S and polish Car Reviews by Car Enthusiast

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MERCEDES-BENZ S-Class Saloon

| First Drive | Stuttgart, Germany | Mercedes-Benz S-Class |

It may not look like it from the outside, but Mercedes has been busy giving its S-Class luxury saloon a mid-life refresh. A bit of spit and polish has been applied to the outside of the big saloon, but most of the effort has been spent on the cabin and mechanical bits. As the S-Class is already the leader in luxury car sales, is this gilding the lily or consolidating the Mercedes’s position as the default choice for luxury car buyers?


In the Metal

You’re going to need to slip into your Mercedes anorak to spot the exterior changes to the revised S-Class. The radiator grille has a slightly more pronounced ‘V’ shape and the front bumper now has the de rigueur LED daytime running lights. At the rear, the exhaust pipes are now oval and integrated into the lower line of the bumper, while LED lights are now more obvious.

That’s about your lot for the exterior, so the S-Class remains imposing if not outright pretty when you see it glide past.

On the inside, the changes are just as subtle. There’s a new SplitView display screen set in the dash that is part of the COMAND information package. This allows the one screen to show the satellite navigation display to the driver and the television to the passenger, yet neither can see the other’s screen, so the driver is not distracted by the television.

Mercedes has also crammed in all of its latest driver alerts, which we’ve recently seen introduced on the E-Class saloon and Coupй. So, we have Attention Assist to warn the driver if he is becoming drowsy; Lane Keeping Assist to tell the driver if the car is wandering over lines in the road; and Night View Assist Plus that helps spot pedestrians in the dark.

What you get for your Money

Arguably, what you get is the best luxury car in the world, pound for pound. Yes, a Rolls-Royce Phantom may have the edge on rear legroom and overall hushed interior ambience, but the fact the S-Class costs almost a fifth of the price of the Rolls to begin with, yet can still be considered in the same breath, is a testament to the Merc’s brilliance. All of the luxury essentials and goodies you’d expect are all present and correct in the S-Class, so the front seats are adjusted electrically, heated and cooled, and the driving position is spot on for chauffeurs of all shapes and sizes. In the back, there’s ample legroom, as well as plenty of space for elbows and heads, so travelling in the rear of the S-Class is a truly first class experience.

Or you can opt for the long wheelbase version for even more space to stretch out your legs.

As well as the safety systems mentioned above, the revised S-Class benefits from Distronic Plus to keep the S-Class a set distance from the car in front using the brakes. The Pre-Safe system also warns the driver if the Merc is too close to the car in front and in danger of a collision. It sounds a warning and applies the brakes 0.6 seconds before the system senses an impact is imminent to help reduce the severity of the crash. There’s also Merc’s Active Body Control (ABC) that now has a function to keep the S-Class more stable in crosswinds. This is standard on the S 600 L and an option for the rest of the range, and it works by using the ABC suspension to vary the load on each wheel to keep the car more stable.

Finally, Merc’s tech-fest is topped off by the catchily named Torque Vectoring Brake, which is a fancy way of saying the car will apply the brakes to the inside rear wheel if it feels the front wheels are washing wide in a corner. This helps the S-Class tighten its line into a corner and is standard on all revised S-Class models.

Driving it

With so much technology and safety systems crammed into the new S-Class, there is a danger that this thing could be more complicated to drive than the Space Shuttle. Thankfully, the S-Class is as easy to slide into and waft away in as it has ever been. The driver’s seat is every bit as cosy and comfortable as the others in the S-Class’s cabin, while the view out is clear and uncluttered. The simple column-mounted gear selector slots home easily, while paddles on the steering wheel give the driver some added control on twisty roads or steeper hill descents.

As for all that technology? You barely notice it and it’s possible to switch off some of the systems if you find them intrusive. We didn’t find these systems as obvious when driving as we have in recent drives of the E-Class.

The rest of the cabin is as user-friendly as it always has been in this generation of S-Class, which makes it a sumptuous place to be.

On every type of road, the S-Class impresses with its svelte ride quality, which pours balm over pockmarked roads. Noise is impressively absent from the tyres and wind, even when travelling at the upper reaches of the S-Class’s speed band on the autobahn. There is a faint diesel burr from the 235bhp S 350 CDi’s engine when trickling around town, but it’s not harsh and the improvements in economy and emissions make it more than easy to forgive.

MERCEDES-BENZ S-Class Saloon

The seven-speed automatic gearbox is super smooth, though it can be slow to react when the driver wants to get a move on.

In changing from S 320 CDi to 350 CDi, the diesel S-Class will still account for around 80 percent of S-Class sales, but the new car offers 37.2mpg compared to 34.0mpg in the previous model, while carbon dioxide emissions drop from 220g/km to 199g/km. With 398lb.ft of torque spread between 1,600- and 2,400rpm, the S 350 CDi is no slouch and sees off 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds. The other three engines in the range are all petrol units — 350 V6, 500 V8 and 600 V12 — and all pull off the same trick of lowering emissions while upping economy.

Performance goes from ample to outright fast depending on which engine you choose for the S-Class, but it’s the refinement that leaves a lasting impression.

Worth Noting

The thing that stands out here for us is that Mercedes is not planning to bring the S 400 Hybrid model to the UK any time soon. The official line is that, as the diesel model accounts for the bulk of British sales, there’s little point bringing the Hybrid into the market. With emissions of 186g/km and 39.1mpg combined economy, the benefits of the S 400 over the S 350 CDi are small, but a brief drive in this model suggests it’s the best of both worlds: diesel economy with petrol performance and refinement.

A 279bhp 3.5-litre V6 provides most of the power, but the electric motor gives a 20bhp boost, along with an extra 18lb.ft of torque when needed.

Mercedes is rightly proud of the S 400 Hybrid, as it uses a hybrid module mounted between the engine and gearbox to charge the battery. This battery is a lithium-ion item, which makes the S 400 Hybrid the world’s first series production car to use this technology.

Summary

Mercedes has been very careful with the revisions to the S-Class, which reaches UK showrooms in October. Expect prices to be slightly up on the current models’. but this is very unlikely to do any harm to the S-Class’ position as the number one seller in the luxury market. There’s more safety kit and better economy and emissions, so the Mercedes S-Class consolidates its place at the head of the luxury car boardroom.

Alisdair Suttie — 15 May 2009

MERCEDES-BENZ S-Class Saloon
MERCEDES-BENZ S-Class Saloon
MERCEDES-BENZ S-Class Saloon
MERCEDES-BENZ S-Class Saloon
MERCEDES-BENZ S-Class Saloon
MERCEDES-BENZ S-Class Saloon

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