What’s astonishing about the S-Class is how Mercedes has managed to disguise the car’s length – no mean feat when, at 5.2 metres long, the long-wheelbase model is longer than a Range Rover. The two lines sculpted into its flanks give the car a real understated elegance, while the traditional Mercedes grille dominates the nose, and things are smartened up further by the all-LED lights. Choose AMG Line rather than SE Line trim, and the car comes with a sporty body kit that includes a front apron, rear apron and side skirts, as well as 19-inch alloy wheels. Our only slight criticism is that the arsenal of sensors and cameras behind the grille are visible and disrupt the otherwise clean lines.
Both the materials used and the way they are constructed are superb
Here, you’ll find a wonderful blend of tradition and technology. Naturally, the cabin is trimmed with lashings of wood and leather, but the dash is dominated by two huge screens that provide access to the infotainment systems, as well as all the various settings and the usual dials for speed and engine revs. Despite the amount of adjustments you can make and the information you can access, it’s all very easy to operate, either by controls on the steering wheel or using a rotary controller on the central console. Both the materials used and the way they are constructed are superb, putting the S-Class ahead of all its major rivals. It’s also extremely comfortable, with full electric adjustment and four-way lumbar support on the driver’s seat, as well as electric adjustment on the steering wheel. The only slight complaints are that the dashboard can reflect in the windscreen at night, and the thick windscreen pillars restrict your view a little.
It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone worried about the space in the S-Class. Thanks to the wide range of (electric) adjustment on the front seats, all shapes and sizes of people can get comfortable, and it’s the same story in the back. If you’re more likely to be driven than driving, the long-wheelbase model gives you even more legroom, and you can choose from a variety of options that make things even more comfortable – electrically adjustable, reclining and massaging rear seats, for example. The boot is impressive, too, easy to load and with a capacity of more than 500 litres. Suffice to say that, even in a class where large and comfortable cars are the norm, the S-Class stands out as the best.
Ride and handling
In a car like the S-Class, comfort and refinement are more important than how it goes round corners. So, it’s remarkable how well the S manages to combines such high standards in every aspect. Above all, it rides supremely comfortably, managing to smooth out our demanding British roads amazingly well with its air suspension. It’s also extremely quiet on the move, making this a superb long-distance motorway cruiser. Remarkably, it’s also very composed through the bends, with the adaptive air suspension controlling the body’s movements extremely well. True, the car’s sheer size means it prefers sweeping bends to tight turns, but this is still a car that is almost as enjoyable to drive as it is to be driven in.
Even the slowest engine in the range won’t leave you wanting for performance
Mercedes are masters of engine technology, and the S-Class gets some of its very best, with a range of V6 diesel and hybrid models, smooth V8 petrols, to a twin-turbocharged V12 with stunning performance. All these engines are supremely refined, and keep up with the ebb and flow of traffic with barely a flex of the driver’s right boot. When you want to take advantage of an overtaking opportunity, they’ll also respond very quickly. The diesel provides all the power you’ll really need, but the twin-turbo AMG models are in a different league for performance, with sports car acceleration times. The automatic gearbox is incredibly smooth, with barely perceptible changes, but it can get a little flustered when rushed, even in the sportiest models.
Such is the level of space, refinement and luxury in the S-Class, you might even argue that it represents good value, although it is an order more expensive that cars such as the Jaguar XJ and Audi A8, although it will have better residuals than both. The economy and emissions figures look good, too. SE versions of the S 350d and short-wheelbase versions of the S400 Hybrid have CO2 emissions of less than 150g/km; and, while the hybrid’s average economy is less than the diesel’s (which returns more than 50mpg), it does have the advantage of not incurring the surcharge for diesel engines in BIK tax. If you have deeper pockets (but want to slash your tax bills further) the plug-in hybrid S500 e combines a V6 petrol engine and a very powerful electric motor to great effect. It’s as strong as the AMG models, but returns an official 100mpg combined, and emits just 65g/km of CO2 – with a pure electric range of 18 miles.
Of course, even in that model, other running costs will be pretty steep, as with any luxury car, but the only area in which the S-Class is not quite up with the best is insurance, as some models are a group or two higher than their equivalent rivals.
If previous versions of the S-Class are anything to go by, there’s no reason to expect anything other than excellent reliability from this car. Owners of previous-generation cars are almost uniform in their praise of their cars’ reliability and Mercedes has performed very well in recent customer satisfaction surveys.
The S Class has not been tested by Euro NCAP, but we would expect it to follow every Mercedes passenger car since 2009 and score the full five stars. In terms of standard equipment, as well as the expected ABS, ESP and plethora of airbags, you also have Attention Assist, Collision Prevention Assist and the Pre-Safe anticipatory safety system. You also have Traffic Sign Assist and a tyre pressure warning system, while the options include the Night View Assist package, which makes it easier to spot pedestrians in the dark. It has every conceivable active safety system under the sun, too, although unlike the latest BMW 7 Series, it won’t drive itself, even for short periods.
It’s almost easier to list what you don’t get on an S-Class
As with the safety equipment, it’s almost easier to list what you don’t get on an S-Class, as both SE Line and AMG models are very well equipped. All the basics are standard: dual-zone climate control (with three modes), electrically adjustable front seats, keyless-start, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and metallic paint. Beyond the sporty bodykit, the main extras on AMG models over the SE are the brushed steel pedals and smarter interior trim. As you would expect, the list of options is just as extensive, including a host of possible upgrades for the trim, improved seating and uprated stereo systems, as well as rear-seat entertainment packages. In short, you can have pretty much what you want – albeit at a lofty price in some cases. Both the BMW 7 Series and Jaguar XJ are rather better equipped as standard, and we’d recommend the rear seat comfort pack, and double glazing (to improve refinement) as two options well worth having.
The S-Class is everything that someone looking for a luxury car could want. Refined and supremely comfortable, it’s as good to drive as it is to be driven in, and it positively reeks of high class and exceptional quality. A true class leader in every sense.