The facelifted 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has a fairly difficult row to hoe despite appearances to the contrary. In the face of stiffer competition than ever before, it needs to maintain its status as the luxury flagship, the technological leader for the brand and a pointer to the future of luxury motoring. At launch in Zurich, we find out the S-Class is just as impressive as ever.
Pricing hasn’t yet been confirmed for the S-Class in Australia, but we know the facelifted S-Class will go on sale in Australia from December with some model grades arriving after the initial launch.
What is the S-Class then? Well, it needs to be as technologically adept as Mercedes-Benz can currently muster. That’s not up for debate. It must also deliver a sense of exclusivity, luxury and ride quality that is unmatched in the saloon world.
Buyers at this end of the spectrum don’t suffer fools easily and they expect a certain level of refinement when they open their wallet for an S-Class. It’s why I write the S-Class has a tough job ahead of it at all times.
Crucial to the S-Class design brief then, is cabin ambience and passenger comfort, and they are factors you notice even if you’re in the driver’s seat. There’s a bespoke air to the S-Class cabin even though it is a bona-fide mass produced vehicle. In fact, that might be its greatest feat – that it can be built to the level it is on the scale that it is.
It doesn’t matter where you look, which surface you inspect, which panel gap you assess, the S-Class cabin exudes quality and exclusivity.
The leather trim is beautifully supple, luxurious down-filled neck pillows enhance the passenger experience in the second row, the stitching is uniform and immaculate, and every detail touch point, whether it’s machined alloy or plastic, is of the highest quality.
The S-Class needs to appeal to the most discerning of buyers and there’s no doubt it will continue to do just that in this facelifted form.
On the subject of facelifts, the new S-Class is obviously very familiar from the old model in driving and appearance terms, if you’ve tested it as extensively as CarAdvice has. The main story is what’s going on under the bonnet, something we’ll get to in a moment. At launch we tested the new inline six-cylinder diesel engine, and both S500 and S560 petrol variants.
There’s so much to take in, and so much technology to test, the S-Class is something we’re going to look forward to digging deeper into when we start getting various model grades into the CarAdvice garage.
There’s the wide, twin-screen display, touch sensitive buttons on the steering wheel, radar cruise control and autonomous driving ability, multi-beam LED headlights, magic body control and road surface scan, a new 48V electrical system, and a wellness function within the infotainment system that makes driving as enjoyable as possible.
Take a seat in the cabin and it’s irrelevant which specific trim or colour option you’re sampling, everything about the S-Class is high end. The driver’s seat is still, in my opinion, the place to be, a fact that seems to be the case with most buyers in Australia, who drive their own S-Class. That's unusual too, because in markets like China, virtually no one drives their S-Class.
It doesn't matter how far back the front seats are, the long wheelbase (on even the short wheelbase model) affords a huge amount of legroom in the second row at all times. It’s luxurious and comfortable, spacious and the perfect mobile office for anyone who does have their own driver. If you’re simply rolling round town with friends in the car, few interiors will garner more appreciation than that of the S-Class.
The second row is where passengers will most want to be with the reclining seats, plenty of space, and massage functions keeping you relaxed at all times. There’s little doubt the S-Class remains the gold standard in passenger comfort and enjoyment.
We tested both Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and Apple CarPlay and all systems worked seamlessly, as you’d expect at this level. The twin 12.3-inch screens are crystal clear in all light, and the head-up display remains the very best in the business.
Quality Burmester audio equipment delivers a stunning sound stage, and the insulated ambience of the interior certainly assists. Thud the door closed and you can imagine yourself in that aforementioned quiet, mobile office running around town from meeting to meeting. Doesn’t hurt to dream, right?
The S350d and S400d variants are powered by the new 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, which is so refined, you’d easily trick passengers into thinking its a petrol engine punting you along.
The 350d makes 210kW at 3400-4600rpm and 600Nm at 1200-3200rpm. The 400d steps that up to 250kW at 3600-4400rpm and 700Nm at 1200-3200rpm. Both use less than 6.0L/100km on the claimed combined cycle and are matched to the 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic.
We found the diesel to be almost completely silent and smooth, with no hint whatsoever that you have an oiler churning away under the bonnet. Specifically, mid-range punch is excellent to the point that, even after getting straight out of an Mercedes-AMG S63 variant, the diesel didn’t feel remotely slow.
It gets cranking rapidly, as you’d expect with the torque on offer early in the rev range, but the mid-range punch keeps it hammering well into three figures if you need to get to that speed.
Next up, we stepped into the S500, again powered by an inline six, this time petrol. This engine is another masterpiece in refinement and engineering, generating 320kW at 5900-6100rpm and 520Nm at 1800-5500rpm.
The output of the ‘e’ engine is rated at 16kW and the fuel claim is just 6.9L/100km. Again backed by the nine-speed, this engine is refined under any load and we loved how effortlessly the coasting function worked, seamlessly dropping in and out when it deemed necessary to conserve fuel.
We tested the revised autonomous driving system in the S500 and found it is indeed a step up from the current E-Class system – as Mercedes-Benz claims – and it works well even on country roads. We ran for close to 20km in autonomous mode, only touching the steering wheel when prompted by the car and even rolled through a roundabout.
It’s still a little surreal watching the wheel move on its own, but it works really safely in the right environment. The stop/start system in the petrol engine is also smooth and the interior is particularly quiet and insulated.
It’s this petrol engine, which features the new 48V system that will allow Mercedes-Benz to move to mild hybrid assistance on effectively its entire range of engines over the next few years. The electrical motor is attached directly to the crankshaft and acts as an alternator and starter motor. It means the engine can fire up from stop in a fraction of a second – but it can also add assistance and harvest electricity via regenerative braking.
There’s a further benefit to the 48V system too. Firstly, power is converted back to 12V to run the car’s systems, but it means the engine can be ‘beltless’ which reduces drag, and means Mercedes-Benz can use high efficiency, electric water pumps, power steering and AC units as well. The 48V system won’t run the car in electric-only mode, but will assist in running other systems.
Lastly, we moved up to the S560, which offers a serious 345kW at 5250-5500rpm and a thumping 700Nm at 2000-4000rpm. The ‘e’ engine is again rated at 16kW output. The four-valves-per-cylinder V8 is a powerhouse and gives its best with smooth power delivery. It's generally very quiet with a slight engine note under load, just as this class and this model demands. Claimed fuel consumption is again comfortably below double digits at 8.2L/100km.
There’s no doubt the Mercedes-Benz S-Class remains an exceptional luxury saloon that stays at the top of the limo pile. It continues to be a pointer to the future for the brand as well, a factor vital in the way the S-Class plies its trade.
In short, it's as good as this segment gets and we need to spend more time in the various grades to truly explore everything the S-Class has to offer.
Click on the Gallery tab for more images of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.