Few car models generate as much reverence and awe as the Mercedes-Benz S Class.
It’s a car that resonates with me, having been fortunate enough to be allowed to borrow my father’s first-generation S Class—the W116 in no less than the top-of-the-line V8-powered 450 SE model (with, in my opinion, the more expressive American version quad round headlights)—in my college and early working years.
I crossed paths once again with the S Class during another important moment of my life—my wedding day. It was our bridal car. This time, it was the third-generation S Class—the W140 in its distinctive Bruno Sacco-penned lines.
Which makes a test drive of the current S Class (the W222 series, specifically the locally available S 320 Long) hit close to home. So how exactly is it to drive an S Class? First, you ride one. This is one car that’s best experienced from the back seat. And what a back seat. Executive-class legroom with reclining seatbacks, fine attention to detail in the materials and workmanship of finely crafted eucalyptus wood-and-leather interior, the most luxurious creature comforts and amenities—you’ll find nothing to wish for in the back seat of an S Class.
Speaking of which, it’s a back seat that’s perfect for two; a third person will certainly fit, but he or she—including the two passengers on either side—will feel less dignified. That’s because the rear seat is shaped almost like two buckets seats—which also means that with the generous legroom (all locally available S 320 models, which retail for P9,690,000, are the long-wheelbase variants), two rear seat passengers enjoy true first-class space. Automatic soft-closing doors are also standard, so you need only a gentle push to swing the door closed and the power mechanism will close it fully and softly. Need to close the trunk lid and your hands are full or you’re inside the car? A push of a button closes the trunk.
Not only that, rear-seat passengers also enjoy power reclining seat backs, power adjustable headrests, power retractable window and backlight sunshades (including even for the small rear quarter window), 10-color ambient lighting to suit your mood, their own dual-zone digital climate control system, and the plushest carpeting (with velour floormats) that make you feel like talking off your shoes and letting your feet luxuriate in the thick, soft carpet. There’s even an Air Balance system that provides fragrance to the interior, depending on the user’s preference and mood. It uses air ionization and filtering of the outside and interior air, which improves air quality and enhances your overall sense of well-being.
On the tech side, you’ve got your USB charging ports and a wireless inductive charging pad (and even an SD card slot!) underneath the center armrest between the front seats. Infotainment is via Mercedes’s 12.3-inch COMAND online high-resolution touchscreen with a built-in navigation system and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi connectivity.
On the road, riding comfort is absolutely cosseting. Rolls-Royce may have patented the “Magic Carpet Ride” tagline, but the S Class comes impressively close. It simply glides over asphalt or concrete; even the most evil pothole won’t hold a candle to the over-engineered AIRMATIC air suspension (with Adaptive Damping System) of this Mercedes.
And behind the wheel? BMW may lay claim to being the “driver’s car” of the luxury sedan genre, but the S Class certainly holds its own. Effortless power comes from the turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 (of the S 320) that develops 272hp and 400Nm of torque from as low 1,300 rpm all the way to 4,500 rpm. That’s turbodiesel-levels of torque, not just in terms of sheer numbers, but also in terms of its spread over a wide rev range.
The surprisingly fuel-efficient (for its power and vehicle size) engine is mated to a class-leading 9-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission with Direct Select gearshift lever and paddle shifters.
An S Class is not the type of car you bring to a track day, but it will certainly hold its own in a spirited drive on winding roads. Its acceleration is strong and it will track through a curve at high speed with very little body roll and with a surprising amount of feedback through the wood-and-leather steering wheel. Plus, of course, it’ll blow everything away when the road straightens and its autobahn breeding comes to the fore. The S 320 can do an honest 250 km/h and accelerate from zero to 100 in about 7 seconds—impressive for a 2.5-ton whisper-silent limousine. Braking, long a Mercedes strength, is eminently confidence-inspiring and wonderfully easy to modulate—even from very high speed.
Night driving is equally satisfying, thanks to the S Class’ superb cutting-edge LED Intelligent Light System and Adaptive Main Beam Assist Plus that project an uncannily bright beam of light that cuts through even the strongest rain—without blinding incoming traffic.
So it’s got the goods to impress from the driver’s seat and from the back seat. How about from the outside? This brings me to another strong point of the S Class—styling. Stuttgart’s finest has always had an air of Teutonic assertiveness and authority—from the clean, straightforward yet intimidating lines of the W116, W126 and W140 to the softer and more organic curves of the W220 and W221.
But one thing the S Class was never described as is “graceful.”
The sixth-generation W222 is still unmistakable as a Mercedes flagship sedan, particularly in the impressively business-like grille and menacing headlights that seem to deliver the message that it’s owner is on his or her way to the next corporate takeover.
Still, the current S Class is now imbued with a newfound grace and elegance that, dare I say it, is reminiscent of a British super-luxury saloon. You’ll see it in the graceful arch of the roofline as it extends from the front pillars down to the rear fenders. The rear fenders themselves slope gracefully downwards, seamlessly melding into beautifully shaped crystal LED taillamps on either side. No other S Class has been as exceptionally beautiful and elegant as this.
And, unsurprisingly, no other S Class has boasted as many safety features as the current model. The S Class, especially the higher end variants, arguably has the most number of safety features to be put in one car. The locally available S320 boasts Adaptive Brake Lights, Adaptive Brake with Hold function and Hill Start Assist, Active Brake Assist, Active Parking Assist with reversing camera and PARKTRONIC, dual front SRS airbags plus side and window airbags (for front and rear), Attention Assist (which monitors driver fatigue and alertness), Active Bonnet (for pedestrian impact protection), Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with Acceleration Skid Control (ASR) and ABS, PRE-SAFE suite of impact protection safety systems, two-level rain-sensing wipers , tire pressure loss warning, run-flat tires, and a separate trunk lid lock (so you can keep valuables in the trunk secure even while valet parking), and an advanced anti-theft warning system with interior motion sensor.
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is undisputedly the epitome of automotive luxury. It is one of the finest and most expensive automobiles made by man. And it is absolutely worth every penny.