What is it?
Why would I buy it?
Technology, rear seat luxury and to make a statement
Why would I avoid it?
Ground clearance, the Maybach feels more special.
The art of making consistently brilliant cars is a difficult one and no one does it better than Mercedes-Benz, particularly with the S-Class which is incidentally also known as ‘the best car in the world’. With each new generation the S-Class brought in benchmark technology that placed it a step ahead of the competition every time. The car is question here isn’t a new generation car but a facelift of the W222 model. So you get minor updates on the outside, new features and technology and more importantly two new engines.
Let’s discuss the changes outside first. The big elegant grille has become wider which adds to the presence. The front bumpers have been reshaped too but the most important changes are in the head lamps. The head lights now get triple LED strips and the latest generation intelligent Multibeam headlamps. In a bid to improve visibility, Multibeam LED enables extremely fast and precise adjustment of the headlamps according to the given traffic situation.
Driving with high beams on is a major issue in Indian driving conditions, but with the S-Class if no other road user is detected, the road is straight and the vehicle speed is over 40 km/h, the additional Ultra
Range High beam goes on automatically. When the system detects motorway conditions, an optimised high beam pattern is selected accordingly to reduce the risk of blinding oncoming traffic. That’s pretty neat, isn’t it?
The subtle changes continue to the profile and to the rear of the car with reworked tail lamps, a new rear bumper and a new set of alloy wheel designs. Overall, the S-Class was already a stately looking sedan and these minor updates have only added to its desirability.
How is it on the inside?
We’re talking about the S-Class here, which means the owners are most likely to step into the back seat rather than the driver seat. So let’s talk about the rear seats first. Stepping inside is an experience by itself. All you can see and feel is leather, wood and well-polished aluminium. You place yourself on the massive seat (just so you know there are only two seats at the back) which are contoured for support and comfort in all the right places. And if that is not enough, the backrest can be further reclined up to 43.5 degrees. And after that long day of board meetings you also get a massage function so that you reach home fresh and relaxed.
To keep one entertained, the standard package also includes massive 10.2 inch screens mounted on the front seat backrests. Features include a Blu-ray player and it also gets ports for connecting external devices. The centre armrest also gets wireless charging for Qi supporting devices which means no hassles of carrying cables. In short, the S-Class makes sure you are treated like a king and it’s almost like travelling in a luxurious mobile suite.
Now let’s get to the front seats, because let’s face it, there will be those days when the driver reports in sick. The wide dashboard looks fantastic and it’s made in a fluidic manner with the dash nicely blending with the door panels. It is also totally fuss-free with just two large TFT screens – one for the infotainment system and the other one for the instrument cluster.
And obviously you get all the smart phone integration which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 13-speaker top-of-the-line Burmester surround sound system and then some. The lovely 3-spoke steering now gets touch control buttons to allow intuitive control of most functions. So whether you are seated at the back or the front, the S-Class does offer a special experience.
How does it drive?
The 2018 S-Class gets two engine options. The S 450 petrol and the S 350 d and knowing that the diesel is the most popular choice in India, we decided to drive the latter. If you think this is the similar run-of-the-mill diesel engine as before, you couldn’t be more wrong. This is the brand new 2925cc OM656 unit which is not only the first BS 6 engine to be made in India but also the most powerful diesel engine from Mercedes-Benz. Now that’s saying a lot!
So you get 6 cylinders, high-tech steel pistons, 2-stage turbochargers and then some, which all come together to produce a very impressive 286bhp and 600Nm of torque. Press the start button and the car settles into an electric-motor-like thrum. Seated inside, it’s difficult to say whether the car is running a diesel or a petrol engine - the S really does cocoon you that well. In fact it’s so smooth that you don’t feel like mashing the throttle.
The S-Class goads you into driving like a gentleman. But I was eager to find out what this new engine is capable of and after toggling between the drive modes I did mash the smiley pedal. The S just sits on its haunches sets off. Mercedes-Benz claims a 0-100kmph time of 6 seconds and a top speed of 250kmph which are sportscar figures and the S 350 d does feel like a sprinter in a tux. The 7-speed automatic doesn’t like being hurried with the paddles but use it like a luxury car and the S will hit some eye popping speeds, like we did on Hyderabad’s Ring Road.
The S-Class is also one of the first to get semi-autonomous technology on Indian shores. So you get the Driving Assistance package in India which aims to reduce stress while driving. Let’s take a look at the technology involved. You get Active Distance assist. Basically, it supports the driver with controlling the distance to the vehicle in front, up to a speed of 210 kmph. This works well on expressways.
Then you also get Blind Spot Assist which I might add works brilliantly by warning the driver of a vehicle in the blind spot during a lane change.
There is also Brake Assist where the S-Class will apply the brakes automatically in times of emergency thanks to the presence of radar sensors. Now that sounds like super technology, but in Indian conditions you have jaywalkers, animals and errant cyclists ready to jump in front of you and that’s when the S literally stands on it brakes – we found this out the hard way! And that also increases the possibility of the guy at the back rear-ending you leading to some very expensive damages. So we decided to turn the feature off on the busy streets of Hyderabad.
Active steering Assist provides additional steering inputs to help the driver keep the vehicle in the centre of its lane on straight stretches of road or slight bends. But then again you need well marked roads for the system to work optimally. Now these features will be a welcome change as India gets ready to embrace autonomous technology, but our road infrastructure (not to mention adherence to traffic rules) still has a long way to go before we can really use this technology for our benefit.
Now that we have the tech part covered let’s get to the ride quality. Glide is what the S-Class does and thanks to the Airmatic suspension and the right profile tyres, the S-Class really gets a magic carpet ride. Even when you shift the suspension setting to sport, the ride quality still feels great but does get noisier as it stiffens up to reduce roll. While we couldn’t really get to test the handling, we will give you a full report once we get the car for a complete road test.
Should I buy one?
For a long time now the S-Class has been the quintessential purchase when it came to buying the crème-de-la-crème of sedans. But the competition has been catching up resulting in Mercedes working on some brilliant features and technologies that you see in the car here. If rear seat luxury and owning a technological tour de force is what is on your buying list, the S 350 d will be difficult to better. At Rs. 1.33 crores it’s priced on par with the competition and only superseded by the Mercedes-Maybach.
Where does it fit in?
The S 350 d goes up straight against the BMW 7 Series 730Ld and the Audi A8 50 TDI Plus. It also goes up against the recently launched Lexus LS 500h which at Rs. 1.77 crores makes the S Class look like a bargain. Still the best car in the world then? Pretty much.
Photos: Kaustubh Gandhi