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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - S-Class - sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Silky V6 diesel and V8 petrol drivetrains, ride quality, cabin refinement, attention-to-detail inside
Room for improvement
Long and costly options list, priced higher at base levels than rivals (even if it’s the better car)

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Mercedes-Benz logo28 Nov 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO

MERCEDES-BENZ has been on a bit of a roll at the lower end of the market lately – think its new A-Class, CLA and GLA – but is it still the best in the business at the polar opposite end?It’s probably suitable that our first experience inside the new Benz flagship came not behind the wheel, or even riding shotgun.

No, we spent the first 100km being chauffeured around in the backseat of a silky S500L V8. Most Australian S-Class owners drive themselves, says Mercedes, but it’s still a valuable experience to see for a time how the ‘one per cent’ get around.

Think vast opulent Nappa leather seats with all manner of reach, rake and temperature adjustment, squishy head cushions, dual flatscreens, electric side and rear sunblinds and a two-pane panoramic glass roof.

Soft-touch flip-down vanity mirrors in the roof add an extra touch, as does the ambient switchable lighting under the seats. The central cupholders emerge from a recessed inlay with an eerie smooth motion, and the silver Burmester speakers are works of art. The attention to detail is quite sublime.

As it the lack of noise intrusion and the cosseting ride. The addition of more high-tensile materials and extra noise insulation bring with them an almost silent cabin, where you can hear the vents on half-speed at 100km/h.

Move into the front seats and – if you can keep your senses while receiving a full torso massage – you’ll be greeted with a pair of enormous ‘floating’ TFT screens, one (31.4cm unit) for the infotainment and one for the instrumentation.

Standard on all versions is park assist with a 360-degree camera, LED lights with a headlight assist system that blocks out high beam for the car ahead but encases it and surrounds with full light, a Burmester sound system with a new-generation COMAND infotainment system, a WLAN and Wi-Fi hot spot (a Mercedes Australia-first), ambient cabin lighting in seven colours and a split-view screen for sat-nav and television screens simultaneously.

The front-central TFT infotainment and navigation screen comes with a 250g hard drive (10g for music only). Mercedes says the telematics alone requires 30 million lines of code, more than some passenger jets and all linked by high-speed fibre optic cables.

Kicking off at $215,000 plus on-road costs, the S350 is about $1500 pricier than the outgoing version. The first-time LWB option comes in at $222,500.

Mercedes-Benz says it expects the base diesel to account for more sales than any other variant in the range.

So, not cheap. In fact, a base Jaguar XJ, Audi A8 or BMW 7 Series are all at least $10,000 cheaper than the S-Class entry point. But then again, we’re sitting in the stratosphere here, so such relatively petty amounts are unlikely to trouble a buyer in this league.

Under the bonnet sits a 190kW/620Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine matched to a silken seven-speed automatic transmission (not always a Benz strong suit) that consumes a remarkable 6.0 litres per 100km.

In many ways (non-romantic ones at least) this car is the pick. There is no diesel clatter to speak of, there’s boatloads of oomph and excess tractability from the depths of the rev-range. Benz thinks this version will be its top-seller, and we wouldn’t blame a buyer for going no further up the tree.

Moving up the range, the S500 costs $285,000, about $11,500 less than the outgoing model’s list price, or $310,000 for the stretched-wheelbase S500 L.

The new 4.7-litre bi-turbo V8 under the nose pumps out 335kW and 700Nm, but consumes only 9.2L/100km.

You can bet your bottom dollar that a swathe of prospective buyers will go the big V8 or nothing. If anything, it’s even quieter than the S350 – no rumble here – and certainly faster.

The final member of the inaugural triumvirate is the S63 AMG, now costing $385,000, or $7400 less than its successor. The superseded S65 AMG V12 has been axed and will not be replaced in Australia.

This appears to be small loss, since the 63’s twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 engine produces 430kW and a staggering 900Nm of torque. Unfortunately, there were none to drive on the press launch.

But let’s be realistic, a cosseting cabin and brisk engines are basically to be expected here, and nothing short of par for the course. It was actually the relative dynamism of the S that surprised us.

It may be more than 5 metres long, but the big Benz has the uncanny knack of ‘shrinking’ around the driver in that way all the best cars too. Yes, it’s geared to comfort, but still stays flat through the corners and turns in like a car a whole segment smaller.

Like some other members of the press, we found the chunky A-pillar intruded on visibility to some degree.

If there’s any other complaint we could muster, it would be the sheer scope of the list of options on a car that is supposed to come fully-loaded already.

Depending on the variant, electric rear blinds cost $2250, the Pre-Safe package that includes an innovative seatbelt bag costs $2725, the rear seat entertainment system costs $5450 on all bar the S500, memory rear seats with heating come as part of a $6500 Warmth Comfort Package, rear climate control adds $2600 to the base S350, and a 24-speaker 3D Burmester sound system is $9900.

And keep in mind, we only scratched the surface. It could be a fun competition, seeing just how much one could conceivably plonk down on an optioned S-Class.

But that aside, in the areas of refinement, quality, attention-to-detail and driveablity, the S-Class goes straight to the top of the pile.

Best car in the world? Tough call, but not out of the question.

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