A smoother, quieter engine, improved steering feel, a more hi-tech cabin and a far more comfortable feel than before emphasise that this car is at the pinnacle of car build and design.
What’s even more impressive is the fact that the old S-class, although it had been around for a number of years, was a very good car which was still defining the world of luxury business travel at the end of its life.
But as is the nature of the German car firms to continually try to outdo each other, Mercedes-Benz has set out to make its rivals such as the Audi A8 and BMW 7-series seem as appealing as sauerkraut and boiled pork.
So has it worked? Well, this all depends on where you’re looking at the S-class from.
If you are sitting behind the steering wheel, you’d have to say yes. The hi-tech cabin and the level of quality all around screams both ‘luxury’ and ‘contemporary’.
But from the outside things aren’t so clear cut. Although looks are subjective, the new S-class lacks the coherent design of its predecessor.
From the front things look good with a pair of sharply styled headlights to lend an aggressive look, while at the back the Maybach-style light clusters look good between the pronounced bootlid.
But at the side it loses that sharpness thanks to the blistered wheelarches which bring a slightly bloated feel to the styling. It’s a confused combination, like teaming a Kilgour suit with a pair of Doc Marten’s boots.
Nevertheless, the driving experience is excellent. The iDrive-style controller in the centre console, which is used to control the stereo, climate control and other vehicle-related settings, and the column stalk-mounted gear lever are the main differences over the old model.
On the road, the steering has much more feel now, while the brake pedal has a reassuringly firm action.
On the road there is little wind or engine noise in the cabin, while the prodigious torque from the 3.2-litre V6 turbodiesel makes for effortless, relaxed cruising.
Only the vaunted 7G-tronic automatic gearbox lets things down. In Sport mode it kicks down too readily when all you want to do is ride the torque, and we also experienced some uncouth jolts in the lower gears when driving in town.
But as a package, the new S-class does enough to make a convincing choice. Only the price counts again it. Granted, at this level money isn’t the be-all-and-end-all, but the fact that the S320 CDI is so much more expensive than its rivals, and around £3,000 more than the old model, makes it harder to make the Mercedes-Benz the obvious choice in this sector.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £54,767
CO2 emissions (g/km): 220
BIK % of P11D in 2006: 34%
Graduated VED rate: £170
Insurance group: 18
Combined mpg: 34.0
CAP Monitor residual value: £21,675/40%
Depreciation 55.15 pence per mile x 60,000: £33,090
Maintenance 5.50 pence per mile x 60,000: £3,300
Fuel 12.63 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,578
Wholelife cost 73.28 pence per mile x 60,000: £43,968
Typical contract hire rate: £1,032
At a glance
We don’t like:
Three rivals to consider
THE new S-class is only available in one trim level and is easily the most expensive car on test. It costs £3,500 more than the top-spec Audi A8 3.0 TDI and £5,000 more than the ultimate Jaguar XJ. However, despite its high price there are items missing from the equipment list on the S320 – 18-inch alloys, six-CD autochanger, heated front seats and multi-function steering wheel are options.
IT seems that car repairers are no longer so scared of aluminium-bodied cars, with the Jaguar winning this section and the Audi putting in a competitive performance. Over three years and 60,000 miles the XJ is projected to cost a fleet £2,550 in service, maintenance and repair costs, compared with £2,670 for the BMW (these costs include the optional service pack), £2,898 for the Audi. The S-class is last with a bill of £3,300.
ONCE again the Jaguar leads the way, slightly undercutting the BMW in fuel costs. The XJ is claimed to return an average of 35mpg, giving a likely fuel bill of £7,362 over three years/60,000 miles. Next up is the 7-series, which returns a claimed 34.4mpg for a bill of just under £7,500. The S320 CDI, which averages 34mpg, is about £100 further back while the Audi is the least fuel-efficient, returning 32.8mpg for a likely diesel bill of £7,668 over the same period.
CAP estimates the Jaguar will retain 37% of its cost new after three years and 60,000 miles, which is the second-lowest forecast here. However, the XJ’s low front-end price means it leads the way with a cash lost figure of £31,162. The Audi will retain 38%, leaving a total of £31,607, while the BMW retains the least – 36% – for a cost of £31,992. The S-class has the highest RV at 40% but is way more expensive than the others, with a cash lost total of just over £33,000.
THE Jaguar is the cheapest car to buy and wins every running cost section, so it’s no surprise that it is the wholelife costs winner. It is nearly two pence per mile cheaper to run over three years/60,000 miles than the BMW 730d in second spot and the Audi A8 in third. However, there’s a big leap back to the Mercedes-Benz. The S-class is competitive in all sectors but depreciation, where its challenge is blunted by a high front-end price.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
IN this rarified world of company cars, decisions will not be solely led by financial restrictions. And it’s just as well, because you need to be earning a lot of money to be able to run one of these cars. The Jaguar is the cheapest for benefit-in-kind tax, leaving a 40% taxpayer with a bill of £531 a month. Even though money isn’t such an issue, the fact that the Mercedes-Benz costs nearly £100 a month more at £621 must surely be a consideration. The BMW will cost £551 and the Audi £597.
IF money were no object, it would be a tough call between the S-class and the Audi A8, as both are amazingly accomplished luxury cars. However, we can’t ignore the Jaguar’s dominant wholelife cost performance. It is so far ahead that fleet managers with an eye on the bottom line would find it hard to resist. It’s also a great car which runs the others close in driving dynamics, if not contemporary styling and technology.