Sunday 22 October 2017

Mercedes serves up another treat – and with minimum fuss

Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Driving a car like this is akin to eating a gourmet meal every day. After a while you take so much for granted. If the soup is one degree cooler than you like, or the meat cooked a shade darker or pinker than you prefer, you are disappointed. It's well for some.

Yet, at the end of the day, even a Mercedes S-Class, the one it claims is the world benchmark for luxury motoring, is just a car isn't it?

Well that's not strictly true any more, I think. Indeed, come to think of it, a lot of motors I've driven this past year are not just cars any more. They are mobile semi-lounges, semi-offices where you can be as entertained and connected as if you were ensconced in a big woolly jumper on the sofa with your iPad and TV.

We are in danger of being distracted. So please let's not forget the Merc still IS a car at its core and we expect a lot from it on the road.

Mine had a big, powerful, punchy and smooth 3-litre diesel under the long bonnet, and a leather-clad, luxurious cabin, lots of bling (is that allowed in a review of a snobby car?) etc.

It is sedately large, imposing, with an ultra-capable visual vibe to go with its senior exec profile. Which is shorthand for conservative, nicely rounded design.

They don't do radical looks at this level, but they do breakthrough technology. It's the sort of stuff you don't see, feel or hear much – no more than all that frantic work in the kitchen before they placidly place the latest culinary masterpiece on the table before you.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by all the technology. For example, you can – though it was not on my entrée version – have it detect bumps in the road ahead and adjust the suspension in advance. Or get it to drive itself in heavy traffic (up to 60kmh).

An example of the 'basic' was the air suspension on my test motor, which allowed me to raise or lower the body a bit – helpful on a rough old gateway with that awful rise in the middle.

Always remember that most of the technology on this Merc will filter down and out to a huge spread of other models over the coming years. That's why the car deserves respect.

So does my back. The seats were magnificent and I took time and pleasure in (electrically) adjusting them to my taste. Aaah! I could sit in it all day. Nearly did as I waited for daughters in town.

My passengers, and I had a few, ooohed and aaahed a lot – but not them all. Surprisingly, when there were four of us 'big men' on board, there wasn't that much room in which to luxuriate. A few grudging comments there. They have sculpted the back of the front seats so you sneak a bit more knee room and there was a rear arm-rest which gave a lateral feel of room. However, if you want to stretch out the long legs, it looks like you will have to go for the long-wheelbase version. A bit of an extravagance, I would have thought.

Yet, after all that, it was impossible not to be impressed. I liked it most for the comfort and swish of the drive, the power of the engine, the screen in the centre that showed and helped so much, but especially how easy it made switching radio channels. I used the steering wheel paddles and opted for Sport mode driving most of the time. Eco mode was a bit of a bore.

It gobbled up motorway kilometres. That's what it is supposed to do, I know, but it was only really at that level of movement that I realised just how quiet and near-unflappable it was. It is not built to be madly dynamic. VIPs don't lash their limos around tight bends at Vettel pace. Even they can't avoid driving over rough and narrow roads, however, and in this I was cocooned from the vulgarity of potholes in the midlands. Excellent.

Look, there is effectively a waiting list for this because people have held off changing their top Mercs. For you and me, it is a car that says: "I've made it." For those who are going to buy one, it says: "Mercedes made it." And that's really what the S-Class is all about.

I'd like more cabin room, yes. And less button clutter on the dash (despite the concentration of instruction on that great interactive centre screen). But I doff my hat at what this can do without fuss – serve up a fine motoring meal every day.

Now for a cup of tea and a biscuit in the Real Life bistro.

Irish Independent

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