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Steering, suspension and ride comfort

Something so long and heavy has little right to handle as tidily as the S-Class does. In the default Comfort chassis setting, there’s a languid assuredness that makes the car easy to place on the road and roll is meted out relatively freely but always with poise and control. Steering feel is utterly absent but the heavily assisted rack is geared with a pleasing blend of ease and response that often makes the S580e feel a few hundred kilos lighter than it really is.

Knock the car into its more sporting mode (where the steering weights up, the powertrain is kept on the boil and the suspension tightens its grasp on the body) and the S580e will cover ground in truly eye-widening manner, with a degree of class and composure you wouldn’t credit had you not experienced it first-hand. For an elegant PHEV with very few sporting pretensions, the S-Class proves adept at going quickly.

I watched a lengthy video detailing the new S-Class’s ADAS array and there’s no doubt it’s superbly comprehensive, effective and capable of saving lives. However, the car isn’t half paranoid. On several occasions, the emergency braking triggered apropos of nothing significant, which wrecks the relaxing atmosphere

None of which is to say the S-Class handles with the sports saloon credibility of the Bentley Flying Spur and, to a lesser extent, the BMW 7 Series. It plainly doesn’t, rolling and heaving quite generously on more interesting roads and in general lacking the veneer of sharpness that makes some larger limousines genuinely satisfying to drive. The chassis balance is also noticeably more nose heavy than those rivals, which thrust themselves down roads from the hips while the Mercedes slips along with a neutrality that develops into solid understeer once the limits of the tyres are overcome. However, you’re unlikely to get to that point because grip and traction are excellent, even in wet weather.

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Overall, the S-Class will happily tolerate the kind of driving asked of wedding chauffeurs running late, but for driver-owners, Bentley or BMW (or, better still, the Alpina Alpina B7) are more polished and enjoyable dynamically.

Comfort and isolation

Just how insulating is this new S-Class? Measured against the very best – the Rolls-Royce Ghost – it does creditably well but is no real threat. The S580e is quieter at idle than the Ghost but 3dBA louder at 30mph and 4dBA louder on the motorway. This means the cabin is an exceptionally placid and calming space but it also shows that when it comes to truly class-leading refinement, the latest S-Class still has some head room yet. As for the nature of the six-cylinder engine itself, that’s more smooth and sonorous than discreet and aristocratic. Again, suitably genteel for this kind of application but not at the apex of old-world sophistication.

You could say something similar about the manner in which the S580e rides. As you’d expect, the long-wave gait that the air springs and endless wheelbase give the car is superbly fluid, but intrusions from patchy road surfaces are more discernible than they should be. When the previous-generation S-Class arrived, its slipper-like ride quality was something you’d genuinely marvel at, and the new car just feels a little underwhelming in this respect. Nevertheless, it does enough to get the better of the 7 Series in terms of outright rolling refinement and is a whole cut above the Audi A8. The introduction of E-Active Body Control to the range may elevate it further still, but in the meantime, avoiding the optional 21in wheels (our car wore 20in) is recommended.

Material comfort is arguably the car’s strongest suit. Asked whether we’d prefer the deep, bucket-esque berths of the Mercedes or the grander but also more austere chairs in the Ghost for an all-day journey, we’d take the Mercedes’ every time. There’s also a degree of comfort to be taken from the S-Class’s relatively incognito form, the familiarity of its driving controls, and fine visibility all round. Certainly, to drive, the stretch-limousine experience doesn’t come much easier than this.

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Assisted driving notes

Drive Pilot is Mercedes’ latest, vaunted assisted driving suite but it wasn’t fitted to our car. The system works at up to 40mph and in theory allows the driver to almost entirely relinquish control in line with SAE level-three stipulations (that is, the driver is notified only when the system’s ‘functional limits’ are reached). It’s designed to work on motorways in heavier traffic, and with the car kept in one lane.

With Intelligent Park Pilot, the S-Class can even reach SAE level-four capability and locate a reserved parking space autonomously, although it’s difficult to say how practical this would be in the real world, given its specific and rather limiting operating requirements.

In the UK, the S-Class comes as standard with the Driving Assistance Package, which features the gamut of intelligent cruise control, traffic sign recognition and evasive emergency steering and braking.