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We were very much hoping to give you chapter and verse here on Mercedes' headline technological breakthrough on the new S-Class: active Magic Body Control suspension. It’s a disappointment to report, then, that the camera-based system will only be offered on eight-cylinder petrol models, when the majority of S-Classes sold here will be diesels.

But that’s a disappointment that must be balanced against one key truth: that, even on its standard air springs and adaptive dampers, the S-Class could hardly ride better.

It's a shame that the active suspension system isn't more widely available

The car’s suspension has Comfort and Sport modes, but even in the latter, the handling never really approaches athleticism. At all times the S-Class feels like it’s distancing you from the road surface rather than inviting you to engage with it.

It steers directly and precisely enough and maintains good body control considering the cosseting dynamic compromise that Mercedes has struck here. But the car is one-dimensional to drive compared with a Jaguar XJ.

Something the size and weight of an S-Class could quickly become a big problem if it doesn’t handle predictably. And while this car has a plethora of active safety systems, the car’s fundamental manners are sound and consistent both up to and beyond the limit of grip.

Firstly, Mercedes has fitted an ESP that prevents the driver from biting off more than they can chew. The electronics are more subtle than we’re used to from Mercedes, however, and manage to look after you without making you feel disenfranchised.

Turn the ESP off and, as you accelerate, there’s quite a lot of roll-related understeer through any given bend, but better cornering balance and not a little limit controllability come next, after which the ESP switches back on automatically.

Contrary to expectations, there’s a smattering of fun to be enjoyed by those who’d drive their S-Class like a hooligan. Frankly, it’s a smattering more than they’ve any right to enjoy.

There can be no denying how consummately this S-Class plays the role of the traditional grand town car, though. That air suspension glides over surface undulations, allowing some vertical movement, but only enough to create the illusion that the body hasn’t actually moved at all.

The smaller and sharper the bump, the less perfect the suspension’s answer for it becomes. But nothing ever crashes through to burst the bubble of calm inside the cabin. The distinction to be made here is between bumps you’re distantly aware of and those you never even knew about.


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If there are more comfortable cars to ride in than this, it must only be in certain circumstances. The other big German saloons don’t come close – although they are closer than a Jaguar XJ. A Range Rover, meanwhile, has a more mobile primary ride, making occupants much more aware of changes of direction.

A Bentley Flying Spur is no competition, and even the likes of a Rolls-Royce Phantom or Ghost, or a Bentley Mulsanne, have a fight on their hands.

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