There’s always the risk of drowning in superlatives when you drive something like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but as our road test has proved, these plaudits are not without reason. Here, we get inside and behind the wheel of the S 500 L.
Design & Engineering
For Mercedes-Benz, this S-Class is arguably one of the most important models it has ever designed and engineered. It is a car for whom the likes of the Jaguar XJ, Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series are acknowledged competitors, but the S-Class has nobler aspirations; it wants to take on Bentley and Rolls-Royce.
Both these British brands are German-owned today, and their brand cache has never been higher. And their owners – BMW owns Rolls-Royce while VW AG owns Bentley – have understood the lure of these brands for the world’s new rich, and have developed models to cater to their evolving tastes.
The new S-Class and its numerous derivatives will thus fight many battles. Not only will it be available in traditional 4-door saloon body in two sizes (India gets the longer wheelbase only), the platform also spawns two-door coupe and convertible body styles, an extra-long Pullman version and possibly a four-door coupe as well.
Significantly, the new S-Class was designed around the longer wheelbase variant as sold in India. This car has a 3,165 mm wheelbase, making for ample interior room. It is made of high-strength steel (main monocoque structure or chassis) and lightweight aluminium (some body panels). Still, with a nearly-full fuel tank and driver on board, the car crushes pavement at 2,200 kilograms.
The S-Class has always been a car which is expected to reset expectations, and constant innovation is what has made Mercedes-Benz the luxury car brand it is today. With the new S-Class, there’s more.
You can choose different interior lighting modes to suit your mood. You can even adjust the footrest or ‘dead-pedal’ electrically so that when you’re behind the wheel, you’re as comfortable as possible. (Mercedes-Benz calls this function the ‘chauffeur package’, but naturally.)
However, just as much as the S-Class is packed to the gills with innovative and convenient features, there’s some key stuff that Indian customers will lose out on. There’s no radar-adaptive cruise control and automatic braking, no GPS assisted gear-changing, and no active suspension management. All of which is a shame, because it begs me wonder just how awesome is this car with all these systems in place? And isn’t India with its horrendous traffic sense, the ultimate place for these technologies?
Er, well, yes, be that as it may, the government of India and its military deems these systems unconstitutional, or so I’m given to believe.
While I’ve been waxing eloquently about the tech, I mustn’t forget that the new Mercedes-Benz is just as beautiful on the outside. The four-bar chrome grille and its gun-sight logo atop it are a class act, and so are the million little LEDs for the driving lights, headlamps etc, the just-right bulges on the wings, the form of the pillars and the swoopy rear. In the years I’ve been writing about cars, I’ve heard designers go on and on about ‘organic design’ and finally I truly know what this means. Every contour on this car melds with every other. There are no sharp lines, no misunderstood creases and no dramatic flourishes.
You can walk around this car again and again, and it will always be beautiful.
Interiors & Comfort
And then you step inside.
While every detail of the S-Class has received the very best attention of the world’s most highly regarded designers, while every square inch has been crafted from precious materials, while every effort has been made to ensure each tactile surface is a delight to touch, feel, or use, some of it is underwhelming.
The huge display on the dashboard, which occupies most of the real estate and doubles up as information on every system in the car, has an unsightly bulbous surround, especially visible on the right side near the A-pillar. I don’t disagree with the concept of using ‘soft instruments’, but I wish this panel was flush with the rest of the dashboard.
At the rear, the infotainment system does not sync with an iPhone, and nor are the screens touch-operable. Instead, you need to use a remote like you find in the armrest of an aircraft. Granted, while you’re reclining and cooing softly while enjoying your hot-stone massage, the screen might be a stretch, but couldn’t Mercedes have given a remote AND touch functions?
And while I’m complaining, let me lob in the worst criticism I have about this car: the control stalks for the lights, indicators, wipers and the column-mounted gear selector are straight from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin. No, no, no, I’m sorry, but in an S-Class they can’t be made of black plastic. I want lacquer, titanium, ivory; anything but ghastly black plastic.
God is in the detail.
All the other little details like the knurled door locks, analog clock and chrome AC vents are fantastically finished. The cursive ‘Mercedes-Benz’ plaque on the two-spoke steering wheel appears overkill to me, but then such an opinion is subjective.
But what of the rest?
Such divine comfort is illicit. The massaging seats are sumptuous, the Burmester stereo is a class act in itself and the ride quality is superb.
Performance & Handling
Ride Quality. Indian roads. The buck stops here.
