Toronto was the setting for our road test and review of the new 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, a car its makers claim is the epitome of perfection.
The Maybach is dead, long live the king. Or the S-Class as Mercedes likes to call it. Yup the Germanic folly that was Maybach, Mercedes’ ultra-luxury brand, has been quietly killed off and now the newest Mercedes S-Class has taken its place. Which means that the firm’s technology showcase, the highlight of its entire range, has to be better than ever.
To be fair the current S-Class is still something of a favourite in the luxury sector, but Mercedes is calling the new car ‘perfection’. Big claims, but when the latest example is faster, more efficient, sharper to drive, better to look at and even more luxurious it appears that confidence is founded. We slipped behind the wheel, and also onto the sumptuous back seats, of a £88,130 S500 L in Toronto to check out just how close it gets to automotive nirvana.
Opt for the AMG line model to benefit from a sportier design of bumpers and the exposed exhausts.When a car is as successful, and with as rich a heritage, as the Mercedes S-Class you don’t mess with it – not much anyway. And so it is with the new model, a car that simply builds on the numerous strengths of the previous car. There’s no mistaking it for any other luxury maker’s flagship, but it looks far more athletic and lithe than before. It’s the only model in the firm’s current range to retain the proudly-mounted three-pointed star atop its bold grille, but now it’s flanked by full LED headlights. Throughout the whole car there’s over 500 of the tiny bulbs, from exterior lamps to the cabin’s ambient lighting system. Opt for the AMG line model to benefit from a sportier design of bumpers and the exposed exhausts.
The standard-length model still provides plenty of leg, head and shoulder room but it’s the long wheelbase version driven here that truly excelsIf the primary purpose behind all cars was comfort, then there’s a good chance the Mercedes S-Class would be at the top of the pile. The standard-length model still provides plenty of leg, head and shoulder room for rear seat passengers but it’s the long wheelbase version driven here that truly excels. Specify the optional First Class Rear Suite and you’ll enjoy seats that fold flatter than any rival’s chairs, your own entertainment screen and a flowing centre console between the seats with audio inputs, heated and cooled cupholders and fold-out tables. Befitting of the name, it’s just like a first class aeroplane seat, and there are few places we’d rather spend our time on the move.
Performance & handling
If there was one criticism of the old car, it was that from the driver’s seat the S-Class always felt a bit large and lumbering – though all was forgiven due to the imperious ride quality. And while the new model still majors on comfort rather than chasing circuit times, it is far more involving for the driver than it was before.
The engine is something of a powerhouse, allowing this long wheelbase behemoth to sprint from 0-62mph in only 4.8 secondsAll models come with Airmatic suspension as standard, with Active Body Control (ABC) available as an option. With the latter in Sport mode, the S500 L remains flat and composed through the corners, and despite the power and torque on offer (449bhp and 700Nm) it never struggles for grip.
The engine is something of a powerhouse actually, allowing this long wheelbase behemoth to sprint from 0-62mph in only 4.8 seconds. It’s ridiculously smooth too; at low throttle openings you barely notice it working, and only when you near the redline does it emit a purposeful V8 growl.
Electric steering means there’s more weight to the helm, and though it offers no more tangible feel, the system does inspire more confidence at speed – helped by the sharpened suspension responses.
And with the S500 L you can have Magic Body control (it’s not currently available on the more common S350 diesel), which really is as illusionary as its name suggests. Using cameras to read the road ahead it primes each suspension unit for what it’s about to run over. The result is speedbumps disappear and potholes are filled in, the body gliding flatly over them. It’s like the road is being resurfaced as you drive along it. And it’ll work at speeds past the UK legal limit.
Economy & environment
An Eco Display in the instrument cluster offers feedback on how efficiently you, or your chauffeur, is drivingIf you’re concerned about your money, the environment or fuel economy then frankly the S500 L is not the car for you – the S350 CDI is a much better bet. However Mercedes claim the S-Class can still achieve 32.8mpg and emits only 199g/km, and as such is the most fuel-efficient petrol V8 in the luxury car class. As a range, the new S-class is approximately 20 percent more efficient than its predecessors. Of course stop/start is fitted as standard, and an Eco Display in the instrument cluster offers feedback on how efficiently you, or your chauffeur, is driving.
Equipment & value
The S-Class offers an Air Balance package, which atomises your choice of perfume throughout the cabin while the seats can be specified to give their occupants a choice of massages.If we were to sum it up in one word, then there’s no doubt that ‘extensive’ would be it. It’s well-equipped as standard (after all the basic models cost slightly over £60,000) and there is of course a lengthy list of options to be chosen from. For those interested the S-Class offers an Air Balance package, which atomises your choice of perfume throughout the cabin while the seats can be specified to give their occupants a choice of massages – including two that are heated. The aforementioned Magic Body Control is only available with the optional Active Body Control and the reclining rear seats (up to 43.5 degrees) only on the long wheelbase models. If you like your music loud and clear then the upgraded Burmester stereo can be ordered in two versions, and both sound absolutely fantastic. One thing’s for sure, there’s enough options available to considerably bump up the price of a new S-Class right into Rolls Royce and Bentley financial territory.
We’ll have to wait until Euro NCAP gets its hands on a new S-Class to slam into a concrete block or wrap around a lamppost, but we can almost guarantee it’ll achieve the full five stars – just as all the firm’s recent models have. Of course there’s airbags in the usual places, but the rear uses beltbags to inflate the seatbelt in the event of sudden deceleration and long wheelbase models use an underthigh cushion bag to stop occupants sliding under the belt when lying flat.
Some might suggest this car falls short of perfection, and in truth it probably does – but that’s probably because its preceding reputation means the world is expecting too much. The current car, now eight years old, is still very much the market leader. In truth it feels fractionally firmer than that car, but the slight expense of comfort is paid back tenfold by the sharper and more competent dynamics. Regardless it’s still more comfortable than any of its direct rivals form BMW, Audi or Jaguar. And when you consider it looks better, is more efficient, boasts greater levels and diversity of equipment and remains just as desirable there’s no doubt the S-Class retains its incredibly well-deserved crown.
Model tested: Mercedes S500 L AMG Line
Engine: 4.7-litre V8
Acceleration: 0-62 in 4.8 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)
Emissions: 199g/km CO2