Here is the luxury saloon by which all others are measured. This seventh generation Mercedes S-Class is now even cleverer to use, but its real strengths remain in comfort and refinement. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
You're looking here at the most advanced motor car Mercedes-Benz has ever built. No longer is an S-Class merely about comfort, refinement and performance. This MK7 model also prioritises electrification, digitalisation and connectivity. There's never been a boardroom level luxury saloon quite like it.
The Mercedes S-Class. It's traditionally been the sensible answer to the question every motoring expert likes to dodge - 'what's the best car in the world?'. Other vehicles can be more opulent, faster or better to drive but over the years, no other model has so consistently delivered such a technologically-advanced blend of automotive virtues. Here, we're looking at the seventh generation 'W223'-series model.
No previous S-Class has ever been as complex, advanced or sophisticated as this one. Delivering this design - and it's all-electric sister, the EQS - has required a greater level of investment than any Mercedes has ever attached to a new model. Not just because of the new EV tech but also because there's a completely different engineering and technical philosophy in play here. A bigger step forward than any made with this model line since the S-Class, or 'Sonderklasse', badging was first introduced in the original 'W116'-series model back in 1972. Let's take a look.
You expect a new generation S-Class to set new standards - and sure enough, this one has its party pieces. In a suitably networked parking garage, it can be specified to move autonomously and park itself with no one in the car at all - that's so-called 'level 4' driving technology. There's also new level of 'Digital Light' headlamp tech that uses 2.6 million adaptive pixels to focus on pedestrians and cyclists and guide you through critical situations. Other features are more familiar. This Mercedes is equipped and ready for so-called 'level 3' semi-autonomous driving with a 'Drive Pilot' system that can take over from you in dense traffic and at cruising speeds. And you can also talk to your dealer about the 'E-Active Body Control' active anti-roll bar set-up that counters cornering roll.
You want to know about engines, all paired with 9-speed auto transmission. The core ones are straight six units carried over from the updated version of the previous sixth generation model, albeit with mild updates. Despite the current zeitgeist, Mercedes still expects the most popular powerplant to be it's 2.9-litre diesel, offered with 286hp in the S350d model, the only variant in the range offering the choice of rear drive or 4MATIC four-wheel drive. All the other variants are AWD-only, starting with the S400d 4MATIC, which offers the 2.9-litre diesel in an up rated 330hp state of tune. The alternative at this six cylinder level is a turbocharged 3.0-litre mild hybrid petrol version, S500 4MATIC, which offers 435hp. Other larger engines of course have also been designed for this car: the S580 is a 4.0-litre mild hybrid V8 and shares its basic powertrain with an S580e variant that can offer an all-electric driving range of up to 62 miles - double that of its PHEV predecessor. The same V8 with an uprated output will also feature in a Mercedes-AMG S 63e 4MATIC variant. At the top of the range, there's the Mercedes-Maybach S650, which uses a 6.0-litre petrol twin turbo V12.
Design and Build
The design of this seventh generation model, though clearly heavily evolved, remains intentionally conservative - the all-electric EQS version of this model makes more of a styling statement. Boardroom customers though, don't typically want to stand out and will like what's on offer here - a bolder grille flanked by more angular LED headlights that can now feature the brand's latest 'Digital Light' technology. Every model sold here will get the 'AMG Line' styling pack. And the slimmer rear lamps replicate a look we've already seen with the large CLS 4-door executive coupe. This S-Class model's dimensions have grown - by 34mm in length, 55mm in width and 12mm in height.
But if evolution reigns outside, it's revolution in the cabin, now completely re-imagined for a fresh era. Contrary to expectations, it's completely different to what you'll find in an E-Class or a large Mercedes SUV, the centre dash dominated by a big 11.9-inch portrait-orientated centre touchscreen. Through the new capacitive double spoke wheel, you view a further digital monitor, a 12.3-inch instrument binnacle display which can optionally be had with a 3D function. The brand's MBUX media system at last reaches the S-Class, with its intuitive voice and gesture control systems. And there's a huge head-up display. The style of the dash is dominated by a large wood panel extending into the doors and is topped by four rectangular vents.
Arguably, rear seat space is even more important in a car like this and thanks to this MK7 model's 51mm wheelbase increase, there's now much more of it on offer. If you choose the lengthened long wheelbase version, as many customers will, there's 24mm more legroom and 11mm more elbow room. And two high definition 11.6-inch touchscreens can be installed on the front seatbacks, to work with the MBUX system and with a portable tablet, which can be removed and used in the vicinity of the car. Boot space is 20-litres greater than before, rated at 550-litres for the S500 (540-litres for the diesels), though bear in mind that with the PHEV model, that figure falls by 30-litres.
