Hubert Burda Media

Shake That S

Mercedes-Benz has given the S-Class a total revamp. Is the latest model as good as the original?

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is probably the last range of cars you’d imagine to go on a joyride in, but we did anyway. With all four windows lowered and one of the two panoramic sunroofs yawning wide open above us, my gal pal and I careen down a relatively deserted ECP late on a Monday night, while Alicia Keys and Jay-Z bellow “Empire State of Mind” from the sound system.

I was test-driving the diesel-powered S350L BlueTEC, which had just been launched in Singapore last November as part of the new S-Class line-up (it also includes a hybrid and petrol model). It’s the first time the range has seen a complete revamp in the past decade and with that, it aspires to be “the best car in the world”.

One of its selling points is a completely new multimedia system and we were keen to test it out. Developed by Mercedes-Benz (recognised as the best-selling auto brand in Singapore last year), the Frontbass system makes its debut in a saloon car and features woofers fitted in the firewall, while utilising the close to 40-litre space in the cross and side members as a resonance chamber. The speakers have been shifted up from the doors so the sound is more uniform and delivers the effect of being in the middle of a concert hall (or in our case, the stadium during the Super Bowl halftime show).

I’m trying to keep the speed at a steady 120kph but the acceleration is practically effortless and the almost two tonnes of metal just floats along the expressway, the needle on the speedometer inching up as if possessed.

Surprisingly though, getting the car to move from stationary state isn’t all that smooth. There’s a half-second lag to coax it to react and step up to the city driving speed limit but once I am cruising, all that is quickly forgotten.

On the inside, and if you’re at the wheel, it’s easy to be distracted by the two giant high-resolution TFT colour displays in 8:3 format. A screen diagonal of 30.7cm means even the most long-sighted C-suite executive driving it can still see the information without the help of reading glasses. And at night, the entire dashboard is silhouetted with a sea blue glow, giving it a classy, feel-good edge.

But why should you be driving this car? Own the S-class and chances are you’ll have a chauffeur hanging around your massive garage. Because this saloon is designed to let you sit back and cut those business deals in peace or decompress between meetings.

The rear knee room has accommodated a 14-mm increase and shoulder room, 9mm. Headrests are filled with goose feathers so they are extra soft. The requisite leather-clad seats are there and if you opt for the “First-Class rear suite”, you can even have a rear centre console fitted with thermo cupholders that can cool or warm beverages. Additionally, two tables can be unfolded out with one hand, mimicking that of an aircraft seat.

My favourite, though, has to be the “Energising” massage function. Developed in accordance with the philosophy of hot stone therapy, it sees 14 separately actuated air cushions in the backrest combined with an integrated warming function. Choose from six massage programmes, two of which have the warming option.

Another bonus is the “reversing fans” that are great for our tropical climate — it allows for cooler air in the surroundings to be drawn onto the seat surface and bring down the temperature.

Externally, the design of the new S-Class is sleeker, curvier and less boxy than its predecessor, commanding power, elegance and status. It prides itself on being the world’s first car to do away with light bulbs and is fitted solely with LEDs — almost 500 of them — illuminating the outside and in. Kudos also to the engineers for creating up to 20 percent lower fuel consumption.

The safety features are plentiful and impressive. Highlights include a system that can detect pedestrians and activate braking at speeds up to 50kph, Active Lane Keeping Assist that ensures you don’t straddle lanes, and Night View Assist Plus that uses a thermal imaging camera to alert you to pedestrians or animals in front of the car — which explains why we have peace of mind to go on a joyride.

Back in the car, we are winding down as the radio deejay starts to spin slower tracks. Or so we think.

As I pull up at my gal pal’s home and she prepares to get out of the car, the opening beats of “Shake Ya Tail Feather” fill the airwaves.

“Another round?” I suggest.

She turns back in, grins and closes the door with a thud: “Hit it!”

Mercedes-Benz S350L BlueTEC

Engine: 3.0L 0M278 six-cylinder diesel engine with common-rail direct injection
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Displacement: 2,987cc
Power: 258bhp at 3,600rpm
Torque: 620Nm at 1,600-2,400rpm
Top speed: 250kph
Performance: 0-100kph in 6.8 seconds
Fuel consumption: 5.6L/100km