Luxurious technology for Mercedes-Benz’s star limo
The best-selling limousine in the world just got better. A lot better
The new S-Class is really just a facelift, even if Mercedes-Benz is bigging up the new S-Class to thwart Audi’s genuinely all-new A8. That doesn’t mean it’s not a significant upgrade on a car that was already easily the biggest seller in the class. The best in the world just got better. Over to you, Audi.
In the S-Class haven of Zurich, Switzerland, Mercedes says its new car has more than 6,000 new parts, including all of the bits inside the three all-new engines it debuted.
They include a switch back to in-line six-cylinder power for petrol and diesel engines, the introduction of mild-hybrid petrol power, 48V electrical systems and a crunching new 4.0l biturbo V8.
There’s also a massive step forward in driver assistance technology, including a heightened ability to accelerate and brake itself through its active cruise-control system, to the point at which the driver may never have to do either job again — in theory.
In case you were wondering whether that might mean that it actually is an all-new S-Class, one look at the modestly tickled bodywork would reveal that it is more or less the same physical cage as the outgoing W222 version, which arrived in 2014.
The bumpers haven’t even been massaged, so it still covers 5,125mm of road in its stock format (this can be pushed out to 5,255mm in long form), but the grille, tail lights and headlights are newer and shinier.
The headline acts remain the new engines and the self-driving capability, but there are other juicy bits, including a sharper multimedia system to drive the two conjoined screens, neater graphics and more luxury.
The self-driving stuff sets the S-Class on a path to partial and then full autonomy, with the ability to tap its road scanners and HERE-based satnav data to accelerate and slow down for corners, roundabouts and toll booths. Between 50km/h and 210km/h it will change lanes for the driver, too, with just a flick on the indicator switch, while it will only give the driver 30 seconds of steering relief at a time.
It swings in Car-to-X communication, too, which means it can talk to any neighbouring Mercedes-Benz fitted with the system, so it can be told not to enter a traffic jam, while it also follows the BMW 7-Series by parking itself from a smartphone instruction.
The core car that holds all this technology is the MRA Mercedes-Benz platform that the S-Class mostly shares with the C and E-Classes, though the big limousine scores its own rear end, with reinforcing and single-chamber air suspension.
While the new 2.9l turbo-diesel will be the biggest seller in Europe, the in-line six will cook the books in most other places. At 320kW, the 3.0l petrol motor is a sweetheart, with strength at low speed and smoothness everywhere, along with better throttle response than the engine it replaces. The note has character, too, delivering a promise of muscle without appearing harsh about it.
The Integrated Starter Motor (ISG) can punch in 250Nm of torque and 16kW of power for short bursts to help out at low engine speeds, boosting performance and fuel economy.
That joins in with the 520Nm the petrol motor already deli-vers from 1,800r/min until 5,500r/min. It’s a lovely engine, too, mated to a nine-speed auto-matic transmission that occasionally lumps up a shift, but is mostly smooth and nearly invisible. Combined, the two units help it to a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.6l/100km and 150g/km of CO2, which is clearly diesel territory from a car that can whip to 100km/h in 4.8 seconds, just 0.1 seconds slower than a Maserati GranTurismo.
Mercedes has also done a great favour for its drivers (or their chauffeurs) by stretching the ride and handling package from both ends. It now rides better than ever and handles with surprising athleticism.
Its ride quality is brilliantly cosseting, with the forward-facing camera reading the road and using that information to pre-set the suspension stiffness, easing its way across broken roads with authority and disdain. But a flick into the Sport mode shows another side to its character, with astonishing levels of grip and a wonderfully progressive handling profile, even if the steering is overly light just off centre.
The comfort is there, all the time, with cushions that seem thickly padded, wonderfully rich materials throughout the cabin and good legroom in standard form and astonishing legroom in long wheelbase form.
The only real problem is that some of the driver-assistance systems can seem a bit reactive, rather than active. The speed limit recognition takes between four and six seconds to reach a new, lower speed limit, while it sometimes approaches roundabouts with frightening haste, as though it hasn’t seen entering traffic. That can easily be overridden, though, and the system mostly works very well, making the big limousine easy to drive and even easier to almost not-drive.