Mercedes-Benz S-Class: First Drive
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Mercedes-Benz’ class-defining S-Class receives a midlife facelift that also adds two brand new engines, a comprehensive set of advanced driver assistance aids and some small updates to its interiors in a bid to keep its gorgeous nose ahead of the competition. We wallow in its luxury to see if this update is worth a serious look.
When the S-Class was launched in 2014 it was all conquering. After we got our first glimpse of its brilliant interiors, sat in those wonderfully pillowy seats with acres of legroom and listened to that exquisite 13 speaker Burmester sound system, the competition practically faded into the scenery. But the competition has had time to react and the new BMW 7-Series has upped its game. It’s just as tech geeky, offers nearly as much space in the back and is fun to drive as well. There’s also a new A8 that promises even more technology and frills and is expected to launch later this year. Just the right time for Mercedes-Benz to launch a mid-life S-Class update. The new 2018 S-Class adds a few small cosmetic changes, two new engines and a whole new set of safety and driver assistance technology thrown into the mix. We spent a day with the car on the streets and highways of Hyderabad to see if the updates it’s received allow the S-Class to stand out once again.
The most cosmetic changes have taken place on the face of the new S-Class. The bumper, headlamps and grill are near identical to those on the new S650 Maybach, minus some chrome garnishing on the lower section of the bumper. What’s instantly obvious in the daylight is the blanked out centre section of the grille just under the three-pointed star bonnet logo. This hides a set of sensors for the new Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and the parking camera but we’ll talk more about these systems later.
The new headlamps feature a set of three ‘triple torch’ DRLs in addition to some upgrades of their own that we’ll talk about later as well. The taillamps are also new units while the faux exhaust vents (on the S350d) are connected by a straight line of chrome garnish on the bumper. There’s also a new five-spoke 18-inch alloy design that rounds off the sparse external changes.
The V222 set new standards in luxury when it was launched and this update for 2018 ensures that the S-Class still is class-leading when it comes to space and comfort. The rear seats are clearly the best seats in the S-Class, with support that can be micro-adjusted with inflatable air chambers that alter the lumbar and lateral support to suit any body shape and size and even recline to 43.5 degrees.
The optional chauffeur package offers an extra 77mm of knee room, allowing you to quite literally stretch out. As you’d expect, they are super comfortable and the perfect place to be in after a long day in the office or a weekend of golfing. Just lay back, put your feet up and let the massage function sap away the stress and fatigue away. On Hyderabad’s excellent ring road, we were rubbing drowsy eyes and stifling back yawns within minutes of sitting in the back seats.
Up front, the driver is greeted with the same two super large 12.3-inch LED screens, one serving as the instrument cluster (now with three switchable screen layouts) and the other as the infotainment centre. They float side by side gracefully in a large niche that sprouts up from the flowing dash like an open eye. The dash itself is beautifully laid out and the buttons are all grouped together in a cluster under the central stack of four air con vents. Overall there is a pleasant, luxurious feeling of minimalism to the dash and the controls that belies the masses of technology that they allow you to access. The new steering wheel is now a more conventional three-spoke design compared to the rarer two-spoke design from before, and now houses the controls for the Active Distance Assist (adaptive cruise control) and the Active Steering Assist controls. We’ll go into more detail about how they function in the next section.
The 2018 S-Class now boasts a comprehensive set of driver assist and safety functions that takes the new S350d up to Level 2 in vehicle automation.
Part of the driver assistance package is the Active Distance Assist function that digitally latches onto the car in the front, matching its speed. It works from 20kmph to 210kmph, excellent for driving in slow-moving traffic and also on the highway. The system allows you to set the distance between the cars as well, allowing you to maintain larger, more cautious distances on a highway and leaving a smaller gap while navigating through city roads where speeds are slower. It allows you to take your feet off the pedals and lets the sensors do the work of speeding up and even braking to a standstill if the car in the front changes speed or comes to a stop.
