Is this the best car in the world?
The launch of a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class is an event that happens every seven or eight years, and is met with great expectation and seen by many as an insight to the future of the automotive world.
In Australia, particularly, the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class is perhaps less relevant today than it has ever been. The markets shift towards smaller cars, SUVs and a general trend away from traditional sedans sees the S-Class facing the fight of its life to remain important.
To make things worse, Mercedes-Benz has faced stiff competition from its rival Porsche with the Panamera outselling the (previous-generation) S-Class so far this year. This is a clear sign of the times, as previously Porsche buyers had no choice but to pick an S-Class or its equivalent from another German player, but can now stay in the brand.
Thankfully then, the new car is brilliant. Arguably, it is the best car in the world. It’s the ultimate expression of understated luxury and its gorgeous, if conservative, styling ridicules the bloated yet inefficiently packaged Panamera.
Mercedes-Benz says it can no longer wait to debut its newest technology just in the S-Class, as the market focus towards smaller cars means it can either play the game or fall behind. To that end, the recently updated E-Class saw the introduction of numerous safety and in-car technology features that we had anticipated as S-Class debuts. (You can read all about the latest safety and technology available on the new S-class in our Mercedes-Benz S-Class Technology article.)
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class range starts from $215,000 for the S350 BlueTec diesel and finishes at an impressive $385,000 for the S63 AMG. In between there is an S500 and short and long wheel base versions of the two entry models. Eventually there will also be an S300 hybrid and S400 to fill all the possible gaps.
Mercedes-Benz Australia will not bring the V12 S65 variant in sedan form, but says it will bring the S65 coupe when it becomes available.
Measuring 5.1m long, 2.1m wide and 1.49m high, the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class is, expectedly, not a small. Yet, its size is almost irrelevant to how it feels and drives.
Behind the wheel the German-made sedan feels like its smaller brother, the E-Class, but it is even more refined. In corners it’s surprisingly quick and sits flat without breaking a sweat or discomforting its passengers.
The S350’s 190kW of power and 620Nm of torque is plenty to get it up to speed, going from a standstill to 100km/h in 6.8 seconds. Quicker than most everyday cars on the road, in fact, and we are talking about a 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine carrying 1955kg.
During our drive through country Victoria, the S350 proved more than enough for almost every conceivable need. The diesel refinement is a cut-above the E-Class with a quiet cabin and near-instantaneous power delivery.
The S-Class has always been tuned towards comfort rather than sport and the new model is no different. Only over really poor quality roads can bumps be found through the cabin. Unless of course, it’s equipped with one of the latest features of the S-Class: Magic body control.
The system uses two cameras to scan the road’s surface and adjust the suspension before any oncoming undulations. Essentially this is a preemptive suspension adjustment setup, the first of its kind in the world. It’s only standard on the S63 AMG, but is available as an option on the S500 for $9675. As our overseas drive first revealed, it really delivers a magic carpet ride.
While the S350 diesel may tick all the right boxes, the S-Class has never entirely been about economy and Mercedes-Benz Australia is still unsure if the S350 diesel will outsell the S500.
Before the turbocharged six-cylinder petrol S400 arrives, the S500 is the ‘affordable’ petrol variant below the S63 AMG, priced at $285,000 ($310,000 for LWB variant).
Powered by a 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8, the S500’s 335kW and 700Nm will get it up to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds, with a fuel economy of 9.2L/100km.
On the road its acceleration credentials are hard to measure by the ‘seat of your pants’ feel, given just how quiet and refined it is. In many ways, it tries to hide its V8 origins and blend in, which makes the S350 diesel even more attractive.
Both models are equipped with a seven-speed transmission, which is so smooth changes are barely noticeable.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class cabin, meanwhile, is arguably the best in the luxury car segment and holds its own against the ultra-premium brands such as Bentley, Porsche and Maserati.
From the front to the rear, Mercedes-Benz’s attention to detail is paramount. The interior lighting (more than 300 LEDs) can switch between seven colours while the twin 12.3-inch high-resolution and dual-view screen (infotainment only) setup lifts the cabin ambience a level above its Audi and BMW equivalent.
The rear seats are perhaps the best place to be in an S-Class, so it’s no wonder the car’s Burmester audio system can direct its 3D sound to any corner of the car as part of its VIP 3D sound system. Further to that, the ‘goose down’ filled rear seat cushions are unbeatable for comfort and you can fall asleep in the back without a moment’s hesitation.
In our overseas first drive, we said that if Mercedes-Benz makes the full suite of Intelligent Drive safety features standard on S-Class – where they are optional overseas – then it is assured of a five-star rating.
And so it is, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the best luxury car in the world.