Recently facelifted, this über Benz stills reigns supreme in the executive car park
If there’s one car used to driving around with a big target painted on its back, it’s the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. For the best of seven decades now, the big Merc has been the benchmark in the premium luxury sedan segment, not only offering class-leading ride quality and comfort, but also introducing new technology that’s become the automotive norm. The Merc’s traditional rivals from BMW, Audi and Lexus have, on occasion, rattled their sabres and risen to issue worthy challenges, but none have had sword skills to beat Stuttgart’s finest in a one-on-one duel.
Five years after the launch of the current W222 generation – to give it Merc’s internal code – the S-Class has been given a facelift and, at first glance, its rivals might well have felt a little encouraged. Visually the changes have been minimal. The nose has been nipped and tucked with a refreshed grille that sports three twin-louvres with chrome-finished vertical strips. There are new multi-beam LED headlamps, below that a bumper with more pronounced air intakes and at the back, the S-Class gets crystal-look LED tail-lamps and a redesigned lower rear bumper. Given how well the S-Class has aged, it’s hardly surprising to note that Merc’s designers haven’t messed with the template too much. It’s a handsome and enduringly elegant design that set the template for the subsequent C- and E-Classes.
The range has also been trimmed and only the long-wheelbase models are available in our market (with an extra 133mm between the axles). It was customer preference that dictated this, says Mercedes, but perhaps given how accomplished the slightly smaller E-Class is, also a smart marketing initiative to put a little more distance between the siblings.
What those S-Class rivals would have been dismayed to find out is that all the real changes have occurred underneath that well-cut Hugo Boss suit – some 6 500 in all, claim Mercedes. Inside, the most obvious refurbishment is the all-new, multi-function steering wheel and the dual-display widescreen dashboard display. The new three-spoke steering wheel now has the touch-sensitive controls first seen on the E-Class that operate the Distronic (adaptive cruise control), as well as the infotainment and instrumentation configuration. Two crisp and clear hi-resolution displays – the centre display has a diagonal of 12,3 inches – sit behind a single glass cover and do justice to a beautifully crafted interior of high quality leather, wood veneers and bevelled alloys.
And it’s an interior best experienced from the S560L’s back seat… especially when it’s equipped with the optional Chauffeur Package. With the front passenger seat able to move forward by a further 77mm and an electrically extending footrest, rear passengers can recline in business class-type comfort. Add the rear seat entertainment package (R49 000) that includes monitors built into the front head restraints, two sets of wireless headsets and wireless remotes, plus a separate DVD player under the rear seat, and you may as well be cruising at altitude.
Also new is the 4,0-litre turbopetrol V8 that replaces the previous 4,6-litre but puts out more power and is more fuel efficient. Controlled by the nine-speed auto transmission, power delivery is smooth as Danish butter and despite the ability to leap from 0–100km/h in just under five seconds, the big Benz never feels hurried. Plant your foot to overtake and a slick kick-down from the gears elicits a restrained growl from the exhaust.
While it’s nice to know you can, such driving is hardly within the S-Class’ upper crust demeanour. Instead, it’s in one of those gloriously comfortable backseats that this vehicle is best enjoyed. With the superb Burmester sound system piping in your favourite music and any vague road imperfections dispatched by the Magic Body Control system that scans the road ahead and instructs the Airmatic air-suspension system to respond accordingly, the Mercedes-Benz S Class serenely makes its way through the busy throng, waving to its subjects and taking respectful nods from vanquished pretenders to the throne.
Engine 3 982cm2 V8 turbopetrol
Torque 700 N.m
Trans 9-speed auto
Top speed 250km/h
0-100 4,7 sec*
Fuel economy 8,20L/100 km*
CO2 181 g/km
Maintenance plan 6 yr/100 000km
Base price R2 070 545
Words: Steve Smith