Wrapped up in ultra-luxury, the new-gen S-Class redefines the sedan appeal in a market that has started to shift its focus. Alvin Thomas puts Germany’s flagship through its paces.
Quick! Can you answer these questions? 1) Which was the first car to debut with an airbag? 2) Which was the first car to come installed with pretensioners in the seatbelts? 3) Which car came first with anti-lock brakes (ABS) as standard? The answer to all these questions is the same: It’s the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
And after all these years, it’s hard to believe that the S-Class is still considered to be one of the best-selling full-size luxury sedans of all time. I mean, it’s hard to argue with all of the four-million customers who have purchased an S-Class, right?
All jokes aside, however, it’s commendable how proficiently Mercedes-Benz continues to shift its ultra-luxury sedan in a market that has started to primarily change its focus to luxury full-size SUVs and smaller crossovers.
But then again, the S-Class appeals to a niche market – a market that solely lusts for hand-crafted leather seats; sophisticated aluminium and grained wood panels in the interior; adequate space in the back for lying back; and above all, a three-pointed-star ornament garnishing the bonnet.
That’s what the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is all about. It’s not a car you drive; it’s a car you want to be driven around in.
I was handed over the keys to what seemed like the umpteenth generation (well, sixth to be specific) of the S-Class last week. And I couldn’t help but feel a bit perplexed standing next to it. The S-Class is a car I grew up worshiping; a car that denoted success and accomplishment. One of my best friend’s dad had one, and I couldn’t help but envy him for it.
Quite a lot that has changed since then, though. For starters, it looks curvaceous and shapely as opposed to looking like a bulky square-edged sedan. Sure, it takes cues from its pre-facelift variant, which was revealed back in 2014, but the designers have honed it further for this model year.
The headlights, for example, now have three strips of pulsating LED lights up front instead of one, and there are three additional signature LED dots that complement the projector headlamps. Moreover, the fascia is complemented by two thin chrome strips on either of the front air intakes. To round things off, there’s a chrome strip that runs across the front lip of the bumper. The changes are subtle but evident.
The side profile – as expected – is stretched, as is denoted by the ‘L’ on my 450L test car. This extended wheelbase essentially translates to better interior legroom in the rear, but there’s a ‘Pullman’ variant if you want more.
The rear carries forward the trend by chucking in three individual rear LED lights in the tail lamps. Even so, the reverse lights are mounted on the lower-middle portion of the bumper and there are dual exhausts, which are wrapped around elliptical chrome-plated covers.
My tester was also embellished with a touch of ‘AMG’, as was seen with the 51cm 14-spoke diamond cut alloys and the sportier bumper elements.
Moving on to the interior of the car: not much has changed from that of the previous variant of this model year, but everything has just been refined a little more than usual. For instance, there’s only one large screen acting as the instrument cluster as opposed to two, there’s an aluminium spoke connecting the steering wheel, and there are newer touch-sensitive tabs on either side of the steering wheel for easier access to the on-screen functions.
The single screen, however, has two separate high-resolution 32cm-wide 8:3 format colour displays for the tachometer and infotainment functions. I didn’t get enough time to dawdle with all the tech, though. There’s plenty of electronic nannies to talk about, albeit I’d require a whole magazine to describe all of that. Just to give you a whiff of what’s on board, I can tell you that the vehicle can drive you or hit the emergency brakes by itself, if needed.
The cabin itself is littered with varnished wood, aluminium inserts and perforated leather. Most of the surfaces you’ll touch are also soft, and sufficiently-padded. Even the areas under your shin are made of high-quality plastics.
All of the panels are aligned well for most parts – and without any gaps. There wasn’t as much a squeak coming from the cabin while I was cruising the roads; it’s really that well-engineered.
You will also be treated to a panoramic moonroof, which is only split by a chassis reinforcement bar that runs through the middle of the glass.
Rest assured, you will have a relaxed time inside the cabin of the S-Class. Space is available in plentiful and you can control each of the four seats individually. Of course, you can also fold away the centre armrest – which ironically doesn’t have a screen (or maybe that’s left for the Maybach to fulfil) – and make space for a fifth passenger. Meanwhile, both the other rear-seat passengers can recline their seats to their desire.
The bolsters on the driver and co-passenger seats are designed to grab your shoulders while you take fast and sharp corners. For a few extra bucks, the robotic seats can also massage the passengers. It wasn’t an option that was ticked in my tester, though.
The mood-lighting, however, was an option that was ticked on the car, and was splendid on so many levels. You can alter the colours, as per your choice.
But because the S450L is a luxury limousine, don’t for a second think that it isn’t mechanically capable. My tester came fitted with a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6, mated to a nine-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. It pumps out 333hp and a stout 480Nms of torque.
The engine is torquey and there’s very little turbo-lag before the twist takes over. This results in a 0-100kph time of about 6.1 seconds, but the initial thrust is what makes the S450L a capable city cruiser. This also means that it’s easy to overtake.
Even astounding is the way the gearbox shifts; the cogs are aligned effortlessly, and the shifting occurs even faster than the blink of your eye. And yes, you can also take control of the gears using the steering-mounted paddle-shifters. Although, I must point out that the shifts can get
a bit jerky in lower gears, as is characteristic of dual-clutch setups.
The ride of the S-Class is silky smooth when you’re in the ‘Comfort’ mode. I’m not sure if my tester came with the “magic” thingamajig suspension that Mercedes-Benz brags about, but no matter what, the ride was steady and composed always.
Switching to ‘Sport’ mode changes things drastically: the suspension gets stiffer, the tranny and the throttle faster, and the steering wheel gains weight. You can also risk spinning your RO49,000 car on the road by relaxing the electronic stability programme (ESP).
When you do that, the vehicle shows its true AMG colours – even though it isn’t by much. It’s incredibly easy to lose the back-end to a slide when you slam the throttle mid-way through a corner. This isn’t advisable, but it’s something the S-Class is capable of. Oh, and when you do oversteer, the traction control cuts in ever so slightly to save you from embarrassing yourself.
Mind you: the ESP is not as intrusive as it is on other AMG products.
Still, the S450L AMG handles itself (its length) very well for a vehicle of this size.
The steering is well-weighted in ‘Sport’ mode, but loses any form of communication when set in ‘Comfort’ mode. Although, none of this is a concern, as most S-Classes will be driven mellow. You should be happy to know that the brakes are progressive and offer excellent levels of feedback.
It’s not easy to be captivated by a full-size luxury sedan. Let’s get the fact straight: no one really wants a sedan anymore. But, somehow, the S-Class manages to grip the audience like no other vehicle in this segment.
But what is it that sets the S-Class apart: Is it the technology? Is it the German quality? Or is it the tri-pointed-star on the hood? Whatever be the answer, I can assure you that this flagship luxury limousine is here to stay, and it’s not letting go of its place in the market, nor its locus in our hearts.Your turn, BMW.