Market and Model
Prices start at around £79,000 for the S350d and, as before, most S-Class models will continue to be sold in the £85,000 to £95,000 bracket, but it's perfectly possible to pay up to and over £200,000, if you choose a well-specified Mercedes-AMG high performance variant or the top Mercedes-Maybach model. There are five main trim levels, 'AMG Line', 'AMG Line Premium', 'AMG Line Premium Executive', 'AMG Line Premium Plus' and 'AMG Line Premium Plus Executive'. Avoid the base trim level and with the S350d and the S500 4MATIC, you'll be offered the £4,000 option of specifying the lengthier long wheelbase version of this car. The S400d only comes in long wheelbase form.
Key standard equipment features fitted across the range include the 12.8-inch OLED touchscreen central display, plus a 12.3-inch digital instrument binnacle display. Even with base trim, you get Nappa leather upholstery, 19-inch AMG 5-spoke light alloy wheels, KEYLESS GO keyless entry with soft-close doors, heated seats front and rear, MULTIBEAM intelligent headlights and a reversing camera. 'Executive'-line trim levels include the brand's 'MBUX tablet', which can be used around the vicinity of the vehicle. The Mercedes 'Driving Assistance Package' is standard on all S-Class variants and includes updates to features like 'Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC', 'Traffic Sign Assist', 'Active Lane Keeping Assist' and 'Active Evasive Steering Assist'.
Cost of Ownership
Mercedes is keen to talk about its gains in electrified technology here - we'll get to that - but some of these have been offset to some extent by another gain for this seventh generation model - in kerb weight. It sits on a heavily re-worked version of the brand's 'MRA' 'Modular Rear Architecture' platform and the body now incorporates a much larger proportion of aluminium (60%). Because of the bigger dimensions of this MK7 design though, this car now tips the scales 55kgs heavier than before, most models weighing in at around the 2-tonne mark.
So that explains why we're not seeing class-leading efficiency here; not in the conventionally-engined models anyway. Let's get to the WLTP figures. The S350d variant that most customers will choose manages up to 42.8mpg on the combined cycle and 173g/km of CO2. The alternative S400d 4MATIC delivers up to 38.7mpg on the combined cycle and 192g/km of CO2. If you go for the petrol-powered S500 4MATIC, you'll be expecting those figures to take a bit of a dip, but Mercedes has compensated here with its 'EQ Boost' mild hybrid technology which features an integrated starter generator powered by a 48V on-board electrical system which enables certain hybrid functions, ultimately improving overall efficiency. As a result, the S500 4MATIC delivers up to 34.9mpg in standard shape form and emits 184g/km of CO2.
To do better, you'll need to ask your dealer about one of the plug-in hybrids. The S580e claims to be the most advanced plug-in hybrid on the market, offering a 28.6kWh battery that allows for a zero emissions range of over 60 miles. It automatically switches power sources when entering an urban area and is compatible with all AC and DC Chargers from 11 to 60kW. Charging from empty should take only around 30 minutes with a rapid charger. And the S580e's combined WLTP fuel consumption figure is 223.2mpg.
This S-Class spearheads technological development, not only for Mercedes-Benz but for the automotive industry as a whole - and has done for decades. It's that important and is why this is - and will continue to be - the world's best selling full-sized Luxury-sector saloon.
In this seventh generation form, this car remains very competitive with - and in some cases a step ahead of - its key Luxury segment rivals. That was vital if it was going to be able to continue to compete with everything from a comparably costly Audi A8 to a Bentley Flying Spur potentially priced at twice as much. No other rival has as difficult or as wide-ranging a brief - but then no other car brings this one's timeless clarity and effortless superiority to such an advanced and wide-ranging portfolio of talents.
It can power to supercar speeds in Mercedes-AMG guise, deliver an average of over 40mpg in its volume mainstream S350d diesel form and can be specified to eerily steer, power and brake itself at a cruise in whatever form you decide upon. Yes, other rivals may look more avant garde or handle with a touch more involvement. In overall terms though, Mercedes has done enough here to enable this S-Class to remain a benchmark for the kind of luxury saloon every prestige brand would like to build. As it always was, it's a reference point for the current state of automotive technology. The best car in the world? You'll feel like it is if you buy one.