FIRST CHOICE SALOON - Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Independent Car Review - overall score 80/100
Here is the luxury saloon by which all others are measured. This improved sixth generation Mercedes S-Class is now even cleverer to use, but its real strengths remain in comfort and refinement. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Mercedes-Benz reckons that its S-Class saloon is very possibly the best car in the world and this revised version of the W222 model backs that claim up with some hugely impressive technology. It's enough to keep this car very competitive indeed against aspiring rivals.
The S or 'Sonderklasse' has served as the flagship Mercedes saloon for over fifty years in various guises and the improved 'W222' model we're looking at here is the sixth generation since Mercedes started officially using the S-Class tag back in 1972. This car though, has a tougher brief than any of its predecessors. At its entry point, it must satisfy successful mid-level Managers, while at the other end of the line-up, the same car with greater power and opulence must also be good enough to meet the exalted expectations of potential Rolls Royce and Bentley buyers, with Maybach-badged versions of this model.
To achieve that, this car will have to be even more ground-breaking than its predecessors - but then the S-Class always has been. This, after all, was the luxury saloon that in 1978 pioneered anti-lock brakes, in 1981 introduced airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and traction control and by 1992 was the first car to be built entirely free from harmful CFCs. This time round, even more ingenuity will be required in the face of new generation rivals from Audi and BMW.
This improved S-Class features more than 6000 fresh components, standardisation of '4MATIC' 4WD and three new engines. The key news is that the 3.0-litre V6 diesel that's been used in volume versions of the S-class since 2005 has at last been replaced. Instead, customers are being offered a completely new 2.9-litre in-line six cylinder diesel motor developing 286bhp in the base S350d 4MATIC or 340bhp in the S400d 4MATIC. This powerplant uses variable valve lift control for the first time and is mated to a new, even smoother 9-speed 9G-TRONIC auto gearbox. In the S400d, 62mph from rest takes just 5.2s en route to an artificially-limited maximum of 155mph and on the move, the electronically controlled air-sprung suspension delivers ride quality that rivals can't quite match. Its incorporated MAGIC BODY CONTROL' set-up now incorporates a further curve-tilting function that tilts the body by up to 2.65-degrees through the bends so that passengers will hardly notice it as you go through tighter turns.
Other engines on offer in the line-up include a new six-cylinder petrol unit that's used as part of the brand's hybrid offering, where it's mated to an electric motor and a 48-volt electrical system. There's also a new 469bhp petrol biturbo V8 that's used in both standard and 'Maybach'-badged versions of the S560 4MATIC derivative. The top Mercedes-AMG S 63 4MATIC+ variant gets an AMG-developed 4.0-litre biturbo petrol powerplant with 612bhp to replace the previous 5.5-litre V8.
Design and Build
We may be talking about a facelift here, but it's the most extensive model rejuvenation of any that Mercedes has undertaken in its entire history. You wouldn't really know that from a glance at the exterior of this car. Its dimensions are unchanged, so it remains 5,125mm long in its standard form, or 5,255mm in length in its long wheelbase guise. Changes are limited to details things: the prominent chromed front grille has been updated, as have the bumpers and the graphics of the LED headlamps and tail lights.
Inside, the cabin materials are of an even higher grade than before, but otherwise, the spacious interior will be familiar to previous buyers of this sixth generation design. That means the front of the cabin continues to be dominated by two 12.3-inch screens and uses touch-sensitive steering wheel controls. New is an 'Energizing Comfort Control' package that links together various comfort systems in the vehicle: you choose a mode ('freshness', 'warmth', 'vitality', 'joy', 'comfort') and the set-up uses a range of various elements - interior climate, music, massaging seat settings, cabin fragrance and so on - to deliver a co-ordinated 10 minute programme aimed at re-vitalising you. On a more practical note, there's a 510-litre boot.
Market and Model
As before, most S-Class models will continue to be sold in the £75,000 to £90,000 bracket, but it's perfectly possible to pay up to and over £200,000, if you choose a well-specified Mercedes-AMG S 65 or Mercedes-Maybach variant.
A key draw this time round will be the improved 'Intelligent Drive' driving assistance technology on offer which takes another step towards fully autonomous driving. DISTRONIC Active Proximity Control and Active Steer Assist now provide even more comfortable support for the driver to keep a safe distance and steer. The speed is now adjusted automatically ahead of curves or junctions. This is complemented by a considerably improved Active Lane Change Assist and additional functions of the Active Emergency Stop Assist.
What else? Well, a 'Remote Parking Assist' feature enables the car to be parked remotely using a smartphone app. The Burmester High-End 3D Surround Sound system now has even more speakers and an output of 1,520 watts. And a new Concierge Service can help the S-Class driver with everything from making restaurant reservations and obtaining tips about tourist routes, to gathering information on cultural or sporting events, before sending navigation destinations directly to the vehicle.
Cost of Ownership
Fuel consumption is pretty much the same as it was in the pre-facelifted model - which is impressive, given that all variants now feature 4MATIC 4WD. Choose an S350d variant - as we suspect most British S-Class customers will - and you'll get 51.4 miles from a gallon of diesel and 145g/km. For the S400d, you're looking at 50.4mpg and 147g/km. Of course, if you choose conventional petrol power, your running costs will rise substantially. The S560 manages 33.2mpg and 195g/km. While the S 63 delivers 31.7mpg and 203g/km. Helping in this regard is Mercedes' almost obsessive quest to reduce consumption and emissions. All of the S-Class body is fabricated from aluminium to cut weight.
It's worth knowing that your maintenance outlay can be kept in check by going for the optional Service Care package that takes care of routine maintenance, spreading the cost of regular servicing, guaranteeing the price of parts and labour for up to four services and covering the cost of all recommended service items such as brake fluid, spark plugs, air filters, fuel filters and screen wash. There's also an ASSYST dashboard service indicator that monitors engine use and tells you exactly when a garage visit is due.
This S-Class spearheads technological development, not only for Mercedes-Benz but for the automotive industry as a whole - and has done for decades. It's that important and is why this is - and will continue to be - the world's best selling luxury car.
In this improved sixth generation form, it can power to supercar speeds in AMG guise, deliver nearly 100mpg in Plug-in Hybrid form and can be specified to eerily steer, power and brake itself at a cruise in whatever form you decide upon. Magic Body Control can even make bumps and potholes disappear, transforming the roadway into a magic carpet. No other car you could choose can do all of this, which is why this S-Class will remain a benchmark for the kind of luxury saloon every prestige brand would like to build and a reference point for the current state of automotive technology. The best car in the world? You'll feel like it is if you buy one.
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