The other convenience function is the Steering Assist Function that first warns and then later can also make small corrections to the steering if it detects that the S-Class is moving out of its lane. It functions up to 210kmph with clear lane markings and up to speeds of 130kmph if the markings are unclear. This system can work together with the Active Distance Assist and this allows you to take both hands and feet off the controls off the highway for short distances. By law it’s not a full autonomous system and so after about 30 seconds of no driver input the system will prompt you on the screen to take back control.
The new Multibeam LED headlamps are really impressive. The all-LED units are super powerful and can now reach up to 650 metres ahead of the S-Class with their Ultra Range high beam. And while that may sound blinding for everyone else, they also feature 84 controllable LEDs that can adjust the beam to only shine where it is needed, avoiding oncoming vehicles and changing in intensity when speeds drop below 40kmph. They also put on a fanciful display for the driver/owner when locking and unlocking the vehicle, sort of a ‘guten morgen’ or ‘tschuss’ in S-Class style if you may.
The parking function is also now fully automatic and you neither need to change gear nor do you need to indicate that you are either parking or exiting a parking space. The only thing you need to do as a driver is select the parking space and shift into drive/reverse to start the process, letting the car’s systems take over the rest. Should you decide to park yourself, there is a 360-degree camera, which was missing on the pre facelift S350d.
The S-Class is also packed to the gills with creature comforts like the 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system that features Vehicle Noise Compensation (VNC) that filters driving and external noises out of the cabin when music is playing, allowing for a complete musical experience no matter what that surroundings or vehicle speed is. Then there is the new ambient lighting system that now features 64 different colours, a fragrance dispenser, dual rear climate control zones in addition to the two front zones and electronic privacy/sun screens for the rear windows and rear windscreen. The 2018 car now features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a wireless charging pad in the front and rear armrests.
We did try out the Active Distance Assist function ourselves for a short period in the city but found that even at the closest distance setting, in the crowded streets of Hyderabad it left a large gap that was constantly being cut into by overtaking vehicles. We will hold our opinion on the convenience systems until we can run a more thorough assessment when we do a complete road test some time in April, so watch this space.
The 2018 S-Class has been launched with two engine options. The S450 gets a V6, 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol engine making 367PS @ 5500-6100rpm and 500Nm @ 1600-4000rpm.
The S350d receives the new OM656 inline 6-cylinder 2.9-litre engine that makes 286PS @ 3400-4600rpm and 600Nm @ 1200-3200rpm. We didn’t get a chance to drive the S450 so this review focuses only on the S350d.
0-100kmph acceleration stands at a claimed 6 seconds, which is almost a second faster than the older car, while efficiency stands at a claimed 19.06kmpl in European driving cycle. That is really impressive for a motor making this much power and pulling along a two tonne, over five metre-long luxury sedan.
Another party trick that the new engine performs is meeting the new stricter BSVI emission norms for diesel engines using the current BSIV fuel. That makes the S-Class the only BSVI-compliant car available on the market today, a full two years before the norms are enforced! This is done by a clever mix of a new catalytic converter design in addition to mixing exhaust gasses with AdBlue, a liquid that cuts diesel emissions, from a 25-litre tank that lasts 15000 kilometres (it’s refilled during servicing). Mercedes-Benz claims that this reduces nitrous oxide by 68 per cent and particulate matter by as much as 82 per cent while boosting efficiency by 6 per cent.
At startup you just barely can hear the hum of the motor from inside the cabin. Heck, even from outside the car, unless you are standing right next to the bonnet, you just cannot tell that it’s running - it’s that quiet. It’s also super smooth and as you’ll see from our video review, it barely caused a ripple of motion in our cup of tea test.
On the move, as you can expect, it’s very smooth as well. Power comes in really early and all 600Nm is available from as low as 1200rpm -- practically as soon as the car’s moving you're in the meat of the torque spread. It pulls hard and smoothly and except from a slight surge at 2000rpm and again at 3000rpm the engine spins cleanly all the way to the redline, making it deceptively fast.
