What is it?
Rolls-Royce and Bentley do old-school sumptuousness and indulgence, but the S-Class is unquestionably the world’s best luxury car. When Mercedes throws its entire might into high-tech support for luxury and safety, the results are so dazzling that it's hard to know where to begin. It’s even got superhero levels of ability – including being able to see in the dark, sensing the drowsiness of its driver, dodging traffic and guiding you down lanes – meaning it virtually drives itself. Guard models deflect bullets and are bombproof – as are the others, reliability-wise, not literally.
The S500's active suspension has two modes, an automatic one that uses the Magic Body Control and aims always to keep supple. It rolls a little and understeers and heaves if you drive like you've got no passengers, but the ride is unprecedented over big bumps and excellent if not quite unmatched over smaller corrugations. Hit Sport, and the Magic Body Control turns off, but it's still not jarring. In corners, things firm up, the roll disappears and the understeer is cancelled. It's not engaging, but it'd be rapid enough for getting away from a diplomatic incident.
On the inside
While the technologies dominate your thinking about the new S, it's important to remember they're bolted onto what is, at heart, a very fine luxury barge. The self-driving kit and Magic Body Control are a £6,600 hit to the S500 L, but the car isn't sparse without. Even the base S350 diesel has a cabin of lavish plushness, equipped with two 12.3-inch hi-res screens, air suspension, navigation and internet, and even a lighting system consisting entirely of LEDs - headlamps, cabin lamps, everything.
The longer of the two wheelbases allows space to option a pair of soft and embracing back seats that recline near-horizontally, with electric calf cushions and heating not just for the seat surfaces but even the armrests. Mercedes knows this market so well, it has even provided two different ways to arrange the front passenger seat to maximise stretching room for the potentate behind, depending on whether their culture allows or disapproves of the sight of unshod feet.
Running costs can be anything from reasonable to ridiculous depending upon which engine you specify it with. The BlueTec diesels promise 45+ mpg on a decent run, the AMGs likely to manage half of that if you’re nursing them along. Servicing shouldn’t be too painful as compared to their rivals the S is actually quite an inexpensive and rational choice.