How interesting to see whether the traditional S500 virtues – imperious smoothness and poke and no noise unless you really insist – are delivered by the new model.
In the UK, an S500L saloon starts at £86,330 on the road, which sounds pretty reasonable for what you get, especially since the only 500 you can buy gets AMG Line body bits to make it look more aggressive and sporty – and a lot less like an airport car. Egged on by contacts at Mercedes, we added a collection of extras that ended up costing just over £25,000 which, given that extras are traditionally high mark-up items for car makers, gives you a pretty clear view of where they make their money.
In summary, our gadgetry consists of four comprehensive option packs (Premium Plus, Driving Assistance, Executive equipment and Exclusive nappa leather) plus four individual options: night view (£2080), privacy glass (£345), Designo matt white paint (£3650) and intelligent rear belts (£995). The Premium Plus pack (£5395) adds stuff like soft-close doors, a mega hi-fi and a 360deg camera. The Driving Assistance pack (£1695) adds active distance control, steering, braking and blind-spot assist and a gizmo that will adjust your speed into bends. The Executive equipment (£4600) provides extra levels of comfort front and rear, plus stuff like roller-blinds for the rear window, and the Exclusive nappa leather pack (£6890) trims the big Mercedes in the best-looking materials available.
In short, our S-Class is a white car whose body addenda, 19in AMG wheels and white matt paint take it about as far away from the dreaded ‘wedding car’ look as it’s possible to get, while preserving a limo-look that promises exactly what you get when you first set this car in motion: a class-topping luxury motoring experience.
The car hardly moves when you start it. Straight sixes are famously smooth, and the 48V ISG is large and powerful, so the usual ‘ruh-ruh-ruh’ just isn’t there. There’s silence, you press the start button and there’s a distant hum, and you’re hard-pressed to determine when one changed to the other. That’s refinement, and it speaks for the way so many things operate in this car.
The power unit drives through a seamless nine-speed automatic gearbox. There are two regimes, Sport and Comfort, which vary how long lower ratios are held. There are paddles if you insist on changing gear yourself, but the decisions the ’box makes on its own are so flawless that you soon leave it to its own devices, except for one situation: you’ll find yourself using the gears for engine braking on long hills. The ISG merrily garners braking energy on downgrades (there’s a meter to show it happening) but there are times when you need more engine braking to slow two tonnes of kerb weight.