For as long as the Mercedes-Benz S Class has been in existence – and even before that, when the range-topper was sold wearing different badges – it has been the bearer of spectacular ground-breaking technology and rarely matched quality.
More than a technological spearhead for the brand, it has been a pacesetter for the automobile, introducing life-saving features including front-and-rear crumple zones, anti-locking braking, airbags, electronic stability control, brake assist, active body control, and alloy and high-tensile steel chassis construction.
The recently superseded S Class was yet another wonderland for the big kids, with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot assist, lane keeping assist, adaptive braking and an extraordinarily slippery drag coefficient of 0.26, which helped lower fuel consumption.
The latest S Class marks a shift in emphasis by Mercedes-Benz to engineering priorities emphasising efficiency, uber-luxury and refinement, and the finest, smartest driving experience. Unlike in other markets such as China where owners tend to be chauffeured, Mercedes wants self-drivers to enjoy the process and appreciate the journey.
The cabin of the new car is so contemporary in design, and correspondingly futuristic and thoughtful in what it offers.
Occupants now enjoy levels of comfort and convenience (and health benefits) never before experienced on the move. A pollen/dust filter removes outside nasties – sulphur dioxide, hydrocarbons and even chemicals from farm paddocks – before sending clean air into the S Class. An ionisation system improves lung capacity of asthmatics by 15 per cent, and an active air perfumer (with choice of fragrances) comes in short, pleasant bursts so noses don't become desensitised.
Dominating the sumptuous and elegant cabin is a large and long 8:3 format rectangle ”navitainment” dashboard split-screen (sized 31.2cm diagonally) for navigation and all multimedia and functional options. It is the display component of a coherent new information controller of simplicity and convenience (once you learn the process).
The right-side display provides the driver with digital speedo, tacho and other pertinent info such as cruise control, trip details, navigation, and the stunning night vision system which can identify pedestrians and animals after dark. Via the central rotary push-button, the passenger gets convenient control of infotainment and comfort functions displayed on the left half of the screen. The list runs to audio of many kinds, sat-nav, internet connectivity, vehicle settings and much more including a touch-sensitive telephone keypad and an extended favourites function with 12 freely selectable memory places.
Voice control is not new but the Mercedes system has evolved over the years, now allowing complete addresses to be spoken in one go. The 'phone and audio systems can also be voice-controlled. This includes having text messages or emails read out.
The all-digital 13-speaker, 590kW sound system, as one might expect, is stunning. For those who love the best, there's an optional 3D audio Burmester system with 24 speakers, 24 amplifiers and 1540 watts. A fascinating party trick is to turn off the system and watch as the beautifully crafted tweeters do a neat 360-degree pirouette and recede into the A pillars.
Along with radio or TV (which can be accessed by any of the passengers), all current music sources (bar the gramophone) can be played through the car's system. Music can also be simply copied on to the S Class's hard-drive storage. Choosing favourites is also a visual treat as the album covers flip across the screen in a carousel scrolling action.
Each new S Class owner gets a thorough 60-90 minute run-through on all the systems on the car upon delivery, but any lingering mysteries can be unravelled by accessing the mega owner's manual stored on the hard drive.
Standard on long-wheelbase models is a package providing rear passengers with a screen and headphones apiece and the ability to source entertainment from a DVD slot, two auxiliary sockets, and two USB connections. In theory, the driver could be using sat-nav, and each of the three passengers watching something different on their screens – TV, DVD or maybe the content of a digitsl camera.
The climate control system panders to the individual requirements of all aboard. Those in the rear have their own controls while up front there are seven fan speeds across the broad range of artificial temperatures.
The seating front and rear sets lofty new standards of comfort and almost infinite adjustability. As before, Mercedes provides individual “dynamic” seats for driver and passenger, where the side bolsters move to support the torsos when the car corners aggressively. More world firsts include a massage function based on the hot-stone principle, plus active seat ventilation with reversing fans. . A relaxing seat massage on your journey, sir? With warm air? Six different massage programs for back and shoulders can be selected, along with varying intensities. Two have warming functions. For the first time, reversing fans are used in the active seat ventilation system, meaning the surface temperature of a hot seat can be lowered much faster
The regal treatment of rear passengers extends to the softest, most tactile feather down cushions mounted on the face of the headrests. Mercedes offers a choice of five different rear seat variants, including an executive seat which allows the weary CEO to utilise a backrest angle adjustable by up to 43.5 degrees. To increase leg space further, the reclining rear-seat passenger can move the empty front passenger seat forward too.
Individual Rear Seats, an option, are a so -called centre of well-being (hey, that's what Benz calls them), combining stunning personal comfort with practical convenience such as the integration of a 'phone handset, additional stowage compartments, and even aircraft-style folding tables and thermo cupholders to cool or warm drinks.
There are impressive touches everywhere. Love the ambidextrous nature of the console lid, which can be opened from each side. Owners can adjust the opening height of the boot lid if the S Class resides in a low garage. There are two settings: normal, and roof height. And, of course, there is hands-free access to the boot. Electric heating of the armrests is an all-new feature.
One of the world firsts on the new S Class is an optional suspension with "eyes" which via a stereo camera scans the road surface ahead for bumps, instantly calling on the car's so-named Magic Body Control (standard on the S63; optional on other V8s) to adjust to the unevenness.
Having made a complete switch to LED lighting technology, the new S Class is the first car without even a single conventional light bulb. The multi-level functionality of the lighting does neat tricks such as reducing the intensity of the brake lights at night, out of consideration for following motorists. The move to LEDs saves fuel and reduces emissions.
Some numbers to titillate: almost 500 LEDs illuminate the road, the vehicle, the cabin and the boot. Of the 500, around 300 LEDs light the interior in many and varied ways. Owners may create a certain cabin ambience by choosing from seven colours, and five levels of brightness.
If the Mercedes-Benz boffins have forgotten anything, it isn't immediately obvious.