Mercedes S-class

FIRST DRIVE Can new en­gine and tech keep limo at top of the game?

Auto Express - - Contents - James Batch­e­lor James_­batch­e­lor@den­ @Jr­rbatch­e­lor

Up­dated ver­sion of lux­ury flag­ship is more ap­peal­ing than ever

IT seems a lit­tle too co­in­ci­den­tal that no sooner has Audi launched its brand new self-driv­ing A8, we get handed the keys to the up­dated ver­sion of the tech­laden Mercedes S-class. In a move of out­stand­ing one-up­man­ship, Mercedes has preened its S-class to look a touch smarter and at the same time stuffed it full of new giz­mos to rain on the Audi’s pa­rade.

But first let’s round up those styling tweaks – be­cause they re­ally are just tweaks. As is nor­mal for any facelift th­ese days, there are new front and rear bumpers, slightly dif­fer­ent rear lights and the front head­light clus­ters now have three LED day-run­ning light bars and multi-beam LED head­lights.

And for an ex­tra bit of glam­our, a more im­pos­ing front grille – pre­vi­ously only for the V12 ver­sion in the out­go­ing S-class range – is now rolled out for all mod­els. It’s still un­mis­tak­ably an S-class.

In comes a range of new ‘Ac­tive’ and ‘As­sist’ fea­tures, too. Firstly there’s Ac­tive Dis­tance As­sist Distronic where, at a pre­set cruis­ing speed, the car scans the road and uses sat-nav data to speed up and slow down for cor­ners, junc­tions and toll­booths. It’ll even slow down the car when you’re leav­ing a mo­tor­way and en­ter­ing the fol­low­ing junc­tion. If you’re trav­el­ling be­tween 35mph and 120mph and you touch the in­di­ca­tor left or right, the new S-class will change lanes by it­self thanks to the Ac­tive Lane Change As­sist tech­nol­ogy.

Car-to-x Com­mu­ni­ca­tion speaks to other Mercedes cars fit­ted with the sys­tem. So if you’ve just en­coun­tered a traf­fic jam, the sys­tem will no­tify other Car-to-x mod­els to avoid that stretch of road. And you can now park your S-class with­out be­ing in­side, by us­ing an app on your smart­phone.

Mercedes has been work­ing away un­der the bon­net, too. Out goes the 3.0-litre V6 diesel and in comes a new 3.0-litre straight-six in this new S 400d. It de­vel­ops 334bhp and 700Nm of torque.

For the most part, the up­dated S-class feels just like the car it re­places – and that’s no bad thing. The sump­tu­ous ride qual­ity from the stan­dard air-sus­pen­sion al­lows the S-class to glide along the road, while choos­ing the op­tional Magic Body Con­trol im­proves this fur­ther, but is only avail­able on the V12 mod­els.

Nat­u­rally, most S-classes will be ex­pe­ri­enced from the back seats and the feel­ing of trav­el­ling first class air­line-style re­mains – it costs £5,000 for the two in­di­vid­ual rear seats and pic­nic ta­bles, but th­ese make the S-class feel par­tic­u­larly spe­cial. Build qual­ity con­tin­ues to be ex­cep­tional, with beau­ti­ful lev­els of de­tail, and the S-class will carry on de­light­ing chauf­feurs with its large 510-litre boot.

How­ever, while the S-class has never re­ally trou­bled the Jaguar XJ for road han­dling, the big Benz has al­ways dis­played

“It’ll even slow down the car when you’re leav­ing a mo­tor­way and en­ter­ing the fol­low­ing junc­tion”

an im­pres­sive level of driver en­gage­ment – and that con­tin­ues here. The steer­ing is light but ac­cu­rate and de­spite the floaty body, the S-class ac­tu­ally feels sur­pris­ingly ag­ile on twisty roads.

The new straight-six diesel is no­tice­ably smoother than the old V6 diesel it re­places. There’s a more hushed growl un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion, and there’s im­me­di­ate pick-up through­out the rev range. The new en­gine is an ex­cel­lent match for the S-class’s al­ready pol­ished and re­fined na­ture.

What’s new, though, is when you switch on the clever new au­tonomous tech. While it takes some time to get used to Ac­tive Dis­tance As­sist, it works very ef­fec­tively; brak­ing for mo­tor­way ex­its is smooth and seems al­most nat­u­ral. How­ever, the Ac­tive Lane Change As­sist sys­tem can take up to 10 sec­onds to move the car from lane to lane af­ter you’ve touched the in­di­ca­tor stalk, and this some­times feels just too long.

NEED TO KNOW Mercedes sold more than 300,000 ex­am­ples of the out­go­ing S-class world­wide

IN­TE­RIOR In­di­vid­ual rear seats are a £5,000 op­tional ex­tra but to­gether with the two en­ter­tain­ment screens, make the back of the S-class a com­fort­able place

EN­TER­TAIN­MENT The two dis­plays on the dash are con­fig­urable, while rearseat en­ter­tain­ment keeps pas­sen­gers oc­cu­pied. Plenty of stor­age bins dot­ted around are handy for odds and ends

CABIN Mood light­ing sub­tly bathes the cabin on the move, while 64 colours are avail­able. Full-leather trim is stan­dard and our test car fea­tured plush quilted seats

IN­TE­RIOR The steer­ing wheel now fea­tures touch­pads that let you con­trol the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. This can also com­mu­ni­cate with other S-classes to keep up to date with traf­fic in­for­ma­tion

EQUIP­MENT Al­loy wheels come as stan­dard, while park­ing as­sist with a re­vers­ing cam­era, front elec­tric mem­ory seats, Ap­ple Carplay and wire­less phone charg­ing fea­ture

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