Since 1972, we’ve known this one incontrovertible fact: if you want to know where the automobile is up to in terms of practical luxury and comfort, you’ll find the answer in the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
We’re not talking here about ‘bespokeness’. That’s usually a matter of richer-than-you owners attempting to one-up their peers. But if you want to investigate the latest and highest standards of mechanical refinement, big-car efficiency, seat and cabin comfort and driving ease brought by ever-more-ingenious gadgetry, the latest S-Class will provide you with the answers.
Merc’s biggest saloon sits on one of those peculiar pedestals in motoring like the Porsche 911: it has decent rivals but no true equivalents. That Mercedes has been able to keep it this way for 45 years is a staggering achievement, and (we believe) good reason to add one to our test fleet.
But why an S500? Three reasons: first, the S500 has always been the mainstream choice for people who weren’t simply buying a diesel ‘airport car’. Second, I’m this car’s custodian and I’ve already had two S500s over the years. How interesting to investigate their differences and surprising similarities.
Third, for as long as ‘S500’ has been appearing on Mercedes bootlids, the variant’s motive power has been a meaty V8, until now. This latest car has a new 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six with a 48V integrated starter-generator (ISG) providing assistance and collecting braking energy.
How interesting to see whether the traditional S500 virtues – imperious smoothness and poke and no noise unless you really insist – are delivered by the new model.
In the UK, an S500L saloon starts at £86,330 on the road, which sounds pretty reasonable for what you get, especially since the only 500 you can buy gets AMG Line body bits to make it look more aggressive and sporty – and a lot less like an airport car. Egged on by contacts at Mercedes, we added a collection of extras that ended up costing just over £25,000 which, given that extras are traditionally high mark-up items for car makers, gives you a pretty clear view of where they make their money.
In summary, our gadgetry consists of four comprehensive option packs (Premium Plus, Driving Assistance, Executive equipment and Exclusive nappa leather) plus four individual options: night view (£2080), privacy glass (£345), Designo matt white paint (£3650) and intelligent rear belts (£995). The Premium Plus pack (£5395) adds stuff like soft-close doors, a mega hi-fi and a 360deg camera. The Driving Assistance pack (£1695) adds active distance control, steering, braking and blind-spot assist and a gizmo that will adjust your speed into bends. The Executive equipment (£4600) provides extra levels of comfort front and rear, plus stuff like roller-blinds for the rear window, and the Exclusive nappa leather pack (£6890) trims the big Mercedes in the best-looking materials available.