The new S is based on a heavily re-engineered version of Merc’s Modular Rear Architecture (MRA) platform, which, despite lots of aluminium in its make-up, weighs 1990kg, has air suspension all round and, as an extended variant, is 5.3m long.
It also has the option of rear-wheel steer, fitted here, which reduces the turning circle by up to 1.9m – ‘up to’ because, yes, even that’s quite complicated. Depending on the wheelbase, whether your S is rear- or four-wheel drive, and even owing to the wheel sizes (anything bigger than 20in means 4deg rather than 10deg of rear steer), an S-Class can have any of 12 different turning circles. This one’s 10.9m, vastly better than the 12.8m it would be without it.
It’s just one of the things that makes the S-Class feel much more wieldy than you’d think. The other is the way it goes down the road. You expect supreme cabin isolation and an unsurpassed ride quality and, by and large, you get it – although air springs do give the suspension an occasional sproing over sudden surface imperfections, like thwacking an empty bin. But still, few cars do comfort this well.
What’s more impressive to me, though, is that if you flick the drive mode through to one of its more dynamic settings, the S gives very little comfort away but manages to grab control of its body movements, steer quickly but accurately, and perform in a way that no executive car usually does or strictly needs to, which gives it a serious advantage over any 4x4. The manoeuvrability offered by the rear steer is terrific, too.
Inside, perceived material quality is strong, with lovely finishing and excellent fit and, in the rear, bags of leg room and head room and great seats. In the front, for me, too much has transferred to a touchscreen and, although there are quite helpful steering wheel controls, there’s no rotary or physical controller for the system.
Look, I get it. It’s the sort of tech that will make specifying features and tailoring models to markets easier, especially when it comes to driving assistance, and it enables over-air updates more easily. And there are so many features that you’d never fit them all onto buttons. (How would you like your ambient lighting? How aggressively responsive should the seat bolsters be to cornering?) But there are compromises. The mid-cockpit air vents are high and out of reach so that they’re not blocked by the screen. And the temperature controls ought to stay physical and the volume/mute always deserves a button, for me.