The question of - “Have you really arrived?’ - often has been answered with the car you literally arrive in. In many cases, at the pinnacle of brand offerings this (without considering ultra-luxury ones) would be the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
The luxury sedan’s forebears paved the way forward for most other luxury brands, especially the other two German ones; and with each new generation, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class would almost always be at the forefront of technological advancements and safety.
In a time where product offerings from BMW and Audi have not only caught up, but claimed their very own market share, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is still considered the go-to car (that is if you are not considering a four-door coupe like the CLS, an 8 Series Gran Coupe, or an A7) for both the traditional ‘towkay’, and high-flying executives.
For Singapore, the S-Class is offered only in long-wheelbase configuration, very much like the BMW 7. Audi on the other hand, offers the A8 in both LWB-leg stretchy and SWB-easier-to-drive formats.
Interestingly, Mercedes-Benz has reduced the number of cars which get bestowed with their three-pointed bonnet bling. If you are one of those who yearns for this, the cheapest way to own the coveted emblem is to opt for an Executive trim E-Class. The S-Class luxo-barge on the other hand, will retain the hood ornament for all models.
If you compare the new W223 with the predecessor Sónderklasse, the former has a visually lower front-end, sleeker headlamps, and a grille with a thinner bezel. The tail lamps, which are horizontal units, visually lift the rear end. The side profile, which does not hold back on the amount of glass used has also been tidied up, and now features retractable door handles, which slip neatly into the doors when in transit.
If you could think of yourself sunk in a comfortable modern leather armchair in a sitting room, cigar in one hand, with the smell of quality supple leather infused into just about every surface, while enjoying the visual appeal of lacquered dark wood lining the furniture; the interior of the flagship ‘Merc’ is perhaps a good representation of all of this, without feeling out of time.
Finger streaks everywhere!
There are some design carry-overs from other Mercedes models that you will see, namely in the way the 12.3” digital instrument panel is set into the dash, minus the hood. One of the largest infotainment screens in the business, a 15.8” OLED unit, arranged in a square, dominates the dashboard. Those who are particular about fingerprints may want to coat this with a layer of film to reduce the appearance of embarrassingly dirty-looking finger squiggles. With the state-of-the-art infotainment unit, Mercedes-Benz has also taken away the trackpad and reduced the overall button count by 27. The centre console now consists of a huge compartment, hidden by a cover which slides out of sight - one of those which some owners might simply leave open and forget.
The new MBUX infotainment system in the S-Class benefits from an actual Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), to drive the smooth on-screen animations and also the augmented reality, which the Schwabian automotive giant even claims that the operating system is 50% quicker than the system on the previous S-Class. The GPU is bolstered by 16GB of RAM, while a 320GB SSD provides scratch space, storage for all the navigation assistance you need, and also your playlist. While the touchscreen interface is quite a breeze to operate, we do note that buttons and knobs are still comforting go-to toggles, since there is that perceived lower learning curve.
I must say that the dashboard design can be rather polarising, and I myself am not a fan of the dual air-conditioning vents on each corner, which seem quite delicate. Vents aside, the wraparound sloping design, punctuated by an emotive LED strip which runs across the dash, adds a sense of lightness. Mercedes-Benz has also taken the effort of integrating dashboard-matching LED strips onto the door cards, where they are harmoniously juxtaposed against luxurious wood veneer. The familiar seat controls are also now touch-sensitive - a welcome change, though I did find myself giving them an extra push when adjusting my seat.
Passengers seated at the rear, will appreciate heaps of head and legroom, adjustable ventilated seats, and the inclusion of comfortable head pillows on the headrests. There is just so much room, thanks in-part to the wheelbase which is over three-meters, where you can simply recline, stretch and relax. With the addition of the Exclusive Package, which sets you back $14,300, all seats will get quality Nappa leather finishing, while suede-like DINAMICA is stitched in as roof lining.
Currently, there is just one power option available, a turbocharged in-line 3-litre six, that gets an additional boost from a mild hybrid system, which gives the car its 450-badge. The EV part of the drivetrain puts out an additional 22hp and more importantly 250Nm, which helps to get you going each time you take off at the lights, and also powers the car’s essential equipment.
The 9-speed automatic which tends to shift-up aggressively on other Mercedes models, seems tamed down a little in the S-Class, and the new powertrain delivers effortlessly and smoothly once your foot is on the accelerator pedal; where right-away, you will enjoy the buttery-smooth experience you would come to expect from the flagship car, and you can only tell very little of where the electric drive ends and the engine takes over.
Even with its elongated wheelbase, the S-Class is remarkably easy to pilot, in-part due to the addition of the rear-wheel steering in our test vehicle (a $6,200 option), which to me is the most valuable must-have on your checklist of options. There are two variants to choose from, allowing the rear wheels to turn up to either a maximum of four or 10 degrees both ways. The rear-wheel steering helps deliver improved comfort when switching lanes on the highway, while in tight confines, takes on the turn circle of a car significantly smaller.
On the inside, and insulated from the harshness of the world, occupants will enjoy the ride comfort of the pillowy-soft adaptive self-leveling AIRMATIC suspension that irons out most road imperfections. The only time ride quality gets interrupted is when traversing over poor quality surfaces. Perhaps the Audi A8, with its very special ability to bank slightly when entering into a bend, might just edge the mighty Merc. Mercedes-Benz says that their E-Active Body Control, which is the equivalent of Audi’s magic suspension, will be ready before the end of the year, so it is wise to wait till this happens, if you do want the ride-soothing feature.
As expected for a flagship vehicle, there is just heaps of tech in the S-Class, and I would mention a few important ones here. The Active Parking Assist with PARKTRONIC takes the strain off twiddling with the wheel, while a 360 degree visualisation of the vehicle and its surroundings is displayed on the infotainment screen (one of the sharpest displays I have seen to date), accurately lets you know where nearby obstacles are located. There is other drive assistance tech like Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC which keeps the car at a safe distance be it on the highway or even within city driving conditions. Forward-facing cameras and radar, which are part of the car’s PRE-SAFE Plus architecture, helps to identify a possible collision, and also goes as far as to warn vehicles behind of impending danger.
The S-Class has always been seen as the benchmark for luxury brands to take a leaf from, and this time what is offered is very green and leafy for the picking.
The new S-Class combines the traditional richness of a leather and wood-filled interior, and marries this with the best technologies of tomorrow… And you and I know that we will see much of this technology trickle downstream to the rest of the Mercedes-Benz range.
Credits: Words and Photos by Clifford Chow