I am going to attempt to write this review without the use of the overused cliché “magic carpet” – let’s see how that goes. The current generation Mercedes S Class, known internally as the W222 (and locally as the CHOGM Benz), has just been given its usual mid-life facelift. Vehicle manufacturers give cars facelifts to spread out the R&D costs they incurred when developing the new model from the ground up – it’s economics. Most manufacturers however limit their “facelifts” to that in the literal sense – a new radiator grille, restyled turn indicators and, if you’re lucky, a new infotainment system. So much so that individuals face-lifting their cars at their local garage is not uncommon. Those familiar with Mercedes Benz will however know that, for them, this is not the case.
When the Korean-Designed (yes, really) W222 was first released in 2013, it was a striking departure from its angular and muscular predecessor which was known mostly for its pronounced wheel arches. The new W222 was a much more fluid and restrained design which oozed presence nonetheless and, interestingly, had strong American design influences, particularly around its rear haunches, borrowing from the Lincoln Town Car of the early 2000s. For the 2018 facelift, exterior changes are subtle but noticeable. New head and taillamp units tell the car apart from the old and incorporate fascinating illumination patterns which, in the taillamps, conceal the bulbs and reveal light cascading on crystalline surfaces. As geeky as it may sound, it is a beautiful departure in a world of led light strips.
The headlamps deserve their own write up, given their sophistication but, in summary, can illuminate up to 650m (over half a kilometer) and yet not blind a car ten feet away from you. This is courtesy 84 individually controlled high performance LEDs capable of altering their light 100 times a second. The sophistication of the S Class should now be beginning to dawn on you as we have yet only discussed its lights. Other elements of the car’s exterior remain relatively mildly altered, with the changes making the car look smarter, particularly in AMG spec, as tested.
Mech & Tech
Probably the most important element of a Mercedes facelift is its engines. The 2018 S Class petrol range now starts with the “S450”, powered by a three liter straight six. Mercedes has reverted back to an inline six layout thanks to electrification of previously belt-driven components and consequent space saving. The engine (codenamed the M 256) debuted on this car and features an electric compressor (or supercharger) that aids the turbocharger and eliminates lag. As one would expect, the car contains enough sound deadening to ensure that you almost cannot hear the engine below 3,000 rpm.
This new S450 comes with a nine-speed gearbox which suits the car superbly well thanks to its imperceptible shifts as you waft down Horton Place. Suspension is multi-link, pneumatic and computer controlled. Dinner-plate size brakes help stop all that mass.
And let’s not talk about how many computers there are…
Something that got the attention of all occupants of the car, including our unsuspecting cameraman, was just how quick this car is when pushed. A quick fact-check revealed that 100kmh comes up in five seconds flat. This is impressive for two reasons; a) the car is massive, specially the long wheelbase version we tested and b) this was the “base spec”. To put things into perspective, this is roughly as quick as a WRC derived Mitsubishi Evolution of a decade and a half ago – a car that carried no more than a radio by way of luxuries. The S Class however allows you this rate of progress with enough finesse to ensure you are not woken if asleep in the back seat.
The new engine and gearbox contribute the most part for this and showcases just how much a facelift means in Mercedes-speak. Paddles are on offer but feel out of place in the context of the car. Also, when you only have a few gears short of a mountain bike, shifting manually can get tedious, so just let the car do its thing.
In order to test just how good the car’s suspension system is, we did not take the car to Horton Place – we took it to Wattala. Being a resident of the general area for a smidgen under a quarter of a century, I know just how appalling the roads in and around Madampitiya (on the way to Wattala) are. So, we kept the car in comfort mode and the results were astonishing. While your eyes see potholes big enough for a baby elephant to bathe in and your body clenches for a swift dash and jerk, the S Class remains nearly flat like a (trying not to say magic carpet) passenger ship gliding unfazed through mere ripples in water.
