MERCEDES BENZ S350D
The back seat is even plusher and level 2 autonomy means the S-Class can almost drive itself but it's no surprise what potential owners will be more interested in
IDON'T CLAIM TO BE THE last word on luxury but the Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad has to be among the finest heritage hotels in the country. In the course of this ‘job' I've wined and dined at them all – the palaces snuggling the Udaipur lake, the enormous edifice on the hill above Jodhpur, the presumably haunted one built on the back of pillage and plunder, dozens of old forts that are now so luxurious even the kings and queens would have blushed at the decadence – and yet the opulence of the Nizam's residence and particularly the experience of dining at the 101-seater table with a personal butler laying out a meal to rival the Bukhara in Delhi, oh it's something else.
As is the car we’ve come to drive
Now, before we go any further, I should add that this is a mid-life refresh to the S-Class, not an all-new model, and you will need a very keen eye to spot the new S on the road. To make everybody's life easier Mercedes has given the S-Class three LED ‘eyebrows' in the headlights – one eyebrow is for the C-, two for the E- and three for the S-Class, establishing the visual hierarchy. And, no, the Maybach doesn't get four eyebrows – that job is done by the big wheels and slabs of chrome. Other blink-and-you-will-miss-it exterior detail changes on the S-Class include slimmer, by 25mm, headlamps, wider air-intakes on the
bumper, chrome garnish on the rear bumper, new louvers on the grille and a new design for the alloy wheels. Mercedes has done well to resist the urge to upsize the wheels and though the 18-inchers have visibly high-profile rubber, it does deliver on the biggest ask of an S-Class: ride quality.
In most cities the tailpipe emissions of the S350d will be cleaner than the air sucked in
In goes BS IV, out comes BS VI
The biggest change to the S-Class is under the hood, the V6 of the S350d replaced by an inline-six. The Really Big Deal about the motor is not that it goes the BMW straight-six way but, in the Indian context, is the first diesel to have BS VI emissions while drinking BS IV fuel. The S350d is one of the first cars to get an Adblue tank that injects liquid ammonia solution on the SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) to convert nasty Nitrogen Oxide and Nitrogen Dioxide – the stuff that is said to be responsible for smog and respiratory problems – into harmless water vapour and Nitrogen. I guess in most cities the tailpipe emissions of the S350d will be cleaner than the air it sucked in! The Adblue tank will require topping up, which will be done by the dealer during scheduled maintenance, and Mercedes claim the service costs will not be any higher despite the more sophisticated engine.
As for the headline figures, power goes up 28bhp to 282bhp while torque remains steady at 600Nm. The transmission is also new, a 9-speeder that uses a multi-clutch pack instead of the traditional torque converter. Together they drop the 0-100kmph sprint to six seconds flat. Which really, isn't the most pressing concern of a potential S-Class owner. What they'd be interested in is the
refinement and on that front, oh boy, the S-Class has become even smoother and even more refined. There's barely a grumble from the motor or a hint that it's an oil-burner. Even when driven in a decidedly un-S-Class-like manner, with vigour and a heavy right foot, the S-Class is incredibly hushed and isolates everything. Until a scooter cuts across, like scooter riders consider their birthright, and the S slams onto its brakes waking us all up from the slumber it put us in.
It’ll brake and even drive itself
The S-Class now gets level 2 autonomy which, as I discovered last year in Zurich on the international media drives, means it can actually drive itself. Set the navigation to the desired destination, set the speed, rest your hands lightly on the 'wheel (Mercedes still wants you to be nominally in control), and the S will hold a set distance to the car in front, accelerate, brake, go round corners and do just about everything. It will even read speed limit signs and slow down based on what it reads and it's all linked to the drive mode selector so in Comfort it will get to the destination comfortably while in Sport mode it will lower the suspension, make some growly noises and maintain, you guessed it, a sporty pace. And with it working on the 76-77Ghz bandwith signal that isn't restricted by the defence ministry, all of this is available on the Indian S-Class.
Except this is India, not Europe
I saw the scooterist charging out of the side lane, I knew he'd cut across, I lifted off the gas to slow down for him, but there's no computer in the world that can predict the erraticism of Indian traffic and the S-Class panic braked. I promptly switched all the aids off, and chauffeurs will be well advised to do the same if they value their jobs. Another thing, the lanekeep assist only works on properly marked out lanes and it got confused by lane markings that randomly came and went. Again, no fault of the car and on the outer ring road, a brilliant 10-lane expressway that, like the Falaknuma Palace, ranks among the best in the country, it read all lane markings, did all the autonomous trickery and really came into its own with the stunning refinement that masks speed like nothing else.
Did I mention the cabin is like a spa at the Falaknuma, so relaxed is the environment? There's now something called ‘energising comfort' mode that weds the climate control, ambient lighting, air-con perfume ioniser, ventilated massage seats and audio tracks to create an ambience to ‘enhance physical comfort' of occupants. I said occupants – the driver and front passenger do not get massage seats, why waste money on the person that isn't actually buying the car? Indian-spec S-Class' are all long-wheelbase and all get the Comfort Package that, at the push of a button, folds the front passenger seat out of the way, reclines the rear seat (up to 43.5 degrees) and also presents an ottoman to rest your feet on. Which the earlier S-Class also did; on the new one the Chauffeur Package liberates 77mm more knee room and the head rest can be taken out to give the bossman an unhindered view ahead. Or he can sink his head into the down-filled headrest and get transported to a better place.
As for the tech there are now sharper graphics on the even larger TFT displays, 64 colours for the ambient lighting, more touch pads for the COMAND infotainment system and a newly designed steering wheel that looks really sporty and signals an end to those half-wood steering wheels Mercedes used to insist upon not that long ago.
Small detail improvements, yes, but put together is does make a car universally regarded as the best in the world, even better. And on this front I can claim to be somewhat of an authority. ⌧
There’s no computer in the world that can predict the erraticism of Indian traffic and the S-Class panic braked
Left: Falaknuma Palace was the Nizam's last residence. Three DRL 'eyebrows' put the S-Class at the top of the hierarchy. Bottom: Rear seats recline and the front passenger seat now goes further forward to liberate an additional 77mm of knee room;...
Below: Burmester sound quality is fantastic. Bottom: After 20 years, Mercedes has dropped the V6 diesel for an in-line six