK buyers be going for?
We Brits like our luxury saloon diesel powered – while 49% of new UK cars are now diesels, 90% of Blighty-bound S-classes will sip at the black pump. And sip is the appropriate word: the S350 V6 BlueTec is good for up to 51mpg and coughs out 146g/km of CO2 – figures to shame a V6 diesel C-class, as it happens.
But it’s still powerful enough to shift an S-class, right?
Power isn’t in short supply: the S350 develops 254bhp and 457lb ft, enough for a hot hatch-baiting 6.8sec sprint to 62mph. If you’re one of the 10% of buyers who fancy a petrol S-class, there’s a fleet of engine options: S400 (V6 plus hybrid motor) and the V8 S500. Topping the range is the twin-turbo S63 AMG: click here to read CAR’s high-speed shotgun ride in the AMG S-class.
All S-classes use the same 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic gearbox, with optional steering wheel-mounted paddleshifters. It’s a fittingly smooth transmission, but don’t forget that in 2014 Mercedes will introduce a nine (yes, nine)-speed gearbox to its range, which the S-class will benefit from, in acceleration times and overall efficiency.
How does this enormous barge handle?
Granted, most S-class buyers will hardly be making a beeline for the driver’s chair, but assume the position behind the odd two-spoke steering wheel and twin LCD display screens up front and the S-class is an impressive drive.
Naturally, it’s all thanks to a fleet of adaptive chassis systems. The factory-fit ‘Airmatic’ suspension feels slightly stiffer than the outgoing car’s set-up, but retains sublime body control and prohibits excessive body roll in fast direction changes. Active Body Control also turns the most ham-fisted chauffer into a bona fide Jason Statham Transporter type, allowing the S-class to flow down twisty roads carrying speed and composure that shouldn’t be possible in a five-metre-long hotel room on wheels. Plus, the electric power steering system has an improved sense of weighting versus the outgoing model, even if real ‘feel’ is predictably absent.
If steering feel is of no interest to you, you can always let the S-class take over entirely. Its latest generation of radar-guided cruise control can not only follow vehicles ahead, but execute overtakes and lane changes if required. Steering wheel pressure and drowsiness sensors make sure the driver is still paying attention, but essentially the S-class will make your chauffeur redundant as soon as you’re on the motorway. Dr Thomas Weber, chief of Mercedes R&D, personally confirmed to CAR that a fully autonomous S-class will go on sale during the current car’s life-span s-s long as lawmakers can agree on the legal implications of ‘driverless’ cars taking the streets as early as 2017.
What about the magic carpet-o-matic ride quality?
In CAR’s spy shots coverage of the new S-class, the ‘Magic Ride Control’ gadget generated much debate among commenters. Well, it’s no gimmick. The adaptive ride set-up (sadly only available as a cost option on the S500 long-wheelbase) – which monitors the road ahead for bumps and adjusts the damping rates instantly – really works, smoothing out imperfections flawlessly. Here’s one feature we can’t wait to see filter down to ‘regular cars’ over the coming decade –albeit with a less embarrassing title, hopefully.
How’s life in the rear seats?
Choose from a sociable three-person bench set-up, or a far more opulent twin-reclining armchair option, which can extend into an almost horizontal bed (completely electrically) for the full first class experience. The usual dizzying array of climate control and massage functions are on offer, including a sumptuous seat-heating party piece that gives the feel of a hot stone massage. Should take the edge off an arduous M25 commute, that, especially when combined with the warmed and cooled cupholders. And the heated armrests…
Leg-, head- and shoulder-room is all improved over the outgoing S-class, and it’s even quieter on the mood too. At launch there are standard and long-wheel base configurations to choose from: click here for CAR’s full round-up of the future S-class range, including a Maybach-replacing super-limo.
Attention to detail is mostly stunning. The cabin is of supreme quality, with negligible plastic fixtures and fittings evident. Sound quality from the standard-fit Burmester sound system is great too – though for true audiophiles there’s an upgraded £6430 ‘3D sound’ version with 24 speakers crammed into the cabin. There are countless little innovations for this S-class: all-LED lighting rather than light bulbs, auto-dimming taillights to save energy, anti-whiplash crash technology and even a ‘perfume atomiser’ to pipe pleasant fragrances into the cabin. Of course, with prices ranging from £62,650 to over £100,000, the S-class should be something very special, but what’s impressive is how the individually brilliant systems integrate into a relaxing, stress-free driving (or riding) experience.
The new S-class improves in all the key areas a limo needs excel: passenger comfort and safety, while also retaining a hint of driver-amusement, even if in the latter category a Jaguar XJ is still the car to beat. Mind you, in a few years the post of S-class driver could be redundant altogether.
Read the full review for Mercedes-Benz S-Class on Parkers here >>