This was achieved without Mercedes’ optional “Magic Body Control”, but the S Class does come with Airmatic (air suspension to you and me) as standard. Magic Body Control is an optional extra which scans the road ahead using a stereo camera and primes the suspension for each individual dip and bump so the car’s occupants won’t be perturbed by what little undulations we experienced with the “normal” suspension. Sports mode noticeably sharpens everything up and makes the suspension surprisingly firm. One would have expected sports mode in an S Class (barring the fully AMG variants) to be nothing more than a placebo but it’s not the case. This ain’t no Lancia Stratos but will keep the old uncles entertained when at the wheel.
That said, all S Class’s will likely spend no less than 95% of their lives in comfort mode.
Living with it
Upon opening the door, you are greeted by waves of ambient lighting and screens illuminating in place of now long forgotten analogue gauges. The S Class ambient lighting illuminates areas you seldom give a second thought to – behind the rear headrests for example, and can be customized via a rather extensive color palate in the infotainment system to the extent you can set two different colors in the cabin at once. It’s all a bit much really and is a classic example of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. Thankfully however, the system does allow you to set a sober white and dim the brightness for an extremely welcoming atmosphere.
The seats on our test car were individually adjustable, including the rear (left and right). Being a long wheelbase version, the front passenger seat could even be folded forward from the rear while your calves are propped up by a luxury theatre-style footrest. I was told the massage function is something to experience, particularly the hot stone function but that is of course an optional extra.
One little niggle was that the standard audio system was a bit lacking for a car of this caliber. Having had the privilege of listening to the optional 27 speaker Burmeister, currently called one of the best car audio systems in the world, Mercedes could have ideally sprinkled a little bit of that magic on the standard system. Overall however, the interior of this car is an incredibly welcoming place to spend extended amounts of time in and will rival the comfort of your own home. Air conditioning with not only variable temperatures left and right but different fan speeds will keep each occupant happy. The fans themselves have been engineered to minimize noise so that occupants feel the wind, but do not hear it – that’s luxury.
Having being called “the best car in the world” by many, its safety is no less comprehensive than any other aspect of the car. The S Class has traditionally been the car with which Mercedes introduced safety innovations, dating back to airbags and three-point seatbelts. For 2018, the (non-exhaustive) list of existing and new safety measures include six radar sensors, radar guided cruise control with steering assist, cross traffic assist and Pre-safe impulse.
Pre-safe impulse pulls front occupants away from the direction of impact and deeper into their seats using the seatbelts (which now have airbags in them) even before the actual impact. With regard to pedestrians, Pre-Safe Brake makes it almost impossible to hit a pedestrian below 50km/h – very comforting, especially given that the legal speed limit in Colombo is 50km/h. Again, this list is far from exhaustive, and the entire regiment of safety acronyms utilizes nigh on the entire English alphabet.
Fuel Economy and Price
This isn’t thirsty per se, but fuel economy is the last thing on an S Class buyer’s mind. Academically, it is said to do around 8-10km/l on a mixed urban-rural cycle. Price wise, it certainly isn’t the cheapest of the current crop of full sized luxury sedans, given that Mercedes has not gone to the same extent of its competitors by way of engine downsizing. In a world where a Jaguar XJ and BMW 7 series can be had with 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, the S is decidedly powerful from base spec. That does not help its case in terms of import duty but dare I say you do get that much more “displacement for your money”. The price hovers in the 40 million range, and the sky is the limit once you get busy with that option list.
It will be tough for another car to do as many things as well as the S Class does. Yes, there are quicker cars, but are they as unstressed? There are more relaxed cars, but are they as safe? Where most luxury cars on the road today can score 5/5 in one department, they would likely score 3/5 in another. Any automotive journalist would be hard pressed however to give the S Class less than a 4 out of 5, whichever aspect you evaluate it for. For that reason itself, I’ll go out on a limb and give 5/5 to this magic carpet.
2,999CC, inline 6
ABS, EBD, BAS,
Wheels & Tyres
245/50 R 18
Width: 1,899 mm
Height: 1,496 mm
Length: 5,246 mm (LWB)