I HAVE a Pavlovian reaction to any road sign which bears that dreaded nomenclature ‘M25’.
I can feel my stomach knot and my grip on the steering wheel tighten the minute the Highways Agency warns me I’m nearing it.
And yet, there I was inching round that dreaded grey loop in another interminable traffic jam with not a care in the world, because I was fortunate enough to be doing it in a Mercedes-Benz S-class.
It wasn’t just the feeling of superiority over the morass of motorists in their small, cheap vehicles surrounding me that was creating this serene mood, but the myriad of other luxurious competencies the S-class brings to bear on it occupants.
For the driver trapped in traffic jam hell the most useful weapon in its armoury – more effective than the plush leather seats, brilliant hi-fi, soft, wafting ride and the thick, near-soundproof glass – is the Distronic Plus radar system.
An expensive option at £1,840, it allows you to throw an imaginary electronic lasso around the vehicle in front and then stop and go as the traffic in front does the same. It works perfectly and, sunk low in your soft armchair, with an engine whispering away up front, makes for the most relaxed driving possible for a stressed executive.
In fact, there are very few things the S350 doesn’t do in a relaxed manner. The 272bhp 3.5-litre V6 allows you to lope along with very little fuss, and although 272bhp sounds like a lot of horsepower, this is no ball of fire in a car this heavy.
But then again, why would you want to act in such an unseemly manner and go racing about the country?
Having said that, this car reacts superbly if you decide to push it through some bends. The tottering tank character of the old car is long gone.
The cabin oozes more quality than any Mercedes-Benz has done in a long while.
The materials are a class above and it does feel as though the company is finally back on track, producing cars that have a solidity and panache the others can’t match.
However, from a subjective point of view the steering wheel looks ugly and hefty, and the digital speedometer dial (used so the infra-red Night Vision option can be taken up) just looks too workmanlike.
Everywhere else though, the S-class is pure stylish modern luxury. The brushed metal switchgear and matt walnut wood is very contemporary. It’s hard to imagine it being driven by the old-fashioned cliché of a portly, red-faced executive, although I don’t think Mercedes-Benz will preclude them as buyers.
Instead it feels much more the environment for someone slicker, sharper and younger.
For the modern businessman, the S-class is back to being the ubiquitous choice.
P11D value: £56,517
CO2 emissions (g/km): 242
BIK % of P11D in 2006: 35%
Graduated VED rate: £210
Insurance group: 19
Combined mpg: 28.0
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £20,675/37%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £1,099
We don’t like:
Three rivals to consider
THE XJ is keenly priced, undercutting the rest by thousands of pounds, while also being well-specced with touch screen sat-nav, six CD-player, and Bluetooth. At between £50,000 and £60,000 none of the others are sparse, although most of the fun stuff on the S-class is optional.
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
EVEN an executive with a wallet the size of a suitcase would wince at the benefit-in-kind tax bill here. The XJ is the cheapest, but the taxman would still want nearly £7,000 a year. Then there’s the £1,000-plus rental rate on top of that. It’s probably best to look at opt-out/cash-for-car options.
THE XJ8 is the most expensive because of its wide tyres on 19-inch alloys, while the rest manage with 18-inchers. BMW’s servicing packages ensure a cheaper rate, although a servicing bill of nearly £3,500 illustrates there are no cheap options in this sector.
740i: 5.80 (ppm) £3,480 (60,000 miles total)
S350: 6.20 £3,720
A8: 6.87 £4,122
XJ8: 7.91 £4,746
USUALLY the lightweight, aluminium-bodied XJ would be the most frugal, but the union between seven-speed gearbox and engine in the S350 makes it the most economical at 28mpg. Over 60,000 miles it will cost £9,600 while the four-wheel drive Audi will be £11,300.
S350: 16.02 £9,612
XJ8: 16.93 £10,158
740i: 17.81 £10,686
A8: 18.94 £11,364
THE Jaguar, thanks to its lower front-end price, will lose considerably less than the others in pence-per-mile terms (although in percentage lost terms it’s worse than the S-class). The S350 outperforms the others, suggesting it will retain the number one spot in the used market.
XJ8: 54.57 (ppm) £32,742 (60,000 miles total)
S350: 59.73 £35,838
A8: 61.07 £36,642
740i: 63.12 £37,872
EVERY time we compare luxury cars, the XJ is streets ahead in costs, but the S350 is close behind thanks to low depreciation and fuel costs. The Audi and BMW are expensive to run, not being able to put together a portfolio of strong RVs, and low fuel and servicing costs.
XJ8: 79.41 (ppm) £47,646 (60,000 miles total)
S350: 81.92 £49,152
740i: 86.73 £52,038
A8: 86.88 £52,128
You can’t really go wrong with any of these cars – they’re all wonderful, but the running costs of the Audi and BMW make them hard to recommend as our top choice.
The Jaguar presents a strong case in that regard, but the Mercedes-Benz is not that far behind. However, it is a long way ahead in refinement, size and sheer presence. The S-class is back at the top of the corporate ladder.