The Mercedes S-Class has long been a benchmark in luxury limousines. It's designed for diplomats, royalty, and business folk with more commas in their bank balance than the Bible has psalms.
This S 350 L BlueTEC edition, the cleanest diesel S-Class to date, retails for £64,155 as standard. Our test car, however, features just about every Mercedes-Benz option going, including night vision, TV tuners and Bang & Olufsen front and rear entertainment systems, which push the price up to £94,650.
The cabin of the S350 L makes your favourite business-class airline look like a dusty old rickshaw. It's exceptionally luxurious, with just the right amount of leather, wood, massaging seats and fridges in which to stash bottles of Cristal. (There's just one fridge, stashed between the rear seats, but that's all you need, really.)
The comfort levels don't dip much once the car is in motion. The S-Class is blessed with a fancy Airmatic suspension system, which uses automatically controlled air springs which adjust dynamically depending on the driving conditions.
At higher speeds, it lowers the car's ride height to improve aerodynamic efficiency, while at lower speeds, it can raise the ride height to reduce the impact of particularly vicious speed bumps. It'll even help balance the car. If there's a heavy object -- say a particularly fat exec -- positioned on one corner of the vehicle, it'll raise that corner to make the car as level as possible, improving handling and comfort.
What's more, the car's front seats will actively support you as you corner. Swing the car to the left and supports on the right will move in to cradle you on the right. Turn to the right and the same will happen on the opposite side.
On the whole, the car handles surprisingly well for something so large, but it's not quite as rewarding a drive as the
The vast majority of the S-Class' entertainment and information functions are accessed via the car's COMAND interface, which is controlled via a knob on the centre console. It's very similar to the ConnectedDrive unit seen in BMWs, as it must be twisted, pushed and pulled to control a menu interface that resides on a large, dash-mounted display.
The system has pros and cons. Its graphical user interface is easier to navigate than BMW's system, but it doesn't include any physical shortcut buttons to take you instantly to the sat-nav or radio, for example. As a result, you'll have to spend time navigating your way through the menu system to get to your chosen function.
The eight-inch COMAND display in this car is somewhat disappointing, too. It's fairly large in comparison to the screens in most cars, but it's outclassed by the 10.2-inch 1,280x480-pixel unit fitted in the BMW 7 series. If you're a gadget fiend, you can't help but feel Mercedes-Benz missed a trick in this area.
The COMAND display does have one very impressive trick up its sleeve, which the BMW does not -- Splitview. Splitview uses a filter over the display to direct half the display's pixels towards the passenger and the other half towards the driver, allowing them to see two different images on the same screen simultaneously. The driver, for example, can keep an eye on the directions from the sat-nav, while the passenger enjoys a spot of Freeview television, the radio interface, or whatever else they please by way of an infra-red remote control.