Mercedes-Benz’s flagship car in the luxury saloon category remains the very personification of accomplishment. For 2018, the latest flourishes include stylish design additions and better drive control and assistance, with emphasis placed on comfort and elegance.
There’s a reason why the S-Class remains the world’s best-selling luxury saloon – selling well over 300,000 models since 2013 – and a first drive through the rolling Swiss hills just out of Zurich showcased the car’s new heightened state. Without a doubt, this is the grandmaster of big luxury saloons and, admittedly, its competitors would be hard-pressed to follow suit.
The highlight of the new S-Class remains unseen but greatly felt with its all-new, highly efficient engine range. The electrification of the powertrain and Intelligent Drive means better autonomous driving while setting the right standard for a car of this segment. Journalists invited to this exclusive drive witnessed the debut of three completely new engines – the diesel (not available in Malaysia) and petrol variants of six-cylinder in-line engines and a new V8 biturbo engine coupled with groundbreaking technologies such as the 48 Integrated Starter Generator providing a remarkable power delivery without any lag in turbo and the electric booster compressor. In addition, a plug-in hybrid is in the works with an electric range of about 50km.
The luxury car marque has also added Intelligent Drive, provided better support through Active Distance Control Distronic and Active Steering Assist, always great options to have with the unpredictability of Malaysian roads, weather and, yes, drivers. Speed is now adjusted automatically ahead of bends, junctions and roundabouts – for drivers navigating left-hand drives nervously in Europe, this proved invaluable.
From Stuttgart to Zurich via the autobahn, we had the pleasure of experiencing both the S 560 (4-Matic) and AMG S 63, two characteristically different though no less spec-filled siblings within the S-Class family.
The former has an impressive new V-8 engine delivering 345kW (469hp) and 700Nm of torque, while the biturbo eight-cylinder AMG S 63 comes with the highest performance level to date, at 450kW (612hp) with a new maximum peak torque of 900Nm. The nippier AMG S 63 does an impressive sprint from 0 to 100Km/h in just 3.5 seconds – faster than any other performance luxury saloon – but the S 560 makes the preset 200Km/h speed limit look easy thanks to its magisterial presence.
The kind of power and speed you need will largely depend on how you are going to use it. The S 560’s riding pleasure gave passengers time to enjoy the bucolic countryside once we hit the Swiss range. Meanwhile, the AMG S 63 will see fast, responsive licks around the bends, and a sportier but no less luxurious drive.
On the drive, we did feel the more imposing presence of the S 560 but marvelled at how graceful it took the sharper turns off the highway. A navigational misstep (on the part of us erring humans, not the car) had the vehicle elegantly circumnavigating the smallest roundabout we had ever seen. We can’t deny that while the sophistication and ease of the car is certainly best experienced in the backseat while chauffeurdriven, weekend drivers will equally find sheer driving pleasure when commanding the wheel themselves.
Meanwhile, the AMG S 63 saw a spirited car sprint through acceptable speed limits with the kind of daring it deserves. With smaller engine comes great power and, thanks to the biturbo, propels the car ahead without the need of a torque converter.
SMART, VERY SMART
One reason to get behind the wheel of either car is the ease of the drive. Safety features abound with this car – Active Braking Assist, Crosswind Assist, Attention Assist, Traffic Sign Assist and even a Pre-Safe Sound feature that prepares human hearing for the anticipated accident noise when there is a risk of a collision. There is also improved Active Lane Changing Assist and, in some models, an Active Emergency Stop Assist. Rather than nanny-ing your drive, these measures are put in place to intelligently navigate your journey as comfortably and smoothly as possible.
The new S-Class has an almost intuitive IQ, anticipating your every need with a series of programmable options. Its touch-sensitive Touch Control buttons on the steering wheel responds to swiping motions not unlike our smartphones, enabling the driver to control the entire infotainment system without so much as taking their hands off the steering wheel. Distronic and cruise control with control elements can also now be operated from the steering wheel.
