It’s a little over a month since the new 7th generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class was launched in India, and most of the first batch of cars has sold out, indicating the allure of this elegant and powerful vehicle that’s drawn more than 8,000 customers from the time it was launched in 2000.
At 5.3m long and 2m wide, the long-wheelbase S combines luxury with technology and performance. A few months ago, at the World Car Awards, it was voted the 2021 World Luxury Car, an endorsement of the fact that each iteration of the S-Class—the S stands for Sonderklasse or specially crafted—is built better than the last. The first batch of cars in India get the AMG line styling kit, which add a touch of sportiness with the eye-catching 20-inch rims, the blue-detailed digital lamps that can illuminate up to 650m, and the disctinctive LED taillights with a unique lighting sequence. The doors are soft-close as always, while the flush-fitting handles pop out as you approach. The hands-free boot opens up to reveal a luggage compartment that is large enough for airport runs, but it doesn’t quite match up to the size of this car with the space saver tyre and the amplifier for the sound system taking up space.
The cabin of the S-Class has always been a refined affair; while the New S feels as plush as ever, it is more avant-garde in its layout. Large screens and touch controls, active ambient lights that flash warnings or create atmosphere and capacitive seat controls make it very modern. From the moment you open the large rear door and settle into the plush Nappa leather back seat, it’s a world of luxury and opulence. You can choose from a range of programs that adjusts the cabin conditions for a comfortable ride. The ‘chauffeur package’, for instance, allows one to stretch out full for first-class cabin comfort in the rear seats at the touch of a button, even accommodating six-footers with ease. However, the front passenger seat at its forward-most position does impede the driver’s visibility of the wing mirror, so it’s advisable not to push the seat forward to the final position.
Once relaxed and settled in, the hush in the cabin is calming. You can pick the ‘energising comfort’ program that recreates the sense of being in a forest or at a seaside, among others, to relax. It combines lights, sound, aromas and massage functions to offer a spa-like experience for passengers. I found it so calming, I’d say you could probably do your daily meditation on your way to work or use the more upbeat options after a hard day, on your way home, switch to different program settings to energise and rejuvenate yourself. The sound comes from the 31-speaker Burmester system with an option to switch to 4D sound where the actuators fitted into the back of the seat let you feel the beats as a truly immersive experience. While that was initially quite fascinating, it felt intrusive after a while—it’s probably better to enjoy the wide variety of other sound settings.
There’s more to pamper the rear seat passengers—a 7-inch tablet allows you to surf the net or access car functions. Rear screens have HDMI ports that support either a dongle or firestick. Dedicated climate control for rear seats, a wireless charging pad and blinds ensure that you commute in the lap of luxury. The throne-like ventilated front seats also offer massage functions, so your chauffeur will enjoy the experience too.
The dash that wraps around to the doors in one large glossy panel feels decadent, but it’s the small details like illuminated seat belt clasps that make you feel like no expense was spared to ensure the customer gets the best. Grabbing attention is the massive vertically-oriented 12.8-inch touch screen where you can access all your car controls doing away with 27 physical buttons. The OLED screen is brilliant, the graphics top-notch, and the haptic feedback superb. However, it isn’t perfect because accessing simple functions like temperature adjustment requires a couple of steps. One can overcome that by using voice commands. Simply say “Hey Mercedes” and ask away. Fingerprint recognition allows you to customise your profile on the MBUX system.
The instrument panel not only displays a host of information but also has a unique 3D display option. The S-Class also packs in a panoramic sunroof, rear-seat neck warmer, an onboard fragrance dispenser, connected car tech, wireless Android Auto/Apple CarPlay and auto park.
The list of safety features is just as long. The S-Class gets 10 airbags, including two front-facing ones for the rear seat occupants. There’s the whole array of electronic aids, too, as well as advanced driver assistance functions such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and emergency braking.
The new S-Class also gets air suspension that gives passengers a cloud-like ride at low speeds, but it is not as balanced as the previous model when you pick up the pace. This is due to the low-profile 255/40-R tyres on the first lot of AMG-line cars. The assembled-in-India cars that will come later should have a better ride with more sidewall protection. The air suspension is also handy to raise the height over large speed breakers, especially with this long wheelbase.
The S 400d 4Matic that I drove comes with a 3.0 litre straight six diesel producing 330hp and 700NM of torque; power is channelled to all four wheels. The engine is so refined it is hard to believe it’s a diesel car. The way it builds speed in a distilled manner speaks of its pedigree. Power is delivered so strongly and effortlessly you never feel you are driving a massive car. The 9-speed gearbox works fluidly, running up or down the gears ensuring you enjoy the best of the power. Step on the gas, and the needle flies past the 100-mark in just 5.4 seconds which is impressively quick. More impressive is how it masks the speed. Rear seat passengers could never guess it was going so quickly if they didn’t see the scenery fly by through the large glass windows and the massive panoramic sunroof.
What is surprising, though, is the way that this big and heavy limo handles. The steering gives you a well-connected feel, and owners can really enjoy the out-of-town drive with the composure and confidence the S offers around corners. But more than that owners should know parking this huge car is dead easy with a new trick that the 7th Gen S has up its sleeve—the rear-wheel steering allows up to 4.5 degrees movement in the opposite direction to the front wheels, greatly enhancing manoeuvrability and offering the perception of shrinking the size of the car when you drive it.
At Rs2.17 crore for the S400d 4Matic and Rs2.19 crore for the S450 4Matic, the S-Class is pricey even by luxury limousine standards, but it’s a true luxury limousine in every sense—and one that lets the world know you have arrived.
The writer is Editor, Autocar Show