Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
That there have been six generations of S-Class in the past 46 years already gives it a heritage richer than most, but actually, the roots of this ultimate Mercedes saloon can be traced back further still. Indeed you need to go all the way to the mid-1950s to find the first model to have subsequently become regarded as belonging to the ‘Sonderklasse’ family, the W180 'Ponton'.
With every subsequent generation, the S-Class has consistently represented the pinnacle of comfort and technology as Mercedes sees it, which in turn means the introduction of a new model is always a special event – even when the 'new' element of it is actually merely a series of mid-life revisions, as is the case here.
It is a testament to just how good the current S-Class is that even after three years on sale it was able to hold its own come the launch of the all-new BMW 7-Series in 2016. However, with a new Audi A8 also imminent it would have been remiss of Mercedes not to update its flagship to keep it at the top of the luxury car pile.
To that end, this revised model carries a subtly different exterior look courtesy of a new radiator grille and headlight signature, as well as even more technology than before including active lane change assist and an updated version of active cruise control that uses data from the sat-nav to adjust your speed for what's ahead.
There’s also a brand new engine in the shape of a straight-six 3.0-litre diesel to replace the older V6. This appears in the entry-level S 350 d, which just so happens to be the UK’s best-selling model (there’s also a new bi-turbo V8 in the S 560).
The new six-cylinder diesel produces 282bhp and 442Ib ft of torque, which is enough to propel even a long-wheelbase S 350 d from 0-62mph in 6.0 seconds. As you’d expect from those stats, the S-Class never feels anything less than brisk, but it’s actually the refinement that strikes you most. This is a supremely quiet motor at low engine speeds, and even when revved the sound from under the bonnet is smooth and distant.
The S-Class also does a brilliant job of shutting out external noise, and the Airmatic air suspension provides a masterclass in ride comfort. This is a large and heavy car that glides over bumps as if they weren’t there and yet never rolls or wallows when the road surface deteriorates. It really is a class act.
There’s no doubt the S-Class is a great car to drive, but it’s arguably even better to be driven in. Opt for a long-wheelbase version and there’s plenty of room to stretch out while specifying the Individual Rear seat package (admittedly not cheap at £5000) gives you full electric adjustment up to and including reclining the backrests to a lazy 37 degrees. There are even a couple of folding tables in the central armrest for the full flying first-class effect.
It is when details such as these merge with perfect fit and finish and the beautifully resolved driving experience that you begin to appreciate exactly why the S-Class is so highly regarded. Be in no doubt, this really is one of the finest cars in the world.