The new S-Class has set a new benchmark. So much so, that you won’t realize how good the ride is whilst in the back seat. It’s when you’re driving on a familiar road, that you begin to realize just how exceedingly accomplished this motorcar is. ‘Makkhan’, to use a desi term, best describes it.
Expansion joints, ruts, filled-in potholes, man-hole covers and other sharp-edged disturbances give you the faintest jostle, with a faraway thump barely discernible. The real magic is the ride at speed. Big saloons can feel floaty, and on undulating highways could make one car sick. Not so the S-Class. The body control is excellent, with the car riding absolutely flat. It’s only when you look at the speedometer do you realize that you’ve broken the speed limit in multiples, not additions. And a glance in the rear-view affirms the fact that your rear passengers are blissfully unaware.
By comparison, an Audi A8 feels over-sprung and under-damped, the Jaguar XJ is unabashedly a driver’s car and the latest BMW 7 Series tries hard but ultimately cannot deliver that same unobtrusive and far-away detachment that the new S-Class provides. I haven’t driven a Rolls-Royce Ghost, but I have driven the Phantom, and some Mercedes engineers have admitted to using RR as a benchmark. Not for a moment does that sound like an empty boast.
But let us not forget for a moment just what a powerful car this is. It weighs a porky 2.2 tonnes, but nestled under that bonnet is a 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine. The S 500 has 455 PS and 700 Nm of torque. If that doesn’t seem enough, let me tell you that Mercedes-Benz claims the car accelerates to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds. I didn’t time it, but I can assure you this is a properly quick car. In case you’re curious, top-speed is limited to 250 km/h. In some markets, Mercedes also sells a more powerful S 600, with a 6.0-litre V12. If that still isn’t enough, there’s an S 65 AMG edition, which has a fettled version of the V12 pushing out a scarcely believable 1000 Nm of torque!
Indian customers have the option of a 3.0-litre V6 diesel as well, in the S 350 CDI. This variant is no doubt proving more popular, as it is cheaper to run, but the S 500 hits the sweet spot as far as effortless performance is the primary consideration.
Mileage or fuel efficiency isn’t far from a Mercedes-Benz S-Class owner’s mind either, and the S 500 with some judicious use the throttle can make a brave attempt at reaching double figures at a cruise on the highway. For in town use, forget it. The lower integers are what you’ll be staring at when you compute fuel efficiency figures, particularly in Mumbai traffic. Given the legions of idol-worshipping, incense burning businessmen who will buy this car, they will have another thing to add to their daily prayers and that will be for as little traffic as possible on their daily commute.
Swipe foot below bumper to open/shut the boot. Curiously, only available on S 500 and not S 350 CDI.
There are few cars as safe as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The company takes itself very seriously when it comes to safety. Princess Diana may have died in the back of an older S-Class, but chances are she’d survive in this one, even without her seat belt. There are airbags everywhere, including window-bags, and the anticipatory electronic gadgetry can go a long way in pre-empting a crash and priming all the safety equipment.
Every convenience you can and cannot conceive. And more.
It’s verdict time. And the Indian luxury car buyer has spoken. In the year since it’s been launched, the new S-Class has exceeded all expectations, including those of Mercedes-Benz India itself. The order book is backed-up comfortably, and everyone everywhere wants one. There are other German saloons standing on dealer forecourts that no one wants.
But then it is that kind of car. It’s that car that automatically brings you equity.
This is the car that pioneered hot stone massage on the go.
There’s little this car cannot do to cajole even the most cantankerous rich person alive, massage his or her ego, and do so in a cultured manner befitting royalty. It’s whisper quiet on the inside, and the Burmester audio system elevates any tune to an altogether different level. The seats are magical, the details within the cabin exhibit craft and taste that you could pass the time just touching every crease and crevasse within it.
The V8 engine is whisper quiet, and the surge from the powertrain is so cultured it doesn’t let you know that 4,663 cubic centimetres of fuel and air are detonating within it.
Ultimately though, it is the ride which is the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class’ triumph. It sits as the undisputed king of the hill in this regard. You could make a sandwich, trim your nails, paint miniatures or catch a nap. All the while your luxury liner is wafting you to your destination and you can step out with nary a crease on your trouser leg.
You can’t put a price to this level of accomplishment.
For the privilege, Mercedes-Benz India will ask you for Rs 1.5 crore and some change. Worth every penny.
Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ, Rolls-Royce Ghost, Bentley Continental Flying Spur