Mercedes’ entry-level S-Class, the S350d, is up against some stiff competition from a new Audi A8 and always good BMW 7 Series.
Mercedes’ S-Class was an unknown country for me. I was quite taken with the slabby 1990s W140. I loved that you could get it with a V12, I loved that it was so unashamedly big. The backlash when that car came out made me chuckle.
And I roar laughing that everyone complained it weighed two tonnes. That’s normal now. A mid-size SUV can nudge two tonnes.
I’d never driven an S until this year. First I drove the S-Class Coupe for Carsguide which was a bit of a treat. I loved the appealing wackiness of the Curve Mode on the on the S560 and the effortless brawn of the S63 AMG.
The 350d, though, that seemed like an interesting proposition. In a city like Sydney, these cars are used by people who drive others around, so the smaller, more efficient engine made a huge amount of sense. I’d also driven both the new A8 and 7 Series sedans. The opportunity to complete the set was
The S-Class – or Sohnderklasse (special class) – has been around for decades. It’s all about the luxury, of course, despite the aforementioned S560 and S63 likely causing a scuffle with the chauffeur.
The current S Class is tagged W222. Since my so-ugly-its-cool S Class favourite, the W140, curvaceousness has invaded the looks. It’s a bit of an inflated E Class, if I’m to be honest, which isn’t a bad thing. I guess with the revival of the Maybach brand, the more…er…distinguished looks is left to that brand.
The restraint is evident, although the signature nostrils at the edges of the bumpers, framing a gaping intake leave you in no doubt a Merc is coming your way.
Thankfully the melted look of some lighting that has taken hold in some Mercedes models is understated. Crispness is appreciated at this level – its two main rivals are both very calm, cool and collected.
Mercedes-Benz S350d Interior
This is a nice place to be. Stunningly well-built, filled with leather and not with crappy wood, it’s hugely comfortable. A big grey cabin can sometimes come off a bit cold, but this one doesn’t. Lots of brightwork lift the colour although I hate those speaker grilles on the door. The ambient lighting is tuneable to whatever colour you want.
The huge double-slab dashboard and media screen are some of the best in any car today. Lovely high-res imagery, no sense of a lack of horsepower in the graphics chips, it’s a fantastic job. The inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the COMAND-controlled screen is really nice, too. And unlike rival BMW, you won’t have to pay for it.
The seats are big and comfortable, bristling with comfort adjustment. This cabin has become a guilty pleasure of mine.
Mercedes-Benz S350d Drivetrain
The W222 S Class has been around for nearly five years and been home to a bunch of engines, from a 2.2-litre four right up to the mental 6.0-litre twin-turbo V12 (with up to 463 kW (621PS) and 1000Nm).
The 350d has a fairly sedate-sounding 2.9-litre twin-turbo diesel V6. Turns out it isn’t that sedate, belting out a handy-if-not-outstanding 210kW but a very impressive 600Nm.
The engine is hooked up with Mercedes’ rather good nine-speed automatic, designed and built in-house. As is only right and proper, power heads to the rear wheels.
Mercedes-Benz S350d Driving
Look, it’s a big boy. Well over two tonnes, this thing isn’t going to carve the corners.
Or will it?
No, of course not. Don’t be silly. But.
That engine is really good. Practically silent, the nine-speeder’s embarrassment of ratios means there’s a gear for all occasions. Sometimes that means hunting (like the ZF nine-speed) but in the S350d, you’ll rarely find yourself in the wrong gear.
The stupid selector on the steering column makes my blood boil but apart from that, it’s a good cabin. You can really enjoy the S despite its weight via the magic of, er, Magic Body Control. The car reads the road ahead and keeps the dampers tuned to the right set up for what’s coming.
When you put the boot in, it cheerfully finds the corners, is completely untroubled by lumps and bumps and handles pretty much anything you might encounter.
The whole time it’s supple and it’s only when the speeds get a bit silly that you might find yourself wanting to back off. A car this big shouldn’t be this swift but in the past, you’d be actively warned off by the car that you were going too hard.
Will you want to play in the S350d? Probably not that often. It’s a car to waft in and, courtesy of a well-rounded Comfort mode, waft you will. It’s a cocooning sort of experience, ensuring the clamour of the city stays outside along with the weather. The road beneath can be awful (and in Sydney, they are), but it just shrugs it off. I liked that when I had it – it was very, very pleasant indeed.
Would I? Should you?
Would this be my choice? I don’t really know. I like the new A8 very much and the 7 appeals to my Munich sensibilities (I’m not German, I just like BMWs).
The S Class isn’t what I expected, though – I was thinking it was going to be heavy and plush (it is) but also a bit ungainly. Obviously, in 2018, we have the technology to ensure even a car weighing north of 2200kg can be fun.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.