Don’t just take my word for it. Adults and children alike have commented on the car, asked about its price (£55,432 with extras) and generally swooned at the first-class job carried out by the nice people at Mercedes-Benz who have provided us with this car for the next six months.
Among the admirers were two 10-year-old boys who told me this was exactly the car they wanted when they grow up.
And when they do grow up, I will go round to their houses and steal the caps off the tyre valves, just like they did to me, and see how they like it.
This is just a tiny hiccup in the busy early life of our latest long-termer, which is flying the flag for Mercedes-Benz and aiming to prove the manufacturer can still hold its own among the top flight of fleet providers, despite what detractors say.
Although this is a sector where volumes are relatively low, the competition is just as intense as in the lower-medium sector, with BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Lexus and Range Rover fighting for every sale. It is also a sector where cars rightly come under intense scrutiny from drivers, eager to ensure their or their employers’ money has been well spent.
From where I’ve been sitting, it certainly seems to have been well spent. The standard price of this car is £51,632, which covers a vast range of extras that will be reviewed in later tests, but include electric everything, heated everything and automatic everything.
We have added upgraded front seats with memory function, wood and leather trim on the gearshift and steering, upgraded 18in alloy wheels – which fill the wheelarches better than the standard 17in ones – bi-xenon headlamps and a boot-mounted CD changer.
The Euro IV-compliant 3.2-litre diesel engine has only just ticked over 1,000 miles, so I am still treating it gently, but it offers 204bhp, compared to 245bhp for the S350, 306bhp for the S500 and 500bhp for the S600 petrol models. However, in terms of torque, or pulling power, it throws out 369lb-ft from 1,800rpm, which dwarfs the S350’s 258lb-ft and the S500’s 339lb-ft, with only the S600 beating it.
As a result, although the S320 ‘only’ manages 62mph in 8.2 seconds – the slowest of the four – it almost matches the S500 for acceleration from 37-75mph, which is key overtaking territory.
Despite the power, the car only emits 209g/km of CO2 and achieves an official 36.7mpg, which I am not matching – I currently get 33mpg maximum and 30mpg more often than not. However, the engine has barely settled in here at Fleet News, so there is still time. A series of long trips have so far shown the S320 CDI to be a consummate performer, offering silent, comfortable motoring to soothe any stressed executive.
There are variable suspension settings as well as a sports setting on the five-speed automatic gearbox but, with such a new car, these have yet to be put to the test.
I will also be keen to put the Mercedes-Benz dealer experience to the test, starting with some new tyre valve caps. John Maslen
Standard price (OTR) £51,632 Price as tested £55,432
What we expect
THE Mercedes-Benz S-class should be a worthy flagship for our fleet, offering effortless performance, good economy for its size, impressive comfort and that all-important ‘wow’ factor. But as a responsible fleet operator, we will also be looking to see whether running costs can be kept to a minimum and trying to sample the all-important dealership experience to make sure that it lives up to the standards set by the car.
The manufacturer’s view
THE S-class has been a great success for Mercedes-Benz and its role in the market as the benchmark luxury saloon defines that success. We believe the S-class demonstrates high quality materials, superior build, outstanding performance and ground-breaking safety better than anything else available for the price. And it has been exciting watching the competition claw back the lost ground. Dermot Kelly, managing director, Mercedes-Benz
Model: Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI
Price (OTR): £51,632 (£55,432 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 209
Company car tax bill (2005/6): 40% tax-payer £482 per month
Insurance group: 16E
Combined mpg: 36.7
Test mpg: 33.0
CAP Monitor residual value: £19,350 (37%)
HSBC contract hire rate: £970
Expenditure to date: Nil
Figures based on three years/60,000 miles