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With fast and luxurious limousines, the best seat often isn’t in the first row.

But Australia is a driver’s country, and even the wealthiest among us have a tendency to want to steer our own wheels, at least some of the time.

And ever since icons of the class Mercedes-Benz and Bentley began producing luxury limos, they have almost always placed some emphasis towards ensuring that driving the car is just as entertaining as being driven in it.

Here we pair a flagship version of the still-fresh and clearly top-selling Mercedes-Benz S-Class range against the relatively recently updated Bentley Flying Spur, both among the pinnacles of luxury motoring in this segment and price bracket.

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While the Mercedes-Benz S-Class range starts from $196,500 plus on-road costs for the S300 Hybrid, the S600L tested here is priced from $417,500. It’s not quite the range-topper, given the forthcoming Mercedes-Maybach version will cost $449,000 and the S65 AMG L further surpasses it, tipping the scales at $490,000.

The Bentley Flying Spur range on the other hand starts from $378,197 for the entry-level V8, with the Flying Spur W12 pitted against the S600L here coming in at $423,160.

These are, of course, base prices without options or on-road costs. Both the S-Class and Flying Spur were optioned, with $16,075 and a staggering $97,699 worth of extras respectively — yikes. For perspective, the new Rolls-Royce Ghost Series II is priced at $545,000 (drive away).

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Exteriors

The new S-Class features a prominent front grille and smooth edges that wrap around the sides of the car to its rear. The rear is tucked in with a stunning array of LED lights that distinguish this car from all others at night. The side profile uses chrome highlights to subtly offset the paint colour and define its door lines.

A trademark Mercedes-Benz hood ornament (collapsible for pedestrian safety) also sits prominently at the front end. This design element alone signifies the vehicle’s illustrious history as a luxury marque. Similar to older S600 models, the newest one also features ‘V12’ lettering on the front wings.

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Aside from a rather plain set of alloy wheels, the S-Class fits the bill in terms of presence and style when cruising on the road. There are a range of 18-, 19- and 20-inch alloy wheels available.

The Flying Spur takes the cake for on-road presence and overt styling details, though. Finished in Damson, a rich coloured metallic paint that sits between black and dark purple, our Flying Spur test car was always the first to turn heads as both vehicles rolled down the street.

The new Flying Spur builds on the elegant styling of the previous Flying Spur. A well-defined chrome grille, LED-spangled headlights and a set of Bentley wings are the first elements to be seen as the car approaches.

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The side profile is equally as impressive. Lashings of chrome adorn the window frames, while imposing 21-inch five-spoke alloy wheels help the Flying Spur feel more like a luxury limousine than the more anonymous S-Class.

At the rear, thinner taillights blend with more chrome and oval exhaust pipes. The only badges that indicate the fury lying beneath the bonnet are on the C-pillar wings, reading ‘W12’.

Interiors

Inside the cabin, there is a stark difference between these two vehicles. The Mercedes-Benz is the space age version of automotive technology and innovation, while the Bentley is a more classical approach.

As you open the S-Class driver’s door, you are greeted with two mammoth 12.3-inch colour screens that sit side-by-side — one in front of the driver, the other screen shared with the passenger in the centre of the dashboard.

A leather lined dash and two-spoke steering wheel gives this interior the type of luxurious feel you are unlikely to find in any other car — dare I say it, even a Rolls-Royce. Among the intoxicating smell of leather, the Mercedes-Benz AIRBALANCE system pumps selected fragrances through the air conditioning system.

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Pictured above: S-Class top. Flying Spur bottom.

Featuring more than 831,000 pixels on each of the two screens, the resolution of 1440 x 540 makes it one of the cleanest and highest-resolution screens on the market. Everything displayed on here from satellite navigation to movies is incredible to look at. The whole infotainment system is also fast and lag-free, which can be an issue with some infotainment systems used by manufacturers.

Dual-view is fitted to the centre screen, which means your front seat passenger can watch a movie or browse audio tracks while the driver sees satellite navigation.

A raft of connectivity options direct audio through the powerful and clear 13-speaker 590W Bermester sound system including two USB ports, an SHDC slot, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a six-disc CD/DVD player and an internal 10GB hard disk. A wireless hotpot can also be created within the cabin to service the needs of passenger’s portable devices.

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Pictured above: S-Class top. Flying Spur bottom.

The front seats are extremely comfortable and come with a plethora of adjustment and massage options. Passengers are even able to adjust the zoning of the heating elements within the seat.

A high level of luxury continues in the second row. The rear seats are fitted with electric adjustment, massaging and heating functions. There is also a rear seat entertainment system that comprises two ten-inch screens and individual wireless headphones. Rear seat passengers can also control the audio and climate within the cabin using a remote controller.

