This is the seventh-generation of the Mercedes S-Class, a flagship saloon model first introduced in 1972 on the coattails of an illustrious lineage of even older Mercedes luxury models dating back to the dawn of motoring.
As such the S-Class has always been the company’s most important brand statement, encapsulating the very best of what its engineers, designers and craftspeople have to offer. It’s an approach summed up in the words of the company’s current motto ‘The Best or Nothing’ which - apart from resonating with Frank Sinatra fans - is an apt description of the qualities the S-Class has brought to the luxury car segment over the years.
Once the undisputed king of saloon cars, the S-Class still retains much of its traditional appeal. It’s a supremely luxurious, refined and technology-laden conveyance for affluent and successful individuals, and the latest, seventh-generation car has a bold new face that enhances its opulent style.
Inside, there’s a mind-bending array of tech innovations including augmented reality navigation, 3-D digital displays and face recognition, but we’ve a sense that Merc’s engineers have been lured too far down the digital rabbit hole and core values have suffered.
While back seat passengers will be blissfully oblivious to the flimsy feel of steering wheel controls and other questionable fit and finish choices, their chauffeurs may regret the passing of old certainties.
But we live in confusing times, and at this moment on the cusp of a wholesale switchover to electric vehicles and digital interfaces, even the S-Class must be wondering about its place in the world. It’s got mild hybrid technology, an impressive array of electronic and infotainment tech, and the usual opulent creature comforts.
From the driving seat the S-Class maintains its traditional ability to offer agility and composed handling that belies its size and two-and-a-bit ton weight. Adaptive air suspension on the S 500 glides over even challenging road surfaces and it’s rare that an imperfection will trouble the occupants beyond endurance.
The big wheels and tyres can thump loudly in the cabin though, and overall we feel this latest S-Class’s ride quality isn’t quite as sublime as the previous version. Models riding on smaller wheels may improve our impressions once we’ve had a chance to sample them, but anyway the odd shiver of a jolt transmitted into the cabin scarcely diminishes the outstanding comfort occupants enjoy.
The inline six-cylinder engine is hushed even under hard acceleration, but what noise you do hear is not particularly stimulating so there’s not much to be gained from driving an S-Class like you stole it. Wait for the AMG variant for that.
Driven briskly though, the S-Class is impressively poised and responsive to steering inputs, making it easy to place the long bonnet in corners and keep progress neat. There’s a small amount of body roll as you’d expect, but even on especially challenging twists and turns at the test track, the big Benz is reassuringly responsive.
First impressions on opening any of the four doors are favourable too, as the trim and upholstery at first glance looks the equal of anything in the class. The diamond-pleated leather of our test car was soft and inviting, and only the agoraphobic could fault the opportunity each one of the seats presents for serious sprawling.
Mercedes is pitching the S-Class hard as a technological marvel, and it certainly seems appropriate to wonder at the extent of the features that have been crammed in.