The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is undoubtedly the best car in the world, bar a Rolls-Royce. And you do not really need a car review to tell you that it is a great car. Mercedes has been consistently perfecting the S-Class since 1954, and there have been nine generations since. Each generation since the Ponton has debuted new technologies and remarkable levels of comfort and luxury, winning the all-important public perception along the way. Everyone knows the S-Class is a great car. Even the old models are still brilliant.
Technologies that we take for granted now have even made their debut in the S-Class, like the seatbelt pretensioner or the three-point seatbelt. ABS and the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) too were introduced to the world in the S-Class. It was also the first car in Europe to come with an airbag. So with that much engineering know how in the car, there is no wonder that it is known as the best car in the world.
It is also a car fit for kings and heads of state. President Putin goes around in a specially prepared S-Class, as do other rich and powerful people.
The many years that Mercedes has been perfecting the S-Class as the ultimate expression of luxury and technology has brought us this, the W222 S400 hybrid, a car we drove and were driven in for an entire weekend, and were hesitant to return. So what did we learn about it? It is incredibly luxurious. Unbelievably comfortable. And beautiful to drive.
In an interview, Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, or better known as Coco Chanel, the French fashion designer and founder of the ultra-luxurious Chanel brand, was famously quoted as saying, “luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.” Someone from Mercedes must have being paying attention because the S-Class is one of the most luxurious cars you can buy, and it is splendidly comfortable. Sit inside and you are corseted by luxurious, soft leather. The door didn’t latch while you were closing it? Don’t bother trying again, the vacuum powered doors will automatically secure the door for you – like a good butler would.
Your feet rest on soft carpet, the seats are inch perfect and touch you in all the right places. And if you are seated in the back seat, there is also a velvet wrapped soft pillow for you to rest your head on. This is located right below the rear head rest, perfectly positioned to rest your head on. It is tiny details like this that make a good car great.
The seat belts are double layered, and as such are ultra-comfortable to wear. The buttons that control your window and the seat position as well as all other controls in the car have a unique aluminum touch to them, the kind that feel like it has been engineered, ingenuously crafted, and not just ordered from a mass producer.
Had a long day? Hand the keys over to the driver and take the back seat. At the press of a button, the left rear seat will stretch nearly flat as the front seat automatically slides forward to make even more knee room. The thigh and calf support whirs up from below and gently cushions your legs. It does not lay perfectly plat like that of a private jet, or the business class seats of a commercial liner, but it offers unprecedented comfort for an S-Class, and tops the BMW 7-Series in overall luxury, and of course, comfort. There are two 10-inch display screens for the rear passengers, both of which are connected to every media source such as radio, TV, media, internet, navigation, entertainment, DVD drive and USB as well. It even plays from external audio and video sources such as MP3 players, USB sticks, iPods, iPads, and also game consoles. This is done through the two USB slots and analogues AUX-in jacks in the rear seat armrest.
The temperamental Malaysian weather requires some really special climate control systems to keep occupants cool. But the S-Class takes it all a notch further by utilising climate-controlled seats for the driver and front passenger.
Should you want to drive rather than be driven in the S-Class, you can keep things cool with seats that feature an integrated fan. This is not new technology however, as it has been around for a few years already, but the system works by distributing cool air on to the surface of the seats so that you are kept comfortable in all temperatures.
But Mercedes-Benz has gone to great lengths to ensure the level of comfort in the S400h goes beyond what is expected. The German car maker has included something called the “Air-Balance Package”, which is basically a fragrance gently blown into the air-conditioning system of the car to create a soothing ambiance. It offers four different fragrances called Nightlife, Downtown, Sports and Freeside, all of which are placed in the glove compartment. The fragrance can be adjusted for intensity, or completely turned off. It does not alter the smell of the interior, and neither do the molecules of the fragrance settle on to the textile surfaces of the car, or on to the clothing of the occupants. It also constantly cleans the interior air using air filters and ionisers with oxygen.
The level of detailing in the S400h is amazing to say the least, especially for its price. There is so much technology in this car that there must be enough wiring underneath to build a small satellite. And of course, just as you would expect a S-Class to be, the ride quality is also perfect. Lots of materials and technology has been put in place to isolate the passengers from external disturbances like the wind, road and ambient sounds, so what you get is complete isolation, but it isn’t as perfect as (again) a Rolls Royce, but for just a quarter of the price of the ‘Roller’, no one is complaining. But just in case you were wondering, it is up there with a Bentley though.
The S400h uses three different technologies to create what some call the perfect ride, these are the Airmatic with Continuously Variable Damping System, the Direct-Steer system, and the Magic Body Control. The first works with variable damper control that also raises the car on bad roads, and also automatically lowers the car at high speed. The second works towards better comfort for those who prefer to drive. It does so by making the car more agile with less steering effort, and also makes straight lines more stable. The Magic Body Control is an anticipatory suspension system that adapts to road conditions before the car reaches them. An on-board camera is used to scan the road ahead, and automatically prepares the dampers to adapt accordingly. This system works with other systems like the Active Body Control suspension system with Integrated Continuous Damping Control. This works to keep road vibrations away from the passengers and to keep the car level and planted at all times. Of course there are other technologies as well that make the car better to drive and more comfortable. In all there are 19 different systems that work continuously to keep the car safer, more comfortable, easier to drive, and there is even a technology that helps you see at night. The Night View Assist Plus helps a driver see in the dark utilising infrared headlamps that project objects onto the display screen in the instrument cluster.
As for how the car performs, well the S-Class is no sports car, in fact, some will even say that the BMW 740Le is a better athlete than the S-Class, but that does not mean the S400h is a slouch, far from it actually. The car is powered by a 3.5-litre V6 hybrid engine that puts out 306hp and 370Nm of torque. Then there is the electric motor that pushes overall power up to 322hp. But what the S400h loses out on overall performance, it makes up for with buttery smooth power delivery and gearshifts. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox and the massive body of the car is kept in check through all the suspension systems mentioned earlier. Summon ‘Sports’ mode and the engine gets livelier, suspension stiffer, throttle sharper and the ride is firmer. But even so, the S400h is not one that you can chuck in and out of corners; it simply does not like doing that as you still feel the heft of the massive body. This is a car best left for the kind of drives where you sit back and relax, the kind where you are cocooned in total comfort, serenaded by a crisp 13-speaker Burmester audio system, and left to ponder the meaning of a good life as you rest reclined in soft leather.
In conclusion, there is a real good reason why we see so many of the W222 S-Class on our roads today, and that is because the S400h is currently a really good buy. Currently priced at just RM598,888, the S-Class is benefitting from the National Automotive Policy that states that all locally produced hybrid cars are exempt from any import or excise duties on it. For that price, the Mercedes-Benz S400h is probably the best buy in the market right now for those who can afford it. It was also Coco Chanel who said, “in order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different,” and the S400h is not only different, it is the best car on our roads right now. Bar (you guessed it) a Rolls Royce.