Common wisdom in automotive circles is that if you want to predict the automobile of the future, you look at today’s Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Innovation and luxury are qualities so ingrained in S-Class lore that each model generation is almost universally-acclaimed as the world’s best automobile. That the BMW 7 Series spent four decades in second place says all you need to know about the S-Class’ pedigree.
A facelifted version of the current W222 S-Class was unveiled globally earlier this year, but its local introduction remains sometime away, meaning the S400 Hybrid that we are familiar with will have to carry on as-is for a little while longer.
Between the newly-introduced BMW 740Le PHEV and the prospect of an updated version not too far away, the S-Class’ position of leadership in its segment has never been more tenuous, or is it?
To keep its flagship ticking over, and somewhat appropriately coinciding with AMG’s ongoing 50th anniversary festivities, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia has introduced an enhanced version of the S400 Hybrid with AMG Line package as standard.
Price: RM598,888, on-the-road without insurance
Engine: 3.5-litre, V6 Longitudinal, Petrol-Electric Hybrid
Power: 306hp @ 6,500rpm
Torque: 370Nm @ 3,500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed torque converter automatic, 4x4
Safety: Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, queue assist, active cruise control, cross-traffic alert, blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, airbag-in-seatbelt (rear passengers)
Origin: Locally-assembled in Pekan
Since its arrival in Malaysia, the S400 Hybrid remains the only offering of the locally-assembled W222 S-Class family in our market. At the time of its launch, it was Mercedes-Benz’s first hybrid-powered model in Malaysia; benefitting from tax free pricing due to its status as an energy efficient vehicle (EEV), it quickly became a fast seller, further widening the already large chasm that separates it and the BMW 7 Series.
The upcoming S-Class facelift will offer an all-new range of engines to pick from, but such has been the S400 Hybrid’s success, don’t expect Mercedes-Benz Malaysia to deviate from the current template of putting a hybrid as the forefront model. Globally, however, Daimler has yet to reveal any hybrid powertrains for the S-Class facelift yet, but MBM VP Mark Raine has confirmed on the record that the company plans to introduce the S-Class facelift in mid-2018 with a plug-in hybrid powertrain, subject to incentives available from the Government.
Mechanically, the S400 Hybrid in its current form needs no introduction. Up front, lies Mercedes-Benz’s proven 3.5-litre M276 V6 petrol pushing out a rated 302hp and 370Nm. The electric motor chips in an extra 20hp, and drive is sent to the rear wheels via Merc’s in-house 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox.
The new AMG Line package throws in sportier bumpers, but unlike AMG Line-trimmed variants of the C- and E-Class, the S-Class retains the classic Mercedes grille design with the bonnet-mounted three-pointed star. The front bumpers are sculpted with sharper lines to give a touch of mildly-added sportiness; astern, the rear bumpers get a more pronounced diffuser with angular exhaust tips. At a glance, the treatment gives the regal S-Class a touch of mildly-added sportiness, but the overall effect is admittedly to subtle to glean at one glance.
Interestingly, the fitment of AMG Line trim has come together with downsized rims measuring 19 inches across as opposed to 20 inches previously. A sensible change, in our opinion, for the benefit of added comfort and also longer-lasting rims for cars regularly driven over pothole-laden roads.
Inside, the cabin retains the existing standard model's configuration, but its appearance tweaked with a darker colour shade and a new AMG Line three-spoke steering wheel at the helm. The level of luxury remains the same, but the ambiance has a slightly sportier tone than the previous beige treatment.
Uniquely for this review, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia didn’t just lend us the S400 for a full three days, they hired a chauffeur to go with the car as well. The idea was to let us experience the car in the way its typical clientele would, primarily from the back seat.
On the rare days which the owner chooses to migrate up front, however, he or she would find the S400 to be car that whilst configured with comfort and refinement as key priorities, is not found lacking in dynamism. The standard air suspension chassis allowing the driver to tackle long sweeping bends at speed with assuring confidence.
Outright sportiness seems to play a distinct second fiddle to unrivalled comfort and refinement in the S-Class’ agenda. The 3.5-litre V6 hybrid combo feels less eager to pull than even the BMW 730Li’s 2.0-litre inline-4, but that’s to no detriment of its case.
Where it lacks in outright punch, the engine makes up for with creamy smooth delivery; full bore acceleration comes in a smooth-flowing yet unrelenting crescendo. It is worth noting that with the 7 Series now being offered exclusively with a 2.0-litre plug-in hybrid powertrain in the 740Le, the S400 now becomes the main six-cylinder option in the segment.
Ably helping things along is the 7G-Tronic transmission. Often chided for lacking the snappy and intuitive shift quality of the ZF 8HP transmission preferred by arch-rivals BMW, Merc’s in-house slushbox’s laidback character is rather well-suited for its duties here where smooth transitions between gears are prioritized.
The electric motor blends in as a seamless assistant, with switchover between the vehicle’s two sources of power conducted in unobtrusive fashion. The setup is capable for stints of fully-electric propulsion, but its limited range means that the motor can only be realistically called upon to step in at the parking lot or in a traffic jam.
Comfort & Refinement
Mercedes’ unrelenting pursuit of plushness for its flagship mean that nothing less than a Rolls-Royce has what it takes to make an S-Class feel second-rate where comfort is concerned. BMW's tremendous strides in the current 7 Series' comfort levels have served only to close the gap rather than surpass the unblemished ride quality of Mercedes' flagship.
Selecting ‘Sport’ among available driving modes adds a degree of firmness to the ride, but whichever way you choose, the standard air springs are clearly configured with a priority toward isolating occupants from external disturbances.
At the rear, the S400 offers pleasingly well-finished surroundings with first rate materials at all touch points. Rear-seat infotainment is offered with two remote controls provided for interface – lacks the apparent sophistication of the 7 Series’ touch tablet, and requires a lengthier learning curve, but easy enough to use upon familiarization. Could use a slot to neatly dock the units when not in use though.
Adjustment range of the rear seats is good, with generous incline angles available for a quick nap. As if as the already-generous volume of space isn’t sufficient, the left rear passenger has the option of pushing the front passenger seat forward to free up even more leg room.
Whichever way you look at it, the S-Class has all the attributes relevant to its segment exceptionally well covered – comfort, luxury, space, and road presence are all delivered in big spades. A significant amount of technology also underpins the S-Class’ make up, but deliberately laid out in a way to not take prominence ahead of the vehicle’s core values.
The AMG Line package adds a dose of subtle sportiness to the S-Class’ appearance and serves to undoubtedly boost future resale value of these final batch vehicles that precede the upcoming facelift. It does not, in any way, make the S-Class any sportier in the way it moves about, and we suspect that’s the way Mercedes’ clientele would want it.
We, the enthusiasts, admittedly prefer the BMW 7 Series to drive, but despite considerable gains by BMW in the latest iteration of its flagship limo, there is no doubting the S-Class still possesses that final tenth of added comfort and refinement that ultimately make it the preferable chauffeur-driven express.
Impressive then, that even at this advanced stage of its model cycle, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class’ age-old claim of being the world’s best automobile continues to be as legitimate as ever.