Mercedes S-Class review: Behind the three-pointed star
Anyone who is lucky enough to get to drive the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class family of luxury sedans will confirm that size really does matter when you enter the limo stakes.
For my own part, the nicest car I ever owned – though not, sadly, the most reliable – was a plush 1965 Mercedes Benz 300 SEL, registration number MMW 623C, that was already more than a decade old when I drove her for the first time but still looked like the proverbial million dollars.
With chrome-adorned flanks and its bonnet-mounted gun-sight style three-pointed star pointing the way, it was a truly magnificent beast – measuring some 18 feet and 6 inches from stem to stern. It was transportation befitting a head of state, or maybe a Chicago gangster, rather than a humble journalist.
It was a gas-guzzler, of course, but with three bicycles in the boot, three more on the roof and six of us seated very comfortably inside, and sharing the costs, it made sense as an affordable and definitely superior cycle racing team car. It took us on some amazing trips, at home and abroad, and went round the clock twice while in my ownership.
Coming up behind slower moving traffic was like the parting of the waves, with other drivers showing due deference by instantly pulling aside to let us glide imperiously past. With air-suspension and big fat tyres, the ride was comfort personified, yet the handling was pin-sharp and you could chuck her round the corners, while the turning circle matched that of a taxi cab, making parking a doddle despite the vehicle’s sheer size.
Today’s S-Class is the spiritual successor to that wonderful behemoth. It is not quite as big, nor as roomy as its palatial forebear yet in today’s context looks massive alongside other contemporary luxury saloon cars. It’s very much a king of the road. Of course it has a sovereign's appetite for fuel but, with 35-mpg and better attainable in the combined cycle on the smaller-engined versions, that’s all a matter of relativity for MMM 623C could only manage 17-miles per gallon, on a good day, with a tail wind. I later owned another Merc – a 6.3-lire that did just 12 – but that’s another story.
Not surprisingly, the latest S-Class is brimful with all the latest technical wizardry and gizmos, with plenty enough dials, knobs and switches to keep fingers and eyes busy.
Combining the innovative Command On-Line system with high-definition TFT display brings welcome clarity to the controls making the cabin an oasis of relaxation, whether you self-drive or call on the services of a chauffeur while you relax in the back with your own sound system and such niceties as electrically adjustable passenger seats with memory functlon.
For even more comfort, there are, as with previous S-Class models, long-wheelbase stretch versions available.
At a time when car styling all seems to be heading down the same well defined pathway, the design team at Mercedes have managed to give the S-Series a look which, while sharing cues with lesser model ranges in the company’s burgeoning catalogue, manages to stand out from the massed competition, whether you look at the car from front, side or rear aspects. Performance matches the sporting demeanour – all versions being capable of reaching 155-mph before an automatic speed limiter cuts in, while the quicker versions can reach 62-mph in a blistering six-seconds.
Price-wise there’s an entry level S350 BlueTEC at £67,940, while, at the other end of the scale, the fearsome seven-speed six-litre S64 AMG is priced at a stratospheric £178,840. Also in the range is an S50 plug-in hybrid at £87,910.
They are each formidable sums of money but for these sums you get performance, comfort, style and very real prestige, which is something that can’t be priced. Here’s a car whose smooth luxuriousness warrants the continued inclusion in the Oxford Dictionary of that lovely but today little used word “wafting”.