What is it?
The new Mercedes S-Class, which is both the company’s flagship saloon and – on past form – set to become the default choice in its segment.
As you’d expect these days, the new S-Class is greener and more efficient than its before, with the range of powerplants set to include no fewer than three different hybrids. However, the vast majority of UK sales will continue to be the entry-level V6 ‘Bluetec’ diesel. A few brave - and deep-pocketed -individuals will still opt for the V8 petrol version though, with the 455bhp S500 set to be the most powerful S ahead of the inevitable AMG versions.
Prices will range from £62,650 for the basic S350 Bluetec SE through to £88,130 for the S500 AMG Line long wheelbase.
Where to start? Mercedes would like us to tell you about the vast number of new systems integrated into the S-Class, which is definitely the brand’s technology flagship – from an adaptive suspension system that can ‘read’ the road through to fripperies like heated door panels.
Yet behind the gadgets, and yes, the gimmicks, the new S-Class is definitely an evolution of what’s gone before rather than a radical departure. It’s a point made equally well by the familiarity of its evolved styling. Yes, the new model gets a part-aluminium body which is both lighter and (Mercedes claims) 50 percent more torsionally rigid. But beneath the surface it’s business as before: both the V6 diesel (anticipated to make up around 80 percent of sales in the UK) and the V8 petrol are carried over, albeit now with more power and lower emissions. The S-Class also sticks with Merc’s familiar seven-speed automatic gearbox, a new nine-speeder will come next year.
Much of the new tech has a clear purpose, especially safety kit including airbags built into seatbelts, and an all-LED lighting system that means the car doesn’t contain a single light-bulb. But other innovations aren’t really much more than gimmicks, especially the active perfume system and its choice of four-different ‘mood-matched fragrances.’
The hybrids will be cleverer, with a petrol S400 hybrid that will be followed by a four-cylinder S300 Bluetec diesel hybrid (with claimed CO2 emissions of just 115 g/km) and then finally a plug-in petrol S500 hybrid.
Uniquely, the S-Class will come with four different wheelbases: standard, long, extra-long and – some time later – a ‘Pullman’ version to act as replacement for the unmourned Maybach saloon.
How does it drive?
You won’t be surprised to hear that the new S-Class has been designed to waft rather than mount an all-out assault on a backroad. And it’s fair to say that, even by the high standards of comfort established by its predecessors, the new S raises the bar by a fair margin. The cabin is incredibly quiet at speed thanks to a full-length acoustic undershield and a supper-slippery 0.22 drag co-efficient. At rapid motorway cruising speeds the cockpit stays whisper quiet – you often find that you hear more noise from other cars than you do from the S-Class itself.
In the Bluetec diesel, set to be almost a default choice in the UK, the snugness of the insulation emphasises the powerplant’s relative lack of sophistication. Under acceleration there’s nothing more than a busy industrial hum, and the engine barely revs past the ‘4’ mark on the tacho (peak power comes at just 3600rpm.) It’s a joy-free engine; one that delivers adequate urge (and impressive fuel economy – we managed 45mpg under gentle use), but never anything more. It’s a shame, the S-Class deserves better.
And, in the twin-turbocharged V8 it gets it. The engine itself is familiar from the previous S-Class, and also the SL, and combines proper punch with lag-free responses and a crisp soundtrack that gets more sonorous when you work it hard. It’s no great revver either – the redline is set at 6200rpm – but it enjoys being worked hard in a way the diesel never does.
Behind the multiple layers of assisting systems, and a very irritating lane departure warning system that can’t be fully switched off, the chassis is actually pretty decent. Finding a slippery road and switching off the ESP proved, in possibly the one and only time this will ever happen, that even the diesel could be persuaded into neat, easily held slides at modest speeds. Relevant? Hardly. But indicative of an underlying level of dynamic competence that some rivals just can’t match. It’s definitely a car that’s happiest when asked to waft, but if you turn up the pace it feels impressively agile considering its size.
How does it compare?
It’s hard not to see the S-Class continuing to dominate its segment, but thanks to the quality of the underlying engineering rather than any great appeal from the battery of new features. It’s more expensive than the equivalent versions of the BMW 7-Series, Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ; but the supplement is relatively modest (about £4000 between the S350 Bluetec and the 730d) and – Mercedes would argue – justified by better standard kit.
Anything else I should know?
We were disappointed by many of the control interfaces, with large numbers of functions now only accessible through the turn, slide and click COMAND controller. Mercedes has even removed the track forward/ back button from the audio system – replacing it with the controls for the switchable dampers. Rear seat passengers have to use a fiddly and slow reacting remote control to manage the optional rear screen functions too – despite the screens themselves looking almost exactly like iPads.
Both S63 and S65 AMG versions will follow, although the ’65 will come to the UK in tiny numbers.
Similarly, overseas buyers will be able to order a V12 S600, but limited British interest means it will be special order only.