The passenger side rear seat can even be reclined up to an angle of 43.5 degrees with added calf support and an extra support back cushion. This function essentially fully retracts the front passenger seat, allowing the rear seat passenger to stretch out. At around 6 feet tall, I had no issues stretching my legs out with room to spare.

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Pictured above: S-Class top. Flying Spur bottom.

The rear seats are incredibly comfortable. A massage function helps relax passengers even further, while backlit vanity mirrors drop from the ceiling for last minute make up adjustments.

An intoxicating smell of leather hits you like a speed train as you open the Flying Spur’s hefty door and step into the cabin. While it doesn’t have the technical appearance of the S-Class, the Flying Spur oozes style and instantly feels like it has been hand-crafted as opposed to assembled on a production line.

The Flying Spur is hand-built at Bentley’s production facility in Crewe, where it has been producing cars for decades. Everything from the engine assembly to the fine stitching is completed by hand. Owners can go even further and option bespoke Mulliner enhancements that personalise the interior to another level.

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Pictured above: S-Class top. Flying Spur bottom.

Pictured here, the Flying Spur tested had almost $25,000 worth of Mulliner enhancements, including diamond quilting on the seats, embroidered Bentley emblems, a knurled sports gear lever and drilled alloy sports pedals. Mulliner will go to any lengths to ensure your Bentley is as personalised as you like, no matter how strange the request.

Despite this level of bespoke components and materials, the Flying Spur interior feels dated and a generation behind the S-Class. Some switchgear and equipment is borrowed from earlier Volkswagen products, while the infotainment system can be clumsy and lacking in the latest technology — something that Bentley is working on.

To its credit, the infotainment system uses an eight-inch colour touchscreen that stores up to 30GB of data (15GB for music and 15GB for mapping data). The screen can be used to control satellite navigation, audio (including DAB digital radio), Bluetooth audio streaming and some of the car’s settings.

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Pictured above:Flying Spur top. S-Class bottom.

Putting the lack of technology to one side, the cabin is stunning to sit in and almost feels more plush and comfortable than the S-Class. Every surface in the first row is perfectly crafted, is soft to the touch and features enough wood to make an environment protester weak at the knees — don’t worry, all the wood is from sustainable sources.

Fitted with an optional Naim premium sound system (a $15,000 option), the sound clarity and quality is remarkable. A 13 channel amplified produces 1100W of power, which is used in unison with eight enhanced DSP modes to send sound to 11 speakers and two giant boot-mounted subwoofers. The stereo has dynamic equalisation and a theatre surround system that further enhances the audio quality. It’s quite simply one of the best sound systems on the market, let alone one that is fitted to a car.

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Pictured above: S-Class top. Flying Spur bottom.

Like the S-Class, the Flying Spur has heating functions for all seats, along with a massage setting for the outer seats. Also like the S-Class, you are able to adjust the front passenger seat from the second row for extra leg room — although it won’t fold away or extend out like the S-Class does, which is disappointing.

The second row is supremely comfortable, made even more so with the optional (a whopping $14,636 privilege) rear seat entertainment system. Comprising two ten-inch LCD screens and wireless headsets, the system is controlled by a very cool touchscreen remote controller that allows rear seat passengers to check vehicle speed, adjust climate settings, change the vehicle’s music and control their two multimedia screens.

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Pictured above: S-Class top. Flying Spur bottom.

Getting in and out was easy in both vehicles with side swinging doors and easily accessible seats. Both cars also had retractable blinds on the sides and rear to keep preying eyes away.

Performance and Economy

Both the S-Class and Flying Spur are powered by 12 cylinder engines, but are configured differently in terms of cylinder layout and drivetrain.

The S-Class features a 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine in a V formation, which is mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission and sends torque through the rear wheels. The S-Class produces 390kW of power and 830Nm of torque and uses a claimed combined 11.3L/100km.

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Pictured above: S-Class top. Flying Spur bottom.

The Flying Spur on the other hand uses a 6.0-litre twin-turbocharged 12-cylinder engine in a W formation that is matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, but sends torque through all four wheels. This big engine produces 460kW of power and 800Nm of torque and uses a combined 14.7L/100km.

Behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz, it’s hard not to feel intimidated by the car’s size. The bonnet is long and the rear end feels a million miles away. Visibility out the front, sides and rear is excellent though, as is the around-view camera system that uses wide-angle cameras on the front, wing mirrors and rear to construct a bird’s-eye view of the car.

A combination of electrically assisted steering and Mercedes-Benz’s trademark Magic Body Control help the S-Class glide over even the worst of road surfaces. The technology uses adaptive dampers and a stereo camera to scan upcoming road imperfections. As an imperfection approaches the car, the suspension is able to vary accordingly to smooth out the ride.

