Luxury truly has its costs
The S-Class Mercedes-Benz may be a Best Buy, but there's still plenty of room for improvement from this German marque, writes Campbell Spray
THERE was the usual predictable outrage last week on Liveline mixing the cost of labour, growing unemployment and pensions paid to retired regulatory officials who left with more than a little smell of manure about their years at the helm.
One employer who had to sack a number of people over the last year said that with the ex-regulator's pension he could keep four people in jobs.
A good point in the fantasy world of outrage with which people are trying to lance the boil of despair.
However, as the tumult grew I expected rotten eggs to be thrown at the car I was testing that day. For the very plush S-Class Mercedes-Benz is the epitome of ministerial excess and corporate gravy-train.
With the high spec on board it was also roughly the price of one ex-regulator's annual pension.
In some ways the car and its €120,000-plus tag was an embarrassment and as I passed a neighbour on my way to return the vehicle last Tuesday I had to stop and tell him that "you do realise, it's not mine".
Oh what a coward I am, especially as my partner and her mother remarked that "it seemed to suit me well" as we had powered up to Bellinter House in Meath for an aperitif the previous Thursday.
In fact "powering up" almost deserted roads like the M3 Motorway suits the S-Class very well. It is a high-speed cruiser of supreme class and you have to be very careful that you aren't wildly exceeding the speed limit.
It is hard not to agree with some of the most reputable car magazines like What Car? who make it both a Best Buy and their Luxury Car of the year. They write: "It's a brilliant luxury car built from the finest materials to exacting standards. Big on style and performance."
Yet all is not perfect. Four will travel in perfect comfort, but five won't. Sitting in the middle of the back is definitely not the place to be. It is a conundrum that most luxury car manufacturers strangely haven't solved. Making an executive car that can also serve as a really comfortable family number for a set of parents with three strapping teenagers seems beyond them.
Yet that and the difficult control system which had both me and my partner foxed were small beer compared with the wonderful dynamics of the car and the way the S350 BlueEFFICIENCY model I was driving is the most fuel-efficient S-Class of all time. Which, of course, it should be and in these respects Mercedes has been behind the curve compared with its Bavarian Motor Works competitor. Yet CO2 figures have been reduced to 199g/km and 35mpg should be achieved. This puts the 235bhp three-litre diesel in the €1,050 Road Tax band.
There is also comparatively good news on price as a consequence of all this and, as we found out with BMW last week, there is strong downwards pressure in the luxury segment. The new S-Class comes to the scene 14 per cent lower than previously.
The first model to arrive here, and the one on which emphasis will be placed, is the S350CDI version priced at €98,600 ex works, a figure some €12,400 below the former 320CDI model which it replaces.
The car does have a more sporty design with a pronounced arrow-shaped radiator grille. There is also a new tail light design and the introduction of a chrome strip below the front air intakes.
There have been 3.3 million S-Class models sold since it was first introduced in 1951. The improvements made to the new S-Class include an LED light package with daytime running lights and bi-xenon headlights as standard.
Other features that help bring about the seven per cent drop in S-Class fuel consumption include some aerodynamic fine-tuning, the use of lower rolling resistance tyres and modifications to steering, fuel pump and automatic transmission systems. Safety standards have been improved with features that include new camera and radar-based driver assistance systems, a speed-limit assist, drowsiness detection and high-beam assist.
Despite our somewhat depressed economic climate, Mercedes-Benz's sales manager in Ireland, Ciaran Allen, sees the new S350CDI BlueEFFICIENCY bringing added impetus to Mercedes-Benz sales on top of the success being achieved by the C-Class and new E-Class BlueEFFICIENCY ranges. "Though our volume expectation is significantly lower than the heady days of 2007 when some 400 units were sold, we expect the new S350CDI to achieve sales approaching 100 units in a full year," he said.
Well, we'll see about that. It is some car but it will be some time before we will let our rulers and regulators get behind its -- or the country's -- steering wheel with such abandon.