Is this Benz the best car in the world?

MERCEDES-BENZ S-CLASS: Simply brilliant.
MERCEDES-BENZ S-CLASS: Simply brilliant.

Recently as I sat in the rear seat of a long-wheelbase Mercedes-Benz S-Class while being chauffeured to a country location behind Melbourne, the interior environment was silent enough for me to contemplate some of the mind-boggling statistics about this new luxury sedan.

S350: Front-mounted rear-wheel drive 3.0-litre common rail fuel injected and turbocharged V6 diesel engine, with 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission.
S500: Front-mounted rear-wheel drive 4.7-litre direct injected and twin-turbocharged V8 diesel engine, with 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission.
S63 AMG: Front-mounted rear-wheel drive 5.5-litre direct injected and twin-turbocharged V8 diesel engine, with AMG Speedshift MCT 7-speed automatic transmission.
Outputs: S350: 190kW at 3600rpm, 620Nm at 1600-2400rpm, 6.0L/100km, 159g/km CO2. S500: 335kW at 5250-5500rpm, 700Nm at 1800-3500rpm, 9.2L/100km, 215g/km CO2. S63 AMG: 430kW and 900 Nm, 10.2L/100 km, 239g/km CO2.
Chassis: Four link front suspension with air springs, multi-link setup at the rear with air springs. Electromechanical rack and pinion power steering. 18-inch and 20-inch wheels.
Safety: Fullest range of standard and optional safety specification, including Distronic Plus, BAS Plus, adaptive high-beam assist, night-view assist, active lane-keeping assist, 360-dgeree camera, Pre-Safe braking with pedestrian recognition, adaptive airbag system, beltbags for outer rear seats.
Dimensions: L 5116mm (short wheelbase) 5246mm (long wheelbase), W 1899mm, H 1493 mm (short wheelbase) 1494mm (long wheelbase), W/base 3035mm (short) 3165mm (long). Boot capacity 510 litres (short) 530 litres (long).

S500 $240,000,
S500 long wheelbase $255,000,
S63 AMG $330,000.

Hot: Roomier, new safety and convenience features, great looks.
Not: Nothing I can think of. Price, perhaps?
Verdict: A world-leading example of the advances being made in automative and safety technology. Simply brilliant.
For example, its on-board telematics feature 30 million lines of programming code. Its 31.2cm in-dash screen has 831,800 pixels. Its sound system can feature up to 24 speakers, 24 amplifier channels, and put out up to 1540 watts.

Its electrical system has 10 FlexRay control units. It has 734 wiring harnesses that carry a total of 2400 wires. The rear seating area is a WiFi hotspot on wheels. It is the first car in the world without a conventional light bulb - instead it has 500 LEDs, 300 of them in the interior.

FRONT AND REAR: The luxurious inside of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
FRONT AND REAR: The luxurious inside of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Its air conditioning system has four zones for all those aboard, each with individual fan speeds. The system also has two solar sensors, plus GPS which records the position and elevation of the sun, so it can automatically adjust temperatures to take into account the amount of direct sunlight pouring into the car.

The system also has an air ioniser which works so well it can improve by 15 per cent the lung capacity of any person aboard who suffers from asthma.

The car could have been fitted with an optional warmth comfort package that not only warms or cools the seats, but also heats the steering wheel and front, rear and centre armrests.

And that's just the luxury on offer. Then there's the safety.

The car carries a huge array of standard safety items such as Mercedes-Benz' already well-known Distronic Plus steering assistance to help the driver keep the car on the straight and narrow, and pre-safe braking system which pre-charges brakes when an impact may be imminent.

Now it can go much further. A new option for the V8-powered models - and standard on the AMG version - is a new system called Road Surface Scan which uses a stereo camera to detect unevenness on the road ahead, and sets up the car's suspension to deal with it.

Of course it could be said that you get what you pay for, and the new S-Class range certainly is expensive with prices ranging from $197,500 for a 3.0-litre six cylinder turbodiesel S350 through to $330,000 for a 5.5-litre bi-turbo V8-powered S63 AMG.

But what you do get for the money is a vehicle with such a magnificent level of appointment and safety that it is difficult to argue against the Mercedes-Benz claim that the S-Class is the best car in the world.

"New S-Class models don't come around very often - about once every seven years. So this is a very special day," said Mercedes-Benz Australia's senior manager of corporate communications Dave McCarthy at a recent media function in Victoria's Yarra Valley.

Product manager Gordon Jones described the new S-Class as offering three pillars of motoring excellence - intelligent drive, efficient technology, and the essence of luxury.

"Some of the sublime detail in the car's interior is where this new model really stands out," he added.

He can say that again. While the new S-Class' exterior features a new-look grille that is 30 per cent larger than before, a latest iteration of the "dropping line" character line than runs down the vehicle's flanks, and a new V-shaped boot lid that helps make the sedan look wider, it remains reasonably understated in its appearance - and it is underneath and inside the bodyshell that the true excellence this new Benz stands out.

The vehicle is larger than before which has resulted in improved interior room, but more use of alloys and high-tensile steels has allowed the car to be roughly the same weight as the previous model even though it carries a lot more equipment.

In fact, a significant statistic is that there has been no increase in the kerb weights of the S-Class model line for more than 20 years.

With this latest S-Class the no weight gain has helped all models boast up to 20 per cent lower fuel consumption than the outgoing model, with all the engines already meeting Euro-6 emissions standards.

New Zealand is initially receiving four versions of the S-Class. The range starts with the S350 BlueTEC which is powered by a direct injected and turbocharged 3.0-litre diesel engine that develops 190kW and 620Nm, yet offers an average fuel consumption of 6L/100km.

Perhaps even more impressive are the short and long-wheelbase S500 models which are powered by a 4.7-litre V8 bi-turbo diesel that offers 335kW and 700Nm, but boasts a combined cycle economy of 9.2L/100km.

Even the S63 with its 430kW and 900Nm 5.5-litre V8 bi-turbo diesel has an average consumption if 10.2L/100 km, which is excellent for a sedan of that size and power.

The recent media event included the opportunity to short and long-wheelbase S350 and S500 models for a tour around a 50km circuit.

Straight into the drive along the area's undulating and often uneven country roads, it was immediately apparent that despite the larger size, this new S-Class benefits from a 50 per cent increase in torsional rigidity.

It feels agile, even when on a Comfort rather than Sport suspension setting, and the quiet is superb. That's thanks to a massive amount of sound deadening that this time around includes injection moulding of structural foams into the bodyshell, and constant electronic adjustment of the engine mounts to help absorb vibration.

Quite obviously with this flagship Mercedes-Benz, the best has just got better.

Little wonder then that the new model is the biggest-selling luxury sedan worldwide, forcing the manufacturer to run a two-shift operation at its assembly plant at Sindelfingen so it can achieve an output of around 460 vehicles a day - the highest ever for an S-Class.

The Press