By contrast, the Mercedes gives you a choice of input devices through which you can control its infotainment system: there’s the familiar rotary Comand controller on the transmission tunnel, the touch-sensitive pad positioned just above it and two new touch-sensitive thumb controllers to be found on either spoke of the steering wheel. Does that mean the S-Class’s raft of on-board technology beats that of the A8 and the 7 Series overall? ’Fraid it’s not quite that simple.
Because although the Mercedes’ in-car gadgetry is probably better dressed than that of its opponents, you soon get used to the slightly clumsy way the Audi’s bells and whistles are accessed. Overall, you’d say the Audi tops the pile on geeky tech appeal for front-seat occupants. Out back, the A8 narrowly beats the 7 Series because its rear-seat infotainment screens can be removed from the seatbacks and used like tablet PCs and the S-Class (whose rear entertainment screens are the smallest and, because of the remote control you need to operate them, the least navigable) props up the order.
Which brings us to what these cars are like to drive – and be driven in. And here it’s worth comparing, for a moment, how these cars are configured mechanically. All three are suspended via air springs and adaptive dampers, with four-wheel drive standard on the Audi, optional (in most cases) on the BMW and not offered on the Mercedes. Four-wheel steering is likewise optional on both the BMW and Audi (and, in the case of our test cars, fitted to the Audi but not the BMW) and in both cases it’s packaged with a variable-ratio steering rack for the front wheels.
Fully active suspension, which reads the surface of the road ahead using the same camera and sensor technology necessary for the various active safety and autonomous driving systems on the car, is optional on the S-Class and will be optional on the A8 later this year. Handily, at least for the purposes of this comparison, our S-Class didn’t have it.
And neither did it need it, plainly, in order to feel like the most supple- riding, comfortable and generally refined car of the three. Not even limousines can escape the pervasive current trend for driving experience tweakery, of course – and so all three of these cars have dynamic operating modes to make them variously firmer riding and quicker with their responses to steering, gearbox and accelerator inputs, or softer, calmer and more laid-back, according to your want. Mostly, though, those modes feel like temporary distractions – sideshows, at their best, to the settings you’ll default to 95% of the time, which allow these cars to do what big limousines do best: cosset, soothe, calm and envelop.
And it’s still the S-Class that produces a gently wafting, thoroughly well-isolated ride, partnered with obedient and neatly controlled handling, more convincingly than either of its German opponents. The Mercedes’ long-wave compliance makes it feel markedly softer riding than the BMW and the Audi; perhaps a touch more one-dimensional and old-fashioned, too. It is undoubtedly a route-one, classically turned-out limousine to drive, but its devotion to comfort seems entirely appropriate for it and it is very easy to like.