The cabin feels utterly isolated from the dramas of the outside world
Significant as the performance and economy are ( 0-100km/h in 5.4sec, 5.2L/100km combined consumption), it’s the new engine’s refinement and smoothness that really impresses. In this respect, it’s a huge step over the old V6. From the wheel, the engine is barely audible at idle, it revs quickly while delivering virtually linear power, changing up at 4500-4600rpm under full tilt, somewhat shy of the 5250rpm redline. It even sounds good.
The new 9G-tronic gearbox works with a 2.47 final drive – seventh to ninth are overdrives – to have the engine wafting along at around 1200rpm at 110km/h. Despite the twin-turbo set up, there is the merest hint of lag at very low rpm before the engine is in the peak-grunt zone.
The diesel lacks the 48-volt electric compressor assistance of the also impressive 3.0-litre inline six petrol S500 ( see sidebar), yet speed builds quickly with just a distant hum from the engine. With double-glazing standard on Australian cars, the cabin feels utterly isolated from the plebeian dramas of the outside world.
You don’t buy an S-class for driver involvement. This is a big, especially wide and heavy car that’s utterly at home on the Autobahn. In its default Comfort mode, where the car’s character is all about the exceptional ride comfort, there’s a hint of float and even roll. Selecting Sport cures its composure, with only a marginal impact on ride, though the driver is always aware of its mass in tight corners. The creamy steering is a little vague and light at low speeds in Comfort, but it seamlessly builds effort if you toggle to a more precise sports setting.
Mercedes’ engineers have taken the S-class’s new cruise control a step beyond the functionality of that in the E-class. It is now able to automatically adjust its speed for curves, intersections, changes in speed limits, and toll gates, based on its GPS data. The result is a cruise control system that allows the driver to use it – and even its steering-assist function – much more often on secondary roads and not just on motorways. This is the biggest advance in the technology since adaptive cruise allowed its use in heavy traffic.
Initially, it’s harder to trust than simple adaptive cruise control systems. In Comfort mode, the system will slow the car for corners – more so than you might do – before quickly accelerating back to the set speed. In Sport, it doesn’t slow as much and carries more momentum through bends. The system also responds to speed limit signs, though occasionally it disregarded the signs and failed to speed up.
Learning to trust the car to slow on its own when approaching intersections is
more disconcerting as the driver must be ready to brake for oncoming traffic at a roundabout or stop sign. If there’s no oncoming traffic and braking is not required, the driver can let the car do it all. Active Lane Changing Assist lets the driver change lanes with a flick of the turn signal; the car checks the road ahead and the traffic behind to ensure the coast is clear, before oozing across the road.
All this technology is impossible to operate on Mercedes’ old single cruise control ‘wand’. Because of that, all cruise functions are relocated to the steering wheel spoke. Long-term S-class owners who are accustomed to the old wand won’t be pleased.
Inside, the front seats offer tremendous comfort over longer journeys. The cabin styling has been subtly refined, and in the rear, the long wheelbase provides the exceptional legroom and comfort that is expected of cars at this end of the luxury spectrum.
With a clear choice of models, this latest version sets out to meld graceful speed and ultimate comfort with cuttingedge technology. Nobody does that better than Mercedes-benz.