The S-class is Mercedes-Benz’s flagship. A great battleship of a limo that sits at the top of its range - it promises lavish comfort, the highest levels of safety, incredible refinement and a combination of first-rate build quality and truly astounding luxury features. And because many are owner-driven in other markets, it drives and steers beautifully too.
The big question however is, just how much has Mercedes taken the game ahead over the already very capable outgoing car? Mercedes also has a new mission plan for the new S-class. Not only does this new car have to take on competition from the likes of the BMW 7-series, the Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ, an extra long wheelbase version will take on Bentley and Rolls Royce too. To get it up to this new level, Merc has allegedly stuffed it to the brim with tech that would have gone onto the still-born new Maybach
As a result the biggest change is on the inside, which is good, because if there was one area that the earlier car was weak it was the cabin. Comfort levels were already brilliant on the outgoing car and so were build quality and materials used; brilliant not a word used loosely here. But this car takes things to the next level. The insides are a fantastic blend of traditional leather and wood craftsmanship and the latest digital tech. Think of it as a sort of a perfect no compromise harmony between something like a Bentley and an Audi. Also present is an elegant simplicity to the dashboard, which neatly wraps around into the doors, with plenty of chromed vents and massive screens on the instrument panel that can be configured to display just about anything.
The thrones in the front are simply massive and legroom at the rear is surplus as well. There’s actually 14mm more shoulder room than its predecessor up front, and the rear has 14mm of extra space for your knees as well. The rear-seat configurations include a ‘First Class’ set-up where the seat can be seriously reclined and you also get a pillow-like padded headrest, ‘lazy boy’-like pop out support for your thighs and airliner-like full-sized fold-out tables. There’s a hot stone massage function, an active perfuming system and a Burmester audiophile grade audio. New safety features include a rear belt bag, which incorporates an airbag within the seat belt strap, night vision and radar cruise control with an automatic braking function as options. Connectivity has also been upped with a WLAN Hot Spot unit that now forms part of the multimedia system.
Under the hood of the S500 there’s a new refined 448bhp turbocharged V8 with a velvety shift quality. When you are cruising, the gearbox upshifts quickly and revs drop down below 2000rpm for truly tranquil fast-lane progress. It is also capable of incredible bursts of acceleration with 0-100kph coming up in 4.8 seconds, very quick for a car of this size. The long gearing and fantastic stability also allow it to cross massive distances effortlessly, all the while pampering its occupants with low levels of noise and fantastic ride comfort. The S Class uses a new system known as Magic Body Control that features twin-cameras that look at the road ahead and adjust the suspension before the car actually gets to the bump. The new S also gets an active suspension system known as Active Body Control (ABC) that keeps body roll in check with the help of sensors mounted in the wheel arches.
Ride quality is also helped by the greater rigidity of the chassis. The new body shell of the S-class now features an outer skin made from aluminium and the internal structure uses aluminium in combination with hot-formed high-strength steel. Offsetting the slight increase in weight is a dramatic increase in rigidity, which goes a long way to smoothen out the ride.
Also, class-leading are the aerodynamics of the car. A drag coefficient of just 0.24 is impressive for a car of this size, with the S300 BlueTec Hybrid dropping down to an even more efficient 0.23 thanks to adjustable louvres in the cooling system, extensive underbody panelling and detailed work to the wheel houses.
Initially it doesn’t that impressive from behind the wheel. There is a bit of vagueness at low and medium speeds from the steering and it does have a tendency to wander over heavily cambered roads. But up the pace and the car tightens up impressively, the Active Body Control keeping the car level as you scythe through corners with the confidence of a GT.
We also drove the new 350 diesel. This car gets the same V6 engine as in its predecessor with slightly more power and torque. Acceleration, as expected, is brisk, and there's plenty of torque for that initial punch. It feels super smooth on the inside and, for the most part, feels inaudible too. You only get a bit of gruffness when you pull the engine hard, which is a bit of a shame on a car like this.
While not as visually arresting, the new S-class blends elegance with a sharp, new edge to its design. The body of the car is more sculpted, visually more compact and less stretched out. The grille is more prominent and larger and the headlights are more angular. The dimensions of the car however are quite similar to the car it replaces. The best bit is that Mercedes has managed to maintain a consistency in the styling all the way from the A-class to the S-class.
The new S-class is big step forward for Mercedes. Much more limo than large saloon, it features a vastly superior cabin, an up-to-the-minute electronics suite and levels of comfort currently only seen on competitors from Rolls Royce and Bentley. No the diesel engine doesn’t feel like a massive step forward and the now ageing seven speed gearbox could have been improved further too. But apart from that, even at an expected price of Rs. 1.05 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi) for the S350 Diesel and Rs. 1.20 Crore for the S500 petrol, this is probably the best car in the world.