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