An ef­fort­less, en­ter­tain­ing way to travel

ROAD TEST/ Mark Smyth put the lat­est S-Class to the test — but not one you can buy

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

Unusu­ally for a road test, we are go­ing to tell you all about a car that we can­not give you a price or spec­i­fi­ca­tions for. But it’s not a con­cept car or even a pre-pro­duc­tion model — it’s a new Mercedes S-Class.

It turns out that the S320 that Mercedes-Benz SA sup­plied us with is not ac­tu­ally avail­able in SA. Two cars were brought in, one of which found its way into the press fleet and sub­se­quently into our car park, but you can’t have one be­cause the com­pany has de­cided not to sell this model here, so sorry for you.

It is a bit awk­ward of course and no doubt there are some em­bar­rassed peo­ple at Mercedes SA but still, it’s an S-Class, the new S-Class and there is lots we can tell you about that.

The S-Class has al­ways been seen as the pin­na­cle of its seg­ment. In its early it­er­a­tions it was not the most lux­u­ri­ous or even the most tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced, but it has al­ways been re­garded as an over­all bench­mark. In the past few gen­er­a­tions things have changed for the Stuttgart flag­ship, with Mercedes cram­ming the car full of lux­ury and tech, and the up­dated ver­sion is no ex­cep­tion.

The ex­te­rior de­sign has a sense of re­gal­ity about it. It has pres­ence but with a dy­namic look that is even more ob­vi­ous in the lat­est gen­er­a­tion. That mas­sive bon­net has lines which con­tinue along the side pro­file, adding to the dy­namic ap­pear­ance. The head­lights are works of art on their own — mul­ti­ple LED strips, cor­ner­ing LED lamps and a level of in­tri­cate de­sign that ex­plains why cars cost as much as they do these days.

Climb into the driver’s seat and you are met with a vast dig­i­tal panel across the dashboard. It is ac­tu­ally two screens, one for the in­stru­ment clus­ter and one for the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem.

Most of the con­fig­u­ra­tions can be ad­justed via but­tons on the steer­ing wheel, us­ing the con­trol dial in the cen­tre con­sole or through voice com­mands. Some of the menus can be a bit awk­ward and it is by no means the best sys­tem in the busi­ness, but get used to the things you use most of­ten and it all be­comes sec­ond na­ture.

Ma­te­ri­als are, of course, out of the top drawer with quilted leather across the dash and deep car­pets that your feet sink into. But this is an S-Class and while we will get to the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in a mo­ment, it is re­ally all about the back seats.

As a mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ist, my job is mainly to drive a car so I spent lit­tle time in the back. We didn’t even test the mas­sag­ing func­tion be­cause we strapped in two child seats for the kids and left it to them to de­cide what they thought. At least we did when my five-year-old was not con­stantly chang­ing the dozens of am­bi­ent light­ing colours. A cou­ple of times I ar­rived in the of­fice car park to find the in­te­rior bathed in elec­tric pink.

Then there is the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. Every mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ist knows the ex­cite­ment when the kids discover a car has a rear seat en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem. If they are like me they prob­a­bly also bat­tle to get the wire­less head­phones to work, if they are even in the car, and so it means driv­ing around town lis­ten­ing to Moana or hear­ing Elsa singing Let It Go for the thou­sandth time. Still, they love it.

And they loved the S-Class, not just be­cause of the en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem but be­cause the rear seat space is mas­sive, even when you are a tod­dler strapped in a child seat. It’s like a lounge back there.

When there was the chance for a grown-up to sit in the back, it was time to re­cline the seats and ex­pe­ri­ence that vast legroom. I have to ad­mit that while the qual­ity is su­perb, the seats are not as sup­ple as those in the Lexus LS500 we had on test re­cently. The Lexus re­de­fines the idea of a busi­ness class seat in a ve­hi­cle, but the Lexus is let down in ar­eas where the Mercedes ex­cels.

One of these is the ride. The S320 did not ap­pear to have that su­perb Mercedes Magic Body Con­trol, which scans the road ahead and pre-loads the sus­pen­sion to en­sure you feel noth­ing but the big­gest bump.

Even so, the ride was noth­ing short of lux­u­ri­ous, with the Merc pro­vid­ing an ef­fort­less cruise on the high­ways and a re­laxed en­vi­ron­ment in the ur­ban traf­fic.

The other day I was sat in traf­fic just off the rear of an S and it is fas­ci­nat­ing to see the sus­pen­sion at work, the wheels rid­ing up and down while the body re­mains al­most flat. Again, it is en­gi­neer­ing you can re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate, al­though it’s best ap­pre­ci­ated from in­side the car.

It’s no Rolls, but you feel as though the out­side world is where it be­longs — out­side. You for­get work is­sues and in­stead en­joy the ex­treme quiet­ness of the cabin, lis­ten­ing to your favourite mu­sic. It is an­other area where Mercedes en­gi­neers have done an ex­em­plary job.

Per­for­mance was ad­e­quate, al­though it lacked some midrange over­tak­ing abil­ity due to the en­try-level en­gine and over­all weight, but as you can’t buy the car here any­way, it’s fairly point­less me talk­ing about this as­pect of it.

So there you go, our test of the car you can­not buy. If you could buy it then I would give it an easy four stars. I sus­pect the kids would, too.

CLIMB INTO THE DRIVER’S SEAT AND YOU ARE MET WITH A VAST DIG­I­TAL PANEL ACROSS THE DASHBOARD

The S-Class has a sense of both ath­leti­cism and re­gal­ity in its de­sign.

Tech­nol­ogy and lux­ury are now bench­marks in the seg­ment.

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