Ride and Handling
One of the aspects where the new V222 S-Class distinguished itself from its rivals when it was launched was in its groundbreaking Magic Body Control that sensed the road ahead and prepared the suspension for it. This feature hasn’t made it to the S-Class and is now only available in the Maybachs but the S350d still gets stepless air-cushioned dampers. In Comfort it really does isolate the car from nearly all the imperfections on the road, making for a really comfortable ride in the rear. This softness also brings a wafty, floating feeling that just never settles down, and you can feel the cabin constantly moving up and down. It’s not uncomfortable but has a sort of lullaby effect on rear seat passengers, who are sure to be snoozing after anything over an hour on the road.
You also have to be extra careful with your speed over speed bumps as the front end will bottom its plastic mud flaps on the ground if you even slightly crash the front wheels over the bump. Changing to Sport with the drive mode selector does fix the floatiness and the ride but then you start to feel and also hear bumps and road imperfections as the suspension stiffens up. Comfort is a little too comfortable and after experiencing that level of comfort, Sport tends to feel just a little harsh.
With everything focused on the comfort of rear passengers the S350d was never going to be a pleasure to drive. The steering is quite light and devoid of feedback and the suspension, as we said above, encourages smooth progress. So even though the engine begs you to be naughty, the rest of the S-Class reminds you that you have an image to maintain. Also Read: Mercedes-Benz Details New G-Class; Pictures Leaked Ahead Of Jan 15 Debut
The S-Class features all the necessary safety features a class leader should have and more. For starters there’s 9 airbags as standard in addition to rear seatbelt bags that help reduce belt injuries from the seatbelts themselves. Then there’s ESP, ABS, an active bonnet, and the list goes on and on. You can rest assured that on just the passive safety systems the S-Class is safe.
In addition to the driver assists and its necessary sensors comes a lot of new active safety measures that were earlier only available on the S500 (now discontinued). The Active Brake Assist function is constantly scanning ahead for potential dangers like a slowing vehicle or a pedestrian crossing the road. If it senses a collision it first alerts you with an audible warning and if you start to apply the brakes it will boost the brake pressure. If no reaction is received it will bring the car to a stop completely autonomously. This system works up to speeds of 130kmph and can avoid or at least reduce the severity of an accident.
Active Blind Spot Assist is another safety function that is really useful in everyday driving situations. It alerts you with a bright red dot in the rear view mirror if it detects a vehicle running next to you or just behind you. If you signal to turn or actually turn into this vehicle the system chides you with a loud audible beep that alerts you of the impending danger. In the crowded streets of Hyderabad this red dot was constantly drawing attention to your rear view mirrors and you quickly learn to look for the red light before indicating or changing direction. On our drive we did experience the demonstration of each of the safety features in a controlled environment.
The New S-Class is available in two versions: the S450 petrol and the S350d we drove. They are both available with three trim options: black, beige and brown; and five body colour options: black, silver, white blue and ruby black. All other features are standard for both the S450 and the S350d.
The S-Class is now a little more polished, safer and features a more efficient and slightly more powerful engine. Mercedes-Benz has also worked on its service packages to help reduce cost of ownership - Rs 80,000 for the S450 and Rs 1,14,000 for the S350d for a two-year service program. At Rs 1.33 crore, if you are in the market for a chauffeur-driven car then not much is quite as enveloping, pampering and now as safe as an S-Class, just so long as you don't mind falling asleep as soon as your head hits that cushy headrest. Also Read: Mercedes To Launch Exclusive AMG Service Bays Across All AMG Performance Centres
If you already own the original S350d from 2014 and are thinking of an upgrade and you are a stickler for safety then upgrading may appeal to you. However, if you have a good driver, don’t care about efficiency and the environment too much, then this facelift may not bring enough to the table for you.
At 1.29 crore, the BMW 730d is the S-Class’ most up to date rival and features similar space, even more gadgetry in the rear and is a better car to drive. If you are the sort that enjoys a turn at the wheel then the BMW may grab your fancy, but it can't quite match the S-Class in sheer focus on chauffeur-driven passenger comfort.
If you’re patient then it might be worth your while to wait for Audi to launch the new A8 in India. The new, fourth-generation A8 promises an S-Class-rivaling active air cushion suspension, four-wheel steering, Quattro four-wheel-drive and a foot massager. But it will launch as an import so you will have to decide if the higher asking price is worth your happy feet.