For a taste of the evolution of motor cars take a look at how the Mercedes S-class has changed from the first W116 to the W221. We bring to you the essence of the German luxury car through its various iterations.
W 116 (1972-1980)
The first official S-class looked more sporty than luxurious — with its cherry red paint, wide tyres, the beam-straight body and boot, strong shoulder line and rectangular grille and lights. It’s the only one of the series to have chrome bumpers and the thick frames of chrome around the rear windscreen have to be seen to be believed.
Open and close the rear doors, and you’ll hear a mechanical ‘clack clack’ apart from the Mercedes door’s regular ‘thunk’. The door lock works fabulously and even after all these years the spring loading is perfect. But the biggest surprise is the W116 drives like a modern car even though it’s 37 years old! The ride is very pliant but without extra dive; the steering felt direct and though the motor wasn’t too well tuned, it had a lusty tug. The fox- ear headrests and the parallel wiper arrangement are very appealing.
The W116 was one of the first cars with ABS and fuel injection. It even had a hydro-pneumatic suspension, a 6.9-litre V8 and a five-cylinder turbo-diesel version.
W 221 (2005- )
Class, quality and comfort, the new S-class has it all. The styling is fresh even a couple of years after its launch and the car displays an agility that is brilliant. The car simply glides over patches that would make other cars’ suspensions weep. You soon get used to the gear selector stalk, actually pioneered by BMW.
The solidly built chrome bits, the wood and the leather feel special. Little touches like extra padding under the leather of the armrest, the perfect seam of the wood, the chrome and leather on the doors, leave you impressed.
The central screen, however, does look a bit out of place. Merc has opted for the speedometer to look like a screen instead of a dial. Then there is the way the motor sounds, as though located two decks below the cabin. The world fades away when you drive it faster, and, as ever, the ride is effortless.
This is still the best car in the world. It still feels extra special and is engineered to the finest standards.
W 220 (1998-2005)
We test drove the W220 when it first launched in India nine years ago. We were simply blown away with its sophistication, refinement and thoroughbred driving manners. Supremely comfortable, both at the rear and behind the wheel, we thought this car had it all. Even now, things have changed very little. The W220 feels totally modern, providing occupants a level of comfort on its air suspension most cars just can’t muster.
The W220 was smaller and lighter than the W140 but better packaged. Strangely, it’s the styling that seems to have aged the most. The best bit is that there are plenty of S320s and later S350s available in the second-hand market. Prices start at Rs 18 lakh, but don’t forget service and spares.
W 126 (1979-1991)
The grey-coloured W126 matches the car’s character to the last inch. This particular car houses the 5.6 or 560 V8 engine with 272bhp, which makes driving it feel effortless and non-troublesome. What it must have felt like in the early ’80s is anyone’s guess. It had the power to outperform sports cars. Like the W116, you can see the ‘no budget’ approach of many of its parts, especially in its the robust construction.
What’s still amazing is rear seat comfort, the chiropractor-designed stiff but perfectly-shaped back seats and the incredible sense of space. This is still the largest-selling S-class as well as the one that was around the longest — almost 12 years. Now you know why you see a lot of them in India.
W 140 (1991-1998)
Once you sit inside the W140, you immediately feel that Merc went overboard with the build strength of this car.
Massively overengineered, it seems to block out the outside world. It has double-pane glass windows and rides over poor roads like it wants to beat them into submission.
This car in particular has one of the last twin-cam straight six motors to grace the S-class line, and what an engine it is. The variable inlet cam motor pulls from everywhere in the powerband and the tall gearing allows the impressive 3.5 litres motor to wind long and hard.
The 5.1-m long W140 was also feature-rich: Powered door closing, air suspension, traction control, ESP, rain-sensing wipers and six-litre V12, if you wanted one. This car is also infamously remembered as the Merc which Princess Diana was driving in when she got into a car crash and lost her life.