The reason for the S560’s earlier graceful pirouette is attributed to an improved Magic Body Control. Its curve inclination function allows the body to tilt to the inside of the bend by up to 2.65°, thereby reducing the lateral forces acting on the passengers. The Road Surface Scan function also helps in terms of ride comfort by predicting and mitigating road bumps ahead.
In an unprecedented advancement, the Linguatronic voice control system has been extended to vehicle functions. Almost every discernible function can be controlled via voice command, including the air conditioning, seat ventilation/heating, interior lighting (ambience lighting, reading lights, lighting in the rear), fragrancing/ionisation, seat massage function and head-up display.
In yet another first, the car makes use of map and navigation data to calculate driving behaviour. Curves, intersections and even changes in the speed limit are automatically adjusted for, thanks to the Distronic and cruise control. Essentially, the car can anticipate it all without the driver stepping on the brakes – in Comfort mode, this means that the car will slow down a lot more than you would on a normal drive, but on Sports and Sports+ modes, the car feels lighter when turns are made.
Ride quality is unsurpassed and feels almost cloud-like, depending on mode of drive. The suspension (in Comfort mode, this is exceedingly plush) control is also further improved in this new model and gets stiffer when you’re in Sports and Sports+ modes (and obviously more zesty with the AMG S 63)
DESIGN IN MIND
Both cars’ undeniable good looks were much commented on upon first view. A new lower bumper section, for example, showcases an integrated visible tailpipe trim spanning the entire width of the vehicle and framed by a chrome trim. A selection of seven new light-alloy wheels with diameters between 17 and 20in are available as standard or options.
Meanwhile, the jewel-like LED lamps are part of the new design aesthetic offered by the S-Class, an exclusive design element that features three distinct torches of light. The new Multibeam LED headlamps offer precise, ultra-fast adjustment, while the Ultra Range main beams produce maximum light intensity. Road Surface Scan intuitively predicts road bump and curve inclinations.
A new radiator grille on all models add to the cars’ forms – both the six- and eight-cylinder engines sport three twin louvres in chrome as well as vertical bars in a high-gloss black finish in the radiator grille.
The interior of both S-Class cars, is a sight to behold. Open-pore woods and Nappa leather seats are meticulously crafted with luxurious new colour combinations such as magma grey and espresso brown, or mahogany brown and silk beige.
Sound-wise, Mercedes-Benz aficionados are already familiar with the excellent acoustics of the Burmester High-End 3D surround sound system.
Those of us behind the wheel were aided by a Starship Enterprise-like wide-screen cockpit featuring two new high-resolution displays that provided a vista of virtual instruments in the driver’s direct field of vision. The digital display allows for three styles – Classic, Sporty and Progressive – depending on the mood of the day.
Speaking of moods, every discernible detail has been accorded to the new S-Class, including a holistic programme for passengers. Energising Comfort Control is a world first, with a focus on wellness combining climate control (including fragrancing!), seating options (heated, ventilated and even massage), lighting and music. Six programme highlights include Freshness, Warmth, Vitality, Joy, Comfort and Training (of which, three training modes include muscle relaxation, muscle activation and balance – each with several exercises!). While five prerecorded songs provide an automatic mood boost, one can quite easily programme a personalised selection of music via the Media Interface. Here, the programme instinctively detects the passenger’s mood via the bpm of the music and assigns the right programme to fit the playlist.
The cars’ interiors light up with various colour compositions like a work of art. The ambient lighting can be tailored specially to greet the driver with a spectrum of 64 colours and 10 colour ‘worlds’ to choose from! A long night drive will almost certainly be welcomed by the weary passenger with this option, not least because the advanced climate control system also indicates, through the ambient lighting, when it should be adjusted up or down. The brightness of the LEDs, too, adapts itself accordingly and can be tailored in five levels and four zones.