The new S-class is a byword for innovation and luxury. Not just a super-luxury sedan, but a rolling technology demonstrator on wheels, the new S-class has gone straight to the top of its class. The twin-turbo V8 engine in the S 500 is creamy smooth and effortless, and has all the refinement you would expect. That car’s Rs 1.36 crore (ex-showroom, Mumbai) price tag, however, also reflects its status as the ‘Best car in the World’. Mercedes, ever the democrat, has now launched a more affordable, more efficient and slightly lesser-equipped edition – this S 350 CDI.
First impressions of the car are just as strong as that of the petrol S 500. It looks stately and sleek at the same time, with those striking led headlamps and the big Mercedes chrome grille giving it a lot of presence.
With a diesel under the hood, you can’t expect petrol engine-like refinement, but start up and idle are astonishingly good for a diesel. There is a hint of a hum, if you mute the audio and set the AC fan speed to one, and it’s only when you extend the diesel engine and pull it hard that the serene calm of the cabin gets ever so slightly disrupted. But otherwise this motor is so creamy smooth, you don’t realise it is a diesel most of the time. As always, the double-glazed glass and the incredible sound insulation keeps you at arm’s length from the outside world.
The 3.0-litre diesel V6 is as you can expect from a Mercedes, and with 255bhp and 63.2kgm to haul the car around, is pretty brisk too. As is befitting a car of its stature, there’s no solid shove from the motor, but instead a smooth long surge that seems to go on and on. The mid range is particularly strong and allows you to reach silly speeds without realising, before you run into the somewhat low 4,200rpm redline. The seven-speed automatic works well for slow driving and highway cruising, shifting gears unobtrusively. Set the car to sport mode and the engine responses and gearshifts quicken, but it’s here that you notice that Mercedes’ 7G-Tronic torque converter auto is not quite as quick, clever or responsive as some of the more modern luxury gearboxes around.
Otherwise the new S-class is luxury car travel at its brilliant best. Once you sink into those big seats and shut the doors after you, you’re in your own world. The attention to detail is breathtaking – the wood and chrome look like they belong together, the graphics on the multi screen COMAND system make you feel you are piloting an Airbus A380, and quality levels are right up there with Bentley. Getting into the rear of the car is even nicer. You don’t get the same split rear cabin as the petrol, but the two individual electric ‘seats’ that form the bench are still reclinable, heated, cooled and massaging. They don’t recline as far back as in the petrol, but they’re still super soft and comfortable, and the ability to move the front passenger seat forward 77mm for truly excessive legroom is still available. What’s more, flip up the centre armrest and there’s room for a third passenger as well. Now, apart from the super-luxury rear seats, some of the kit from the petrol version is missing from the S 350 CDI, but it’s nothing of tremendous consequence to the luxury experience. There’s only a rear camera instead of the 360-degree setup, the wood trim is missing from the steering wheel, the 18-inch alloy wheels are different, the boot lid isn’t power operated, there’s no night vision system, and the Burmester hi-fi system is a few speakers down (it still sounds phenomenal though). No car in the world blends high technology and old world charm quite like the new S-class, and that’s evident on this diesel as well.
And is there any doubt, technology flows thick through the veins of this car. The new aluminium chassis is super light, the incredibly slippery shape allows the S to slide through the air uninstructed, and the long wheelbase and the air suspension make the car float serenely over all manner of bumps. We rarely came across a surface that disturbed the calm inside the cabin. Really deep potholes did thump through though, and there is a hint of road noise on coarse surfaces, but other than that the ride is fantastic. There are two settings for the Airmatic air suspension – Comfort and Sport. In the former, the ride is really cushy, but as can be expected, there’s a fair bit of float. This is also because the car has been raised for the Indian market. So, even when you put it in Sport, although things firm up, there’s still quite a lot of body movement.
As for the handling, the suspension has been setup for excellent high-speed stability and agility rather than sportscar-like handling. You do get that beautifully fluid steering feel that we’ve come to associate with big Mercs, and the car allows you to easily carry huge amounts of speed.
Indian cars don’t get the camera based Magic Body Control (MBC) system in India thanks to some archaic legislation that bans the use of certain radar frequencies. MBC uses a pair of cameras mounted in 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 the surface it’s about to encounter! The job of lighting the road and interiors are handled solely by LEDs – close to 500 of them spread all over the car: there are no traditional bulbs. There are 56 in each headlamp, 35 in each tail-lamp and about 300 lighting up the interiors.
At Rs 1.07 crore (ex-showroom, Maharashtra) the S 350 CDI is considerably more affordable than the petrol S 500, it's undoubtedly more economical to run and nearly as well equipped - it takes luxury diesel travel to an all new level. To begin with, if you are sat in the back, you can’t really tell it is a diesel, unless you make an effort. The engine is smooth, linear and jerk free and there is just about enough performance on hand too. Add in the brilliant interiors, the fact that it has enough features to keep demanding customers happy, and you soon come away with the impression that the new S-class diesel is everything you expect in a diesel limo. And more.