It’s not every day that I start a new car review from the comfort of the back seat. But in this case, blame my tired soul from the previous day’s action astride the new Yamaha R15 and the fact that I was given the key to the world’s most comfortable rear seats in the business, I quietly sneaked into the back seat and sheepishly requested my industry colleague to take over the wheel. Oh boy, cocooned from the outside noise of Hyderabad with the seat electrically reclined at 43.5 degrees, this had to be the most pampered media drive ever.
The Mercedes-Benz S Class has remained the pinnacle of luxury motoring in the world. The 2018 edition receives a mid-cycle update that not only brings in tweaks to the interiors and exterior design, but also offers powertrain updates along with the introduction of semi-autonomous driving functions. The new S Class has already been in the news for the right reasons – we were driving the S350d version that comes with a new diesel engine to meet the upcoming 2020 emission norms. Not only is this India’s first ever BS-VI complaint diesel engine, it is also the most powerful oil burner ever manufactured by the German brand. But more on this later.
Before we got down to business, a quick and light breakfast at the Falaknuma Palace allowed me to step down to the main porch before others did. The setting was perfect and a well-crafted chariot was all ready to pilot us out of the palace complex. While most S Class media units parked here were in black, I somehow got attracted to the white one. As mentioned above, the new updated version receives minor tweaks to the design. For example, the front bumper sits lower and gets larger air-intakes. The radiator is updated with three twin louvres and vertical bars in high-gloss black. And then you have the new MULTIBEAM LED headlamps that are functional too. How? Let me explain – if the car does not detect any other road user and if the stretch is straight, at speeds of over 40 km/h, the additional ULTRA RANGE high-beam goes on automatically. Clever?
The 2018 S Class rides on 18-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels which come wrapped with 245/50 R18 tyres. At the back, design tweaks come your way in the form of the re-styled bumper with new LED tail lights that get the crystal-look along with Coming Home function. The new S can be ordered in five exterior color options.
But the S Class continues to be more about the cabin – this is the reason owners will put down their money into the three pointed star. As I revealed earlier, the day started with me enjoying the back-seat comfort and trying to understanding the practicality of such an expensive car from a customer’s prospective. The list of features that can pamper you is endless. From the usual stuff in premium cars like electric blinds or wireless charging, the S also comes with AIR BALANCE package. With this owners can personalize the fragrance of the cabin to suit their preference via six choices. Not only do you get individual climate control settings at the back, Mercedes also offers the ENERGIZING massage function which work via inflatable air chambers inside the seats. The Chauffeur package also allows you to electrically move the front passenger seat ahead – the head restraint can be removed for an unobstructed view from the back. Yes, I did end up experiencing all this.
In terms of upholstery, you get two options, namely, black or silk beige with espresso brown. The trim however remains brown open-pore ash wood as standard. Although owners seldom take the front seats, the fascia design up front is updated and remains unparalleled, offering the same rich experience as before. The highlight here is the pair of TFT screens that now appear as a single large unit. While the left screen can be toggled via the COMAND console-mounted wheel or the touchpad or via a tiny touch-sensitive nub on the right spoke of the steering wheel, you can also toggle between three display modes on the right or the main speedometer screen. These modes include sporty, classic, and progressive as displayed below – I guess chauffeurs are going to have a blast with the bling factor!
Our drive experience included a mix of city traffic and brilliant open highways of the ORR or Hyderabad’s outer ring road. The latter is where I took over the steering and instantly got blown over by the refinement levels of the S Class. The OM656 engine works hard to control its noisy side and its close to disbelief how silent the cabin remains. Its only when you decide to gun the limo that the oil burner makes it presence felt. Talking of which, the new engine with 2-stage turbochargers puts out 12.5% more power though torque has gone down by about 3%. Thanks to the new 9-speed gearbox (up by 2 over the previous unit), the S350d sprints from standstill to a ton in just 6 seconds. That’s less than the time you just took to read the sentence! And, unlike the earlier unit, this one has an in-line configuration for the cylinders.
The S continues to offer one of the plushest ride qualities you can ever experience on four wheels. Of course, enthusiastic owners can toggle between modes to stiffen up the ride, make the steering sharper and transmission hold on to each gear longer but that is not the essence of this car. I realised this during my post lunch driving session when I had ample time before my flight and decide to give it some stick. Don’t get me wrong here – the big S does what the driver wants and as speeds rise, it lowers itself too – by 20mm above 100 kmph in Sport mode and by 10mm above 120 in comfort mode. By the way, the same Airmatic suspension can also be raised by 30mm while negotiating speed breakers or broken roads. But the best way to enjoy the S remains from the back seat and this is where it outperforms its German peers.
Saving the best for the last, let’s delve into the safety aspects of the new model. This is the first ‘Level 2 Autonomous Vehicle’ to be sold in India, which means this car can take over steering and pedal inputs for a short period of time. The Driving Assistance package can help with assisted situation-dependent braking and active assistance during evasive manoeuvres. We did get to sample this first hand. You also get a handful of other aids like radar based ADAS or Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC, which is an advanced version of cruise control and controls the gap between your vehicle and the one in front at speeds of up to 210 kmph. If the vehicle up front brakes, the S Class will reduce speeds automatically to maintain the said gap. Next is the Active Steering Assist that helps the driver keep the S Class in the centre of its lane on both straight stretches of the road and even on slight bends as I experienced on the long flowing curves of Hyderabad’s ORR. Mercedes claims that even if the white lane markings are absent or broken, the car’s sensors will simply follow the car ahead.
The Active Braking Assist is an emergency feature that helps avoid and lessen the consequences of accidents with vehicles in front and pedestrians. Lastly, the Blind Spot Assist feature kept warning us for other vehicles around us whenever they were in the blind spot zone. In fact, every time I changed lanes without giving an indicator, the steering wheel vibrated slightly to warn me. And finally, in the event of a possible crash, not only does the S Class roll up all the open windows with a gap of a few centimeters (for the air bag gases to release), the speakers also emit the pink noise which can trigger a reflex, whereby the stapedius muscle in the ears contracts, which alters the link between the eardrum and the inner ear for a split second and better protects the inner ear against high acoustic pressures, which can result from a loud crash. Phew – I have never written more about safety aids in any car ever!
At Rs 1.33 crore (ex-showroom Delhi), the S350d is slightly more expensive than the Audi A8L 50 TDI and the BMW 730Ld but that’s a justified premium that you pay for the three pointed star and back-seat exclusivity. Big limos aren’t the cheapest cars to run, but this one is not as bad as you might think. With STAR ease packages starting at Rs 1,14 lakh for 2 years, it translates into less than five grand per month. We kid you not! With all these updates, the S Class will easily defend its title of being the best luxury car money can buy in the country.