In any discipline of sport, engineering or beyond, it’s often nigh-on impossible to say definitively who – or what – is the best in its particular field. Weighing up the relative merits of the hardest hitting heavyweight boxer, for example, against those of the most agile, fleet-footed bantamweight is always going to be an exercise in subjectivity over objectivity. The same goes for the world of motoring. To borrow a well-worn expression from the boxing ring, what exactly is the best pound for pound car on the road today? All things considered, many would plump for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Currently in its sixth generation, the S-Class has been regally ruling the roads since the early 70s. Often serving as a launchpad for the very latest in Mercedes technology and design, each successive incarnation of the flagship luxury saloon can lay claim to being amongst the most cutting-edge cars of its own era. Not willing to cede any ground to its clamouring rivals, the four-year old current model is ready for a refresh.
Celebrating its world première at the Shanghai Motorshow, the 2018 Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG S-Class stable propels the luxury icon to even loftier heights. With a selection of all-new powertrains and a further step closer to fully autonomous driving, let’s see what exactly Mercedes has brought to the party.
The updated version of the luxury saloon leviathan stays largely faithful to basic design brief that’s served it well since debuting in 2013. That’s not to gloss over the various exterior tweaks, such as a new gloss black radiator grille with louvres and vertical strips or the more distinct air intakes. Scanning down the catalogue, the S-Class now comes with a choice of seven alloy wheels designs, from 17 to 20 inches in diameter, plus an upgraded set of LED headlights. Just as arrestingly sophisticated from the rear as it is from the front, the 2018 model sports a redesigned lower bumper section with integrated chrome-trimmed tailpipes.
The secret to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class’ success as the best-selling luxury saloon in the world in 2016 is as much down to its innovative interior features as its alluring appearance. The six different body variants of Merc’s flagbearer receive a comprehensive cabin upgrade for 2018, with two new 12.3 inch high-resolution infotainment displays joined by a fully digital wide screen instrument cluster.
Elsewhere, Mercedes ‘Comfort Control’ is the latest weapon of mass relaxation in the never ending quest for ultimate luxury on the road. Entering series production for the first time on the 2018 S-Class, this optional feature carefully orchestrates and coordinates a raft of functions, from climate control to massaging seats, interior lighting to audio and even cabin fragrance to create the perfect sensory experience to suit your driving mood.
As premium carmakers jockey for position in the technology stakes, it’s easy to imagine how the systems that help us to drive our cars more smoothly today could enable our cars to drive us independently tomorrow. With the updated S-Class, Mercedes is striding enthusiastically towards its first autonomous vehicle. We’re not there yet of course, but such clever systems as Active Proximity Control and Active Steer Assist are drawing us nearer to the day when we’ll be quite literally taken for a ride by the world’s biggest manufactures. The updated S-Class, for example, will not only keep a safe distance from cars ahead on the motorway by also steer semi-independently with speed adjusted automatically ahead of curves or junctions. Once in the bend, the car’s body now tilts slightly depending on the sharpness of the turn to counteract bothersome body roll. What’s more, the 2018 S-Class’ Road Surface Scan borrows an idea or two from the world of SUVs by cleverly pre-empting ruts or bumps in the road ahead and instantly altering suspension settings accordingly.
All this, and we haven’t even touched on the small matter of the S-Class’ brand-new roster of engines. The S 560 4MATIC anchors the range with a new 4.0 litre V8 petrol unit that develops 516lb/ft torque and 469bhp. Across the paddock, the S 350 d4MATIC and S 400 d4MATIC will become no less than the most powerful diesel cars in Merc’s history once they roll off the Stuttgart production line. Sharing the same 3.0 litre diesel powertrain, the pair will produce 286 and 340bhp respectively with the larger of the two matching its petrol equivalent for torque.
For the most unbridled S-Class performance, the updated Mercedes-AMG S 63 and S65 are revving in the wings. 2018 sees the S 63’s previous 5.5-litre V8 superseded by a more efficient 4.0-litre twin turbo equivalent. Packing more power than its heftier predecessor, the rip-roaring 612bhp petrol engine pumps out a massive 664lb-ft torque and hits 62mph from a standing start in just 3.5secs. Equipped with a 9-speed sports transmission, the standard package also boasts AMG staples such as variable AWD, race start and performance exhausts. Optional ceramic high-performance breaks can also be thrown in to beef up the S-Class’ stopping power.
If all that fails to quench your thirst for power, simply call for the big daddy. The Mercedes-AMG S 65 is living proof that the V12 isn’t dead just yet. This 6.0 litre fire-breather roars with 630bhp and a whopping 738lb-ft torque. The aging but efficient 7G-TRONIC gearbox returns complete with selectable automatic or paddle shift, and whilst the weightier S 65 will only manage the sprint to 62mph in 4.3secs, it still emulates the S 63’s electronically limited top speed of 155mph.
The latest from Shanghai suggests that Merc is also in the throes of finalising a new plug-in hybrid to add to its already extensive S-Class stable. Sources indicate that this prospective PHEV could well manage over 30 miles on electric power alone and join the line-up later this year.
The refreshed and comprehensively upgraded Mercedes-Benz S-Class saloon is primed for launch over in European markets in the coming months, with first deliveries planned for July onwards.