Aren’t you lucky! Just like the GLE300d – which I compared to our ancestral ML500 – this new Mercedes S-Class 350 found one of its forebears in my garage. Let’s delve into the five decades of progress that lie between these two…
In case you ever wondered, the “S” in S-Class stands for “Sonder” or Special (Class). Mercedes-Benz first used this letter on their brand-new W116 large saloon which debuted in 1972. The tomato red example I cherish more than any other earthly possession was first registered to my uncle’s address in late August ’73.
It was called “special” because the German carmaker had started a trend of including the latest safety, comfort and luxury features with their big sedans. This goes back at least one or two generations from the W116, encompassing the hideously expensive but incredibly over-engineered 600 “Großer” (Big One) sedan, limousine or landaulet.
The 1970’s S-Class had a clever protective passenger cell, extra safety padding for the interior, new-age headlights and innovative suspension for its day. It even featured passive technology which has faded into obscurity, like ribbed rear lights (to prevent complete dirt build-up) or a wrap-around chrome gutter to keep all windows clear.
Its W126 successor of the 1980’s brought new lightweight plastics, less chrome and opulence but arguably the most understated and well-received S-Class look of them all. It also continued the gadget count with optional ABS, front airbags, power seats and windows, multi-tuner radio, mobile telephone and other such witchcraft.
The 1990’s weren’t the party everyone expected, so the disproportionate W140 waded into battle with complete overkill in terms of size, motorization and specs. It also turns out that first-generation tech doesn’t age well, like the flip-blade key fob which was so intricate that even Mercedes refuses to re-make them; to this day.
Around the new millennium, M-B introduced the elegant W220 chassis which remedied all of the 140’s sins but forgot to include the hallmark S-Class quality. Or rust-proofing. It remains one of my favourites for its great mix of new technology, bomb-proof drive trains and soft styling. Sales figures didn’t agree though.
And so, after one of the shortest life-spans ever, the 220-chassis handed over to the 221 S-Class with improvements in every single department. This is one of the best-looking S-Classes in my book, but I hasten to add that my odd taste was confirmed long ago by my love of the W116; which is just as unloved as the beautiful ‘221.
The outgoing 222 model followed in its ancestor’s footsteps by pioneering some amazing new gadgets. After the safety cell, power goodies, double-glazing, soft-close doors, voice command and infra-red night vision (among many others) my favourite feature of the W222 was its active bump-cancelling air suspension.
So. What does this new one have to offer?
Well, the headlines include flush / retracting door handles and rear passenger airbags. The rest of its features, including a gigantic infotainment system or rear first-class seats with removable tablet, were either pioneered by its ancestors or have become the norm for contemporary luxury vehicles.
As if the catastrophic onslaught of SUV’s (and mega-luxury SUV’s) wasn’t enough to contend with, any new S-Class has to compete with the amazing tech-fest inside the latest hatchback Hyundais or crossover Mazdas. BMW went full ‘tard with the rear cinema and styling of their new 7-Series but Mercedes-Benz is playing it safe.
This new W223 (or V223 for the long-wheelbase models) still looks understated by comparison. It shows the obligatory upright bluntness on its nose – mostly for packaging and pedestrian crash safety – and flows past a fairly uneventful silhouette to a rump with thinner yet confident-looking light clusters.
Some personal notes include the Mercedes-typical fake exhaust trims, contemporary trend of putting low-class black alloys on premium products, and the continued dilution of their erstwhile performance brand, AMG. On the happier side, I was delighted to find a traditional Mercedes star at the tip of its bonnet; because buyers nowadays prefer the shouty new-money truck star.
Oh dear, was I a bit cynical there? Just a few blocks of driving this new WaBenzi usually calmed me down again because thankfully, Mercedes retained the ethos of this range-topping saloon by carefully crafting its drive train response, noise and vibration insulation, steering and ride comfort to a level where you almost feel removed from all proceedings.
Trust me, this is exactly how an S-Class should feel, and the only cars that mimic this attribute are modern British vehicles whose names start with two R’s. We also had a go in Merc’s electric equivalent of this vehicle – the new EQS – and while it rides and performs as smoothly as an S should, it didn’t feel as substantial or refined as this.
For best results, get yourself this L (long wheelbase) model and enjoy the hilariously spacious opulence of its rear quarters while someone tickles the beefy 3L turbo-diesel 6-cylinder on your behalf. With up to 247kW and 600Nm going through nine super-smooth gears, the S350d makes a strong case for itself as the best everyday S-Class in the range.
If there is such a thing…
Go for the V8 or AMG derivatives if you want crazy power or more red carpet clout, but our performance tests of this S350d L showed that it means business; on the way to your business meeting. 0-100km/h was absolved in just 6.7 seconds (although Merc claims 5.6), with a 14.87 second quarter mile (at 95mph). Top speed is the usual, limited 250km/h.
To showcase its intentions even more, the huge Pirelli P-Zero tyres helped this 2.1-ton car to stop from 100km/h in a mere 2.63 seconds and just 37.01 meters. This top-drawer performance is mirrored in the abilities of the headlights, Burmester sound system, multi-zone climate control and climatised seats.
Now factor in a 570L boot (if you don’t opt for a champagne fridge), 12.5m turning radius, claimed average diesel use of 6.7L/100km, up to double-digit airbag count, multiple cabin shade features, adaptive driving aids, plus a 2-year warranty and generous maintenance plan… to end up with one of the world’s best luxury sedans.