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The Top Gear car review: Mercedes-Benz S-Class
For:Stunning interior design, rear space, sublime ride and refinement
Against:Little steering feel or driver satisfaction
S500L AMG Line 4dr Auto
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Sometime around 1963, the Merc known as the Sport Leicht went on a binge and transformed from sports car to glamorous cruiser.
What we say:
Mercedes throws everything it knows into the new S-Class. The results are nothing short of astounding
What is it?
Without a doubt the benchmark big luxury saloon, the one Audi, BMW, Lexus, Cadillac and even Jaguar and Maserati must define themselves by and be measured against. Apart from a couple of engines and the transmission, it’s almost all-new.
Sporty performance and handling are de-emphasised this time – it’s all about comfort, safety and driver assistance. There are two wheelbases, the long one offering astounding back seat comfort. Powertrains include conventional V6 diesel and V8 turbo petrol, and hybrids in both four-cylinder diesel and V6 petrol forms. The body uses a lot of aluminium to pare weight below the last one.
This is not an engaging drive. It’s all about astounding quietness and ride suppleness. The diesel V6 is perfectly capable of getting along smartly, and the adaptive dampers tauten it where needed. But the steering has no feel – its hallmark is immense directional stability at high speeds. The V8’s fully active suspension is normally even softer but has a selectable mode that will delete roll and understeer.
Options include cameras and radars so your S-Class will follow the car ahead and see lines on the road, automatically accelerating, braking and even steering, though it objects with flashes and bongs if you take your hands off the wheel beyond a few seconds. It’s long-journey driver support, not autonomous self-driving.
On the inside
The dash’s two huge instrument and display screens are all clarity and logic. They’re set in beautifully worked leather, wood and metal. Most ergonomics are just-so. We can’t think of a comfier interior, front or rear. The LWB version can be specced with rear seats that massage, heat, vent and recline halfway to horizontal, with aircraft-like leg-rests.
Rear entertainment is very comprehensive and legroom just vast. The V8’s active suspension has an option that uses binocular vision to see bumps in the road and lift each wheel as they pass beneath. The result is near-miraculous.
S-Classes have always been about the safest cars of their eras; no change there then. It’s bigger than before (watch tight car parks), but the styling is fairly subtle so it shouldn’t make you hated. The V8 is pure indulgence so forget the costs (at least it now breaks the 31mpg mark). The V6 diesel gives lowish depreciation if you’re careful with options, and is very parsimonious: 6.8 sec to 62mph yet CO2 of just 146g/km; 51mpg in a car of this class is amazing. The hybrid diesel makes an astounding compromise of 7.6sec and 115g/km, but do you really want a four-cylinder diesel in your S-Class?