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