When Mercedes-Benz introduces a new S-Class, it unashamedly talks of setting out to build the best car in the world.
It may sound like a bullish claim but it is worth indulging the German company as the S-Class is what others in the luxury saloon sector use as their benchmark.
In the UK, more than half of S-Class models sold are intended for fleet and business use, long-wheelbase models take a third of total sales and the diesel variant has been the most popular for the past 10 years, no doubt influenced by the high proportion of company purchases.
The new model line-up includes the latest six-cylinder Bluetec diesel, but choices have broadened to include a petrol-electric hybrid S400 L, while the petrol V8 is available in long-wheelbase S500 L form only.
Inside, two high-resolution colour displays greet the driver – the screen on the right (in right-hand drive models) serves as the instrument cluster, while the second screen shows infotainment and climate control functions.
The S-Class will be available in either SE Line or AMG Line equipment grades (AMG Line only on S500 L).
The SE Line (starting with a P11D price of £62,455 for the S350 Bluetec SE Line) includes 18-inch alloy wheels, metallic paint, leather
upholstery, reversing camera, Comand online multimedia and navigation system, intelligent light system, electrically adjustable heated front seats, digital radio and keyless start. It has high-gloss, dark brown eucalyptus wood trim.
AMG Line variants (starting at £67,455 P11D) add the AMG sports package (styling and chassis changes), visible exhaust pipe finishers, nappa leather upholstery, two-spoke steering wheel, high-gloss black poplar wood trim and brushed stainless steel pedals.
As an indicator of how emissions reduction has moved on during the past 10 years, it’s worth noting that the long-wheelbase petrol V8 S500 L has CO2 emissions of 207g/km, 5g/km lower than for the diesel S320 CDI in 2002.
The S400 L hybrid has CO2 emissions of 147g/km and is in the same BIK tax band as the equivalent S350 Bluetec diesel models, but does not attract the 3% diesel supplement (the S350 Bluetec does for a couple more years), so for those who pay company car tax, there should be little to choose between them.
The 258bhp S350 Bluetec will still be the favourite, however, as there is currently no more capable vehicle on the road that performs the role of four-seat luxury express.
It is relatively frugal, too (thanks in part to the weight reduction that results from building the entire outer skin of the S-Class out of aluminium) and achieves similar figures to the 204bhp front-wheel drive Audi A8 3.0 TDI and the best BMW can offer with the 730d.