It's not often that a new Mercedes-Benz S-class comes along, but when it does, it redefines the term 'the best car in the world'. For five generations, the S-class has been the byword for innovation and luxury simply because it has always debuted Merc's latest, most advanced technologies.
This sixth generation S-class has an even tougher brief than its predecessor. In addition to being the best car in the world, it also has to pick up the baton of the now defunct Maybach brand and that is no easy task. The question is, can the new Mercedes S-class live up to all the expectation and aura surrounding it? Indian roads are a testing environment to see if all the tech works.
On the streets of Mumbai, Mercedes S500’s sheer size gives it regal road presence. It’s not exactly a Maybach there’s something regal about the design, which is more than just an evolution of the earlier car. The massive grille (30 percent larger than before) and huge all-LED headlights make for a distinctive front-end while the flowing curves and character lines along the sides enhance the length of the car. Continued..
This is the first S-class to be designed from the outset as a long-wheelbase version and the chassis itself has more than 50 percent aluminium content with plenty of high strength steel surrounding the passenger cell. As a result, this 5.2-metre car weighs an impressively low 2200kg, spread almost evenly between the front and rear axles. Speaking of which, the 3165mm wheelbase remains identical to the old S-class with only an increase in the front and rear track. Mercedes claims a modest increase in interior volume as a result of better packaging and design.
The chassis is suspended by the standard air suspension and adaptive dampers that feature Active Body Control. Sadly though, Merc is not offering the Magic Body Control (MBC) system here thanks to some archaic Indian legislation that bans the use of certain frequencies. For your information, MBC uses a pair of cameras mounted on the windscreen to read the road up to 15 metres ahead of the car and this information is relayed to the suspension that actively reacts to what it's about to go through. Yes, that means the suspension alters the wheel just in time to tackle a bump or dip. Imagine how useful that would have been on our roads!
As always, there's been no compromise on the interiors. Open the rather light doors and you are greeted by seats that are fit to be a king's throne -- broad, infinitely adjustable and very inviting. Shutting the door shuts out Mumbai. In complete peace, you now face a two-spoke wood and leather steering wheel (a nod to the big Benzes of the 1950's) and two large 31.2cm displays (placed side by side) -- one for speedo, tacho, the optional night-vision camera and car info and one for the comprehensive COMAND system. Continued..
The quality and fit and finish of the wood, leather and aluminium cabin is a fine example of Merc sticking it just about every other luxury car maker, Audi included. Also appealing is the dashboard's clean, uncluttered look with just air-con controls on the center console and pretty much every other control assigned to the rotary knob of the COMAND system. Speaking of which, the COMAND system isn't as intuitive to use as the iDrive on a BMW. This is, but a small blemish in an othewise well thought and easy to use cabin. Also, the stalks for the headlights, wipers and steering adjust are lifted straight off Merc's other saloons -- they should have been bespoke items in a car like this.
Still, the Mercedes S500 has enough tech to rival Mangalyaan -- you won't find a single light bulb in here or anywhere in the car. What it does have is 300 LEDs and the best use of them is probably in the dashboard where a strip of LED lights give you ambient lighting with a choice of seven colours to make the cabin feel really special at night!
Other soothing features include the excellent 24-speaker Burmester audio system, massage seats with pillows and standard bluetooth and wifi connectivity.
At the rear, you are looking at a space that, if optioned correctly can put a darbar hall to shame.. There's no shortage of legroom, even for tall people and the individual rear seats recline generously making them even more comfy than the front seats. The storage box between the individual rear seats hide two stow away tables and you can even option a rear seat entertainment package that includes web browsers navigable by remote. Continued..
Time to find out what it's like to drive through Mumbai's streets. Start the 4.7-litre, twin-turbo petrol V8 and as expected, you would be hard pressed to tell there are eight pistons thumping out 453bhp and 71.3kgm of torque. It is incredibly smooth and quiet and equipped with a fuel-saving start stop system that works almost imperceptibly. It'll hit a 100kph in a claimed 4.8sec but more impressive is the way it picks up speed in such a smooth and unstressed manner. Cabin insulation is first class and the only sound you can hear from the engine is a distant purr when you extend it to its redline. It is a motor befitting the kind of car the S-class is. The S500 comes with Merc's 7G-tronic seven speed auto and we know it’s a smooth shifter. Driving through the chaos of Haji Ali, the gearbox in 'D', the S-class glides serenely through traffic in manner similar to a whale shark among plankton. Gearshifts are barely noticeable and the engine's torque reserves mean there's more than enough grunt even at low speeds.
On the way out of Mumbai, we get our first taste of the S's open road manners on the Eastern freeway. The long gearing and strong reserves of torque provide a superbly relaxed yet flexible quality that makes it an incredible tourer.
And what a tourer it is. The Mumbai-Pune expressway is no longer smooth and has developed ridges and depressions over the years. Still, even on the standard air-suspension and adaptive dampers, the S500's ride is difficult to fault. The car simply glides over bumps and even sharp edges are dispatched nonchalantly. Infact, of all the roads we drove through, we didn't come across a surface that disturbed the calm inside the cabin. As always, the double glazed glass and the incredible sound insulation keeps you an arms length from the outside world.
As for the handling, the suspension has 'Sport' and 'Comfort' modes, but even in the former, it isn't terribly sporty. What it does though is provide that beautifully fluid steering feel that we've come to associate with big Mercs good body control and lots of grip from the 245-section front and 275-section rear tyres. You can carry huge amounts of speed through corners.
In the end, there's no denying that the S-class is an exceptional car. Like its predecessors, this one has successfully moved the boundaries of what a car like this should do, forward and sets the benchmarks for its rivals to match up to. Priced at an approximate Rs 1.6 crore, the S500 is not cheap, but then again, you are buying the best car in the world.