We spent a day in the new Mercedes flagship, the S-Class, did our thorough Mercedes S500 Review, and came out very impressed. Its rivals better be worried!
The S-Class has been at the top of the Mercedes family tree for decades. It’s long been the finest car that Mercedes produced, and always featured the latest technological innovations – which would later trickle down to lesser models across the range, not to mention on some products of its competitors as well. Of course, it was automatically the choice for the rich and powerful – various heads of state, as well as numerous dictators, have used the S as their official car. Needless to say, for years, if one wanted to make a statement about the fact that they had made it in life, they bought an S-Class. The looks, technology and prestige associated with this fine automobile took care of the rest. And nowhere was this truer than India, where various industry heads still prefer the S-Class over anything else. Heck, even our President still uses a Pullman version of the S-class.
However, unlike the days gone by, when the S had little or no competition, today the market is brimming with choices from all the major luxury brands – right from the German brigade to the likes of Maserati. So, when launching a new generation version of your flagship car – now that the Maybach is history, thankfully – it becomes all the more important for Mercedes to make sure that the new car supersedes not just the previous-gen machine but its various rivals as well. So, as we got our hands on the latest car, the overriding thought in our mind was just that – does the new S-Class deliver an experience that could see it conquer the class and rewrite the rules of the game once again.
Well, from the looks of it, there’s certainly a lot of promise. The W222 (Merc’s code for this generation) has certainly been tidied up visually speaking – as a result, it looks much cleaner and far more cohesive than the outgoing car. Gone is the bulbous, and out of place, boot and bulging fenders. In their place is some tightly defined design language. The front has traces of the F700 concept car with its oversized radiator grill, but the real attractions are the sides – which, with their two strong character lines, lend it a lovely, sculpted look. Overall, the design is geared more towards being understated and elegant rather than overtly stylized or aggressive. But, make no mistake, the S has definite presence and commands a second look. It will certainly be turning heads on the road! Sure, it could have done with a tad more aggression, but, in the rarefied world of luxury products, potential and existing customers might appreciate the understated look more.
The real marvel of the W222 however, are the interiors. I must admit, at the outset, that looking at the pictures of the new car, I wasn’t too sure about them.
Somehow, they looked a tad overdone, and I particularly didn’t like the two-spoke steering wheel, which looked like a grinning toothless person. However, seeing the interior in person completely altered my perception. The interiors, to put it in very simple terms, are absolutely fantastic. The quality, design, attention to detail, and materials used are easily the best in the segment. Not only is the cabin dotted with thoughtful touches – like the built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, enabling Internet access for all your computing devices present in the car – but also the fact that the design and materials make it feel nothing short of opulent. Sure, the space available in the cabin, especially to rear seat passengers, also helps matters, but the overall feel is less car-like and more like sitting in a very well appointed and luxurious living room.
Some of the standout elements of the interiors would have to be the large central screen, which makes its presence felt purely thanks to its size and clarity. Then, of course, there’s the wonderful sounding Burmester high-end sound system with 24 speakers. Other than the lovely sound, the one thing that impressed me most about the system were the gorgeously ornate speaker grilles that dotted the cabin – including one mounted in the roof! Special mention should also go to the seats, which are wonderfully comfortable. The rear seats even feature two fold-out aluminium tables for passengers to place their laptops and work in a true mobile-office. Of course, the rear seat occupants are also treated to a rather soothing hot stone massage – a function built in to the seats. And this is one feature that I, naturally, felt compelled to spend a lot of time testing.
Our test car was the S500, fitted with a twin-turbocharged V8 petrol engine producing 453bhp and 700Nm of torque, which gives the car very impressive performance given its size. At launch, this will be the only engine option available – but you can expect the smaller engined versions to follow soon enough. On the road, the thing that strikes you the most is the sheer isolation from the noise and chaos around you – a defining feature of all good luxury cars. In addition to that is the smoothness of the powertrain and how slick everything feels to touch and operate. Then, of course, there’s the ride, which is outstanding no matter what the terrain. Despite the fact that the test car was fitted with 19-inch wheels, the ride was simply brilliant – thanks to the standard-fit Airmatic air suspension. The new S is also helped by two advancements in this generation – one, the structure of the new car is now 100kgs lighter than the last gen despite growing in size, and, secondly, it now boasts of an aerodynamic drag coefficient of just 0.24. Both these factors contribute positively to the efficiency and agility of this S-Class.
Of course, the car is not absolutely perfect. It I were to nitpick – the steering, while accurate, lacks any kind of feel. It’s just never seems to give you much idea of what’s going on, especially if the car is being driven enthusiastically. The gearbox, while still a seven-speeder, benefits from major some changes – mainly from the fitment of a brand new torque converter. And this seems to work fairly well, but take control of it via the paddles and its clear that it isn’t the fastest gearbox around. However, the big engine’s torque and power deliver such seamless grunt that it doesn’t seem to matter much.
But, in highlighting both these shortcomings we could be missing the point completely. After all, the raison d’etre of the S-Class is not for someone to drive it around like a sports car, but, rather, for the sahib to be chauffeured around in absolute luxury. And in that respect, there is no better car in its segment than this one. The feeling of sitting in its back seat, with cavernous amounts of space, surrounded by all the gadgets you could wish for, and, of course, that beautifully comfortable ride creates an aura that practically nothing else can match. So, while it may be a tad unfair to award it the crown without a direct battle against its competitors, the little time I spent in the car has me clearly convinced that this is the new top-dog of the luxury segment. And this is also a clear warning from Mercedes to its competition – the three-pointed star is back in top form once again, and how!