When a new Mercedes S-Class comes out, it has to be nothing less than the best luxury saloon in the world. After all, the people who use the S-Class are some of the most demanding in the world. That is particularly true of this new generation.
At the bottom-end of the range, the new S-Class will continue to to serve as the favoured transport of company execs and posh chauffeuring services. And at the top of the range, it has to replace the defunct Maybach, the ultra-luxurious wheels of choice for plutocrats and rappers.
The styling of the new S-Class is a vast improvement on the rather plain previous car. It’s a curvaceous thing, with sculpted sides and sharp creases. Interestingly, the S-Class was designed and engineered in long-wheelbase form first, then scaled down for the standard-length car; previous generations have been done the other way round. That means the bigger car is stiffer and sharper to drive. And it’s indicative of the fact that some of the biggest markets for the S-Class (China, India) are places where most owners ride rather than drive.
The interior is just gorgeous. The architecture is clean and simple, the dashboard almost elegantly so. There’s a smattering of buttons, but most of the car’s functions are controlled via the 12.3-inch TFT display screen, using either the control wheel or the touchpad, which is easier to operate than you might think. It’s a far cry from not that long ago, when the S-Class’s dashboard was festooned with literally about 100 buttons.
Apart from the remote-operated rear screens, the ergonomics are faultless, and the materials are just beautiful. Are Mercedes interiors bettering Audi now? They might just be…
Below the monsterous AMG’s, there is the usual array of petrol and diesel engines, and a petrol hybrid. All are powerful, buttery smooth and near-silent.
We drove the new S300 BlueTEC Hybrid, which pairs a four-cylinder diesel engine with an electric motor. You can see the benefits in the fuel economy, with a claimed combined average of 61.4mpg and Co2 emissions of 120g/km, the Band C tax liability a huge boost for company car users.
But 228bhp and 369lb/ft of torque in a car that weighs well over two tons just isn’t enough. 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 149mph place it well behind even the S350 diesel. It’s not the most responsive of powertrains either, getting caught out if you suddenly ask it for everything.
Ride & Handling
The ride in the S-Class is incredibly smooth and comfortable. Air suspension and adaptive dampers comes as standard, which almost totally isolate the occupants from the road. Further up the model range, you can have Magic Body Control which uses cameras to scan the road ahead and prime the suspension in advance of hitting any bumps. Only smaller, sharper lumps annoy the standard suspension a little bit.
There is little sense that the S-Class is actually connected to the ground, so you might expect it to be useless is bends. In fact, you can throw it around with abandon, but there’s no particular enjoyment to be had from it.
With such a cossetting ride and sumptuous seats, the S-Class is deeply relaxing. Wind and road noise simply aren’t there, but in the S300 we drove, the engine very definitely is. Merc’s four-cylinder diesel engine is known to be a rather noisy unit by current standards, and the grumbling hasn’t been sufficiently well suppressed. When the rest of it is as silent as a car can be, the chuntering engine detracts too much from the calming ambiance.
Space & Practicality
There is an immense amount of room inside the S-Class, whether in standard or long-wheelbase forms; the bigger version has nearly a metre of rear legroom which feels gloriously decadent. The boot will easily hold a big spree’s worth of shopping bags. Incidentally, the batteries in both hybrid models don’t eat into the bootspace.
The S300 Hybrid only comes in top-spec LWB AMG Line trim. It would easier to list what doesn’t come as standard, but here are some highlights: multi-zone climate control, electric heated leather seats, Comand Online infotainment system, stonking stereo, safety gadgets galore and on, and on, an on.
At the lower end of the range, there’s the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJ and Lexus LS. All have there plus points but none is as complete as the S-Class. At the top-end, the Merc can easily compete with the Bentley Flying Spur and even the Rolls-Royce Ghost.
The Mercedes S-Class has to be nothing less than the best luxury saloon in world. And it is. In any form other than the S300 BlueTEC Hybrid.
Mercedes S300 BlueTEC Hybrid AMG Line LWB
Engine: 2.1-litre 4-cyl turbodiesel & electric motor
Gearbox: 7-spd automatic
Power/Torque: 229bhp; 369lb/ft
Economy/Emissions: 61.4mpg; 120g/km
Top speed: 149mph