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Mercedes-Benz S 500

 

Whether the S-class lives up to its maker's claim of being the best car in the world is a moot point. But it's certainly a sensational way to travel.

Base price: $240,000.

Powertrain and performance: 4.7-litre twin-turbo petrol V8, 335kW/700Nm, 7-speed automatic, rear-drive, Combined economy 9.2 litres per 100km.

Vital statistics: 5116mm long, 1496mm high, 3035mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 530 litres, fuel tank 80 litres, 20-inch alloy wheels on 245/40 front and 275/35 rear tyres.

We like: Performance and refinement, safety technology, astonishing attention to detail in every respect.

We don't like: Presence and status arguably undermined by styling and equipment of new C-class.

How it rates: 9/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Mercedes-Benz is blunt about the latest S-class in its promotional material: it calls the model the best car in the world, which is a bold claim in a world full of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and even top-line Lexus sedans.

But the S-class has a rich heritage and every generation has represented the very best technology and refinement available at the time from its maker. This new 222-series is no different.

For a car with such a singular purpose, there are a multitude of models available. The range runs all the way from the S 350 turbo-diesel six to the ultra-high performance S 63 AMG.

Don't think of our S 500 as middle-of-the-range (although it technically is), but rather as your classic S-class: with the focus on luxury and a smooth, deceptively powerful petrol V8 under the bonnet.

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? Burgeoning demand for limousines in emerging markets and the demise of Mercedes-Benz's Maybach brand meant that the S-class was developed as a long-wheelbase model first, then shortened for standard versions like the S 500.

This has paid dividends for the smaller models, since the platform is now stronger than ever before – and yet still no heavier. In fact, the S-class has not put on weight for 20 years, despite ever-increasing levels of safety equipment and comfort features.

The S 500 wafts down the road with an extraordinarily relaxed gait, despite having rather sporting performance on tap: 0-100km/h in just 4.8 seconds.

It's an aloof car to drive, which is not unexpected. But it's also remarkably composed, with excellent directional stability and Airmatic suspension as standard. It does not feel especially engaging in tight corners, but also refuses to be anything other than dignified during fast driving.

That Airmatic suspension is standard, although an intriguing (if costly) option for the S 500 is the $8400 Magic Body Control system, which uses the car's forward-facing stereo camera to read the road ahead and prepare the damping accordingly. That's an astonishing combination of high technology with attention to detail.

Naturally, the S-class has cutting-edge driver-assistance features. Mercedes-Benz's so-called Driving Assistance Plus Package is standard, which includes adaptive cruise control with stop/go function and steering assistance, cross-traffic braking assistance and a comprehensive Pre-Safe suite of technology that includes pedestrian recognition.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? To explain all of the comfort and convenience features in the S 500 would fill a book – and does, judging by the media information supplied with the car. The most we can do here is give you a flavor of what it's like to travel inside an S-class.

The interior is a fascinating blend of heritage styling and high technology. More than any other S-class before it, this one really references the brand's past: the two-spoke steering wheel is gloriously retro and the elegant typefaces used around the cabin take you back decades.

But then you're pulled forward by the likes of the dashboard's twin 31.2cm high-definition screens (there's no conventional instrument panel), the exclusive use of LED lighting throughout the car (in fact, there's not a single bulb anywhere, inside or out) or exquisite features such as seat-cooling fans that actually draw air away from your body before propelling it back through.

It seems no luxury feature has been left unexamined and unimproved – but then something gloriously old-school comes back to grab your attention, such as the goose-down pillows on the rear headrests.

The S 500 doesn't actually offer a lot of extra equipment over the next model down, the S 400 L, but then that's not saying much because even the entry-level S 350 is lavishly equipped. The S 500 gains a touchpad controller for the Comand information system, wood-leather steering wheel, burr walnut trim and 20-inch alloys.

Not to mention power soft-closing for the doors for that authentic limousine feel.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? Even at $240,000, the S 500 represents a staggering amount of technology and quality for the money.

It's true that Mercedes-Benz has undermined its flagship a little by making the new C-class so visually similar and giving the smaller model so much of the S-class's tech (such as pseudo-autonomous driving assistance features and Airmatic suspension).

But that's an argument that will appeal to C-class people rather than upset S-class buyers. For some, only the best will do.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Blind spot warning: Yes
  • Lane guidance: Yes with active steering assistance
  • Cruise control: Yes adaptive with stop and go function
  • Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
  • Intelligent headlights: LED with adaptive high-beam and cornering function
  • Parking radar: Yes with camera
  • Self-parking technology: Yes
  • Head-up display: Yes
  • Satellite navigation: Yes
  • Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
  • Stop-start: Yes
  • Air conditioning: Three-zone climate
  • Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/Yes
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/Yes
  • Leather upholstery: Yes
  • Power boot or tailgate: Yes
  • Split/folding rear seats: 60/40

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