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Mercedes-Benz S-Class review (2009 onwards)
What – Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Where – Stuttgart, Germany
Date – May 2009
Price – TBC
Available – August
Key rivals – BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Volkswagen Phaeton, Lexus LS, Bentley Flying Spur
Safer, greener and more refined than ever, the facelifted S-Class's upgrades take the fight back to rivals like the new BMW 7 Series
We like – Design maturing nicely, still the daddy in the luxury sector, punchy and frugal diesel engine, mad twin-turbo V12 S600, safety innovation, superb refinement and comfort We don’t like – BMW 7 Series still better on emissions, no hybrid option for the UK, much of the headline safety tech is on the options sheet
Facelifted you say? What, you mean you didn't spot the twinkly LED running lights and new chrome strip along the bottom of the front bumper? Shame on you! Yes, believe it or not this is the revised Mercedes-Benz S-Class, updated four years into its life with a raft of new technology from the recently launched E-Class.Given that Mercedes has already sold 270,000 of the current S-Class since its debut in 2005 it's perhaps understandable that it didn't want to mess with what is fundamentally still a very handsome car. The S-Class is Mercedes doing what it does best, and it shows.
Compared with the somewhat conservative BMW 7 Series and similarly unadventurous Audi A8 and VW Phaeton there's a swagger and confidence about the S-Class that can only come from a car totally comfortable in its own skin. Mercedes is king of this sector and isn't about to step down any time soon. Further visual mods like integrated exhausts and LED rear lights bring a bit of Maybach-esque bling to the S-Class's lines but fundamentally it's business as usual. And inside you'd be forgive for thinking the changes were similarly minimal. But scratch beneath the surface and you learn there's been a serious systems upgrade here.
Half of global S-Class sales are accounted for by the V8 S500 - no surprise when you hear the biggest markets are China and the USA. But over here things are a bit different and just over 80% of S-Classes are diesels. There's only one model too, a 3.0-litre V6 - sadly the 4.0-litre V8 diesel isn't sold here. Currently known as the S320 CDI, for the facelifted car it's been rebadged the S350 CDI BlueEfficency. Don't be fooled though, the 235hp and 398lb ft of torque are the same as before, the BlueEfficiency tag relating to a host of aerodynamic and other modifications intended to cut CO2 and improve fuel consumption.
Performance is strong too, the engine murmuring softly and only really revealing its diesel roots when worked hard. 0-62 comes up in a silky 7.8 seconds but the thumping low-down torque flatters to deceive and it feels quicker still, even if it can't quite match the 7.2 seconds of the comparable BMW 730d. The petrol V6 S350 is decidedly smoother but can't match the diesel's grunt. But if you want the best of both worlds and don't mind paying for it at the pumps the various V8 and bi-turbo V12 options will deliver, the 517hp S600 achieving a scarcely believable 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds. And the AMG versions are faster still.
Ride and handling
BMW clings onto the idea that its customers prefer a sportier ride, even in the 7 Series, and so fits conventional steel-sprung suspension with a variety of adjustment options. Like the A8, the S-Class comes with air suspension as standard on all but the S600, which needs ABC active dampers and steel springs to cope with the extra power. Mercedes is, and always has been, in a class of its own when it comes to ride comfort though. There's waft aplenty but none of the wallow found in some softly sprung luxury cars, the S-Class riding with utter authority and composure across all manner of road surfaces.
Harsh bumps that twang through the structure of an A8, Phaeton or 7 Series are heard but not felt, a sport setting on the ADS adjustable dampers available if you feel you need it. You don't though, the S-Class combining comfort with body control that refuses to be unsettled. The S600's ABC dampers - optional on other models - now include an anti-crosswind stabilising function too, the dampers tensing in response to unsettling gusts. And a variable steering rack and new 'torque vectoring brake' that effectively drags the inside back wheel to tighten the car's line round corners mean the S-Class can maintain surprising pace on twisty roads too.
The S-Class debuted Mercedes' arguably more successful 'Comand wheel' take on the iDrive philosophy, together with the double binnacle dashboard with its secondary screen for nav and other infotainment displays. Cleverly this can now be had with an innovative Splitview function that can simultaneously show the driver the nav display while play DVDs for the passenger. Very cool!Comfort and refinement are superb too, the optional massage function genuinely invigorating and available in four amusingly titled settings. Hmm, 'slow and gentle' or 'fast and vigorous'? Decisions decisions... The options list is vast too, Mercedes bundling related extras into various packs that can be chosen according to need. A long-wheelbase version with a 130mm stretch is also available.
Economy and safety
A production version of the S400 Hybrid shown on the launch won't be coming to the UK, this petrol-electric S-Class managing 35.7mpg and an impressive 186g/km of CO2. But making it right-hand drive would add further to the cost and most UK buyers already opt for diesels, which now manages 199g/km and 37.2mpg.This is an improvement from the 220g/km and 34mpg of the existing S320 CDI and thanks to the various BlueEfficiency measures. Mercedes reckons fuel consumption can vary by 20% based on tyre choice alone and new low rolling resistance tyres and revised pressures contribute to an overall 7% improvement in emissions and consumption for the S350 CDI.
But the most significant changes being introduced for this facelift concern safety, already an S-Class trump card but now an even more noteworthy selling point. Much of the cleverer stuff remains on the options list for the 350 CDI but the new E-Class's Attention Assist anti-drowsiness system will be standard on all S-Classes. Pre-Safe crash preparation that configures seats to the safest position and Neck-Pro headrests are also standard. The E-Class's Adaptive Highbeam Assist, Distronic Plus radar cruise control with Brake Assist Plus 'digital crumple zone', blind spot warning and lane-keeping alerts are all available too, Mercedes' array of safety systems as impressive as it is advanced.
The S-Class hasn't changed much but it didn't need to. The S350 CDI's efficiency gains are welcome and close to matching the 7 Series. But BMW can't match the Merc flagship's pure class, its position as the world's best selling luxury saloon never in doubt.
Need to know
Engines Petrol 3.5 V6, 5.5 V8, 5.5 V12, 6.3 V8, 6.0 V12 turbo
Engines Diesel 3.0 V6 turbo
Power (hp) 235-612
Torque (lb ft) 258-737
0-62mph (secs) 7.8-4.4
Top Speed (mph) 155 (limited)
Economy (mpg) 19.5-37.2
CO2/Tax 346-199 35%-31%
Rating Mercedes-Benz S350 CDi BlueEfficiency
Ride and handling*****
MSN Cars verdict****
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