The cabin feels ut­terly iso­lated from the dra­mas of the out­side world

Wheels (Australia) - - First Drives - PE­TER ROBIN­SON

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.

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