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One of the elements that absolutely baffled us was the way the S-Class could essentially erase speed humps. As the car crosses the speed hump, there’s scarcely even a vibration or sense within the cabin that the speed hump ever existed. The technology impressed us so much that we tried to show passengers on several laps of our test circuit, though we found the system would occasionally not work as it should.

Sometimes the suspension system would erase speed humps, while other times it would crash over the speed hump. This inconsistency suggested the system could use further fine-tuning.

Steering and brake pedal feel is excellent, responding well to open roads and tighter corners. Drivers can choose between three drive modes that alter the vehicle’s feel on the road. Comfort, Sport and Manual can be switched at the push of a button and individually alter the vehicle’s gearbox characteristics.

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Suspension firmness can also be switched between Comfort and Sport, both offering an individual tune and ride feel.

Responsiveness from the 12-cylinder engine is astonishing. There is next to no turbocharger lag and when the 2.23-tonne behemoth gets moving, there is no relent as it swaps cogs and continues charging forward. While it’s hard to appreciate on Australian roads, it would be right at home on a German Autobahn — or perhaps the middle of Australia.

The engine note is somewhat dull, but it doesn’t need to be anything else — the S63 or S65 AMG models are there for that purpose.

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The seven-speed automatic gearbox does an impressive job of swapping cogs. It takes a keen eye and supreme concentration to notice the smooth gear changes, while manual shifting can be performed on the fly using the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

It’s a sizeable 5246mm in length, but the S600 L handles sweeping bends and changes in direction surprisingly well. The active suspension manages to hold the body quite flat through corners and supplies enough feedback through the chassis to remain in control of the vehicle.

The equally portly Bentley Flying Spur tips the scales at 2.415-tonnes and is 49mm longer than the Mercedes-Benz S600 L at 5295mm. The Flying Spur also feels big on the road, with a slightly higher seating position from behind the wheel.

There is an immediately raspy purr from the big 12-cylinder Flying Spur as it sits idle, waiting for a call to action. Like the S-Class, the Flying Spur moves with immediacy and uncanny speed.

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Both vehicles have a 0-100km/h time of just 4.6-seconds, but it’s the Flying Spur that feels the most attentive off the line, thanks in part to its all-wheel-drive drivetrain.

Steering feel in the Flying Spur is the most natural of the two due to its lack of electric assistance. The hydraulically assisted steering rack is direct, linear and communicative. It doesn’t detract from its low-speed manoeuvrability, nor does it make the car feel lofty at speed.

While steering feel is sublime, brake pedal feel isn’t amazing. It feels firm and lacks the pedal feedback of the S-Class. In saying that, when you stomp on the anchors the Flying Spur pulls up in impressive fashion.

Despite missing out on space-age stereo cameras and whiz-bang suspension technology, the Flying Spur rides and feels just as impressive as the S-Class. Sitting on air suspension with active dampers, the Flying Spur glides over imperfections, including some of the worst roads we could find to throw at it.

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Pictured above: S-Class top. Flying Spur bottom.

A section of the infotainment system is dedicated to adjustment of the suspension settings. A graphic of the Flying Spur appears on screen and allows the driver to slide between comfort and sport with two settings in between.

Just like the S-Class, the Flying Spur is phenomenally quick for a luxury limousine. The eight-speed automatic isn’t as smooth as the gearbox in the S-Class, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the driving experience. Manual gear shifts can also be performed by static paddle shifters, which are cumbersome to grab at times.

The added confidence of all-wheel drive helps the Flying Spur hunker down through corners and get power to the ground. If anything, this feels more like its nimble Continental GT sibling than a big four-door sedan.

Both vehicles respectively excel in terms of comfort and dynamic performance, but it’s evident that the S-Class errs more towards comfort, while the Flying Spur takes the win for its ability to fly through corners.

Verdict

While the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Bentley Flying Spur are technically competing in this segment, these two offerings also go about their business very differently. The S-Class focuses on technology and gadgets, whereas the Flying Spur errs on the side of classic and contemporary styling and luxury. Both cars are compelling purchase options, but are unlikely to target the same demographic.

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In the end, the S-Class wins hands down when comparing technology and features — it’s technically the better car in that sense. The more expensive to option Flying Spur on the other hand is a car tailored for traditionalists and drivers that want to make a big impact upon arrival — one thing the S-Class struggles to match.

With that in mind, buyers potentially won’t need a review to tell them which of these two cars to buy. One will jump out instantly and won’t require any further thought or rationale, until it comes to choosing colours or options.

Thanks to Marybrooke Estate for allowing us to shoot this comparison on the grounds. Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.



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