► New S-Class, new guidelines?
► S500 takes on German rivals
► What tops the luxe saloon class?

If the petrol limo is heading for the rocks, no person advised Mercedes. The brand new S-Class meets its Audi, Porsche and BMW rivals.

Mercedes S-Class: pre-flight briefing

Why is it right here?
The S-Class has for many years outlined the posh saloon for all however Bentley and Rolls-Royce die-hards, and its new seventh era strikes the sport on with its steadiness of driver-friendly dynamics, passenger opulence and tech overload for all.

Any intelligent stuff?
Mercedes continues to seek out methods of anticipating issues and helping the motive force as a lot or as little as required, with out dimming the pleasure of helming such a tremendous waft-wagon, with the newest variations of all-wheel drive and all-wheel steer seamlessly built-in. And the second-gen MBUX now includes 5 screens…

s-class interior

Which model is that this?
There are two 3.0-litre diesel sixes and two 3.0-litre petrol sixes. That is the extra highly effective petrol. All the things comes with a nine-speed auto, and all bar the much less highly effective diesel have 4Matic all-wheel drive. Spec begins with AMG Line – actually, it is a lot – which might be suffixed with Premium, Premium Government, Premium Plus or Premium Plus Government. The smarter purchaser sticks with AMG Line and buys a few choice packs, so you do not pay for extra therapeutic massage features than you really need.

Porsche Panamera: pre-flight briefing

Why is it right here?
As a result of a luxurious saloon would not have to appear like a complicated taxi. Porsche’s household automobile – with us since 2010, and now in its second era – might have been overshadowed by Porsche’s personal SUVs and the electrical Taycan, however there’s nonetheless an enormous enchantment in its four-seat-911 ethos.

Any intelligent stuff?
In comparison with the rivals right here, no. The comparatively unshowy Panamera is concentrated on executing the fundamentals brilliantly. That features a 2.9-litre petrol V6 which will share some components with Audi however has develop into Porsche’s personal; it is a marvel of engagement and effectivity. And hats off to the £6707 non-obligatory carbon-ceramic brakes, which ship – many times – with usable energy, in all weathers, with out fade.

panamera interior

Which model is that this?
Contemplating it isn’t an enormous vendor, the vary is ridiculously huge. Physique smart, you will have this Sports activities Saloon (truly a hatch) or the Sport Turismo (sort-of property). Rear- or all-wheel drive, turbo or hybrid, six or eight cylinders, and really quick or extraordinarily quick. Our 4S is roughly in the course of the Panamera vary, though it is one of the crucial costly automobiles on this group of rivals.

BMW 7-Sequence: pre-flight briefing

Why is it right here?
Historically the extra driver-focused different to the S-Class, though that contest has all the time been fairly spec-dependent. The present 7-series (the sixth era, however facelifted in 2019) is low-key to the purpose of anonymity, leaving the vulgar spec to BMW’s booming huge SUVs.

Any intelligent stuff?
It is the one plug-in hybrid on this group (though not the one one obtainable), which provides a 111bhp electrical motor to the 282bhp six. On the highway, transition between the 2 is clean and efficient. But it surely’s a set-up that does not make sense for everybody. On lengthy journeys, you may run out of cost and find yourself carrying a heavy battery in an already heavy automobile with a comparatively modest petrol engine, and the gas tank is down from 78 to 46 litres. BMW claims 4.4 hours for a full cost from a wallbox.

7-series interior

Which model is that this?
It is obtainable as diesel (selection of two) or petrol (selection of two, plus the hybrid), common or long-wheelbase and rear- or all-wheel drive. There’s entry trim (not shabby), then Sport, then our M Sport. The perfect-value strategy to get additional equipment is with the packs, tailor-made to your priorities (driving, or rear-seat leisure).

Audi A8: pre-flight briefing

Why is it right here?
By way of its 4 generations the A8 has offered the marginally sharper, extra fashionable, much less wooden ‘n’ leather-based different to the Merc and BMW (and the Lexus LS). The cabin specifically was proper from the beginning, though the infotainment has developed right into a screen-based system that, for some, is simply too intelligent by half. The A8’s by no means been as dynamically sharp as you’ll hope.

Any intelligent stuff?
Nothing however intelligent stuff. Specifically the predictive energetic suspension, which makes use of a whole lot of science to ease you in your method. The air suspension features electromechanical actuators that reply to inputs from road-scanning sensors, anticipating poor surfaces and adjusting for cambers.

a8 interior

Which model is that this?
The 55 TFSI in Sport trim, with a comparatively modest quantity of extras. Loads extra extras can be found, though for a lot of the important thing to the Audi’s enchantment is its lack of pointless ornamentation. It is obtainable with common and lengthy wheelbase, with 3.0-litre petrol or diesel, a 3.0-litre hybrid, plus the 4.0-litre V8 S8. Spec ranges go from Sport to S Line to Black Version to super-pricey Vorsprung.

And the ship sails on

s-class group cornering

Do not be so quick as to declare these ‘final probability’ saloons. It is hardly the physique fashion of the second, and their engines are far much less electrified than the zeitgeist calls for, and you could nicely query why anybody truly wants a luxurious saloon proper now; precisely what enterprise conferences are these executives in such a rush to attend?

But right here we’ve a wholly new Mercedes-Benz S-Class with a packed discipline of opponents: direct rivals from BMW and Audi, and a sportier different from Porsche. And that leaves no room for the Maserati Quattroporte and Lexus LS. The electrical successors are beginning to arrive, with a lot extra on the best way, however there’s clearly nonetheless life on this unique and really conventional a part of the market.

At launch time the brand new S-Class is barely obtainable with a few diesels and two variations of the three.0-litre straight-six. We have picked the stronger 429bhp petrol hooked as much as a nine-speed computerized and all-wheel drive. By way of energy output, the massive Benz competes on paper with the Porsche Panamera 4S fitted with the 435bhp variant of Zuffenhausen’s personal 2.9-litre V6. The one horse with a saddlecloth marked PHEV on this upper-stratum corral is the BMW 745e, which mixes a straight-six with a single e-motor for a mixed complete of 389bhp. We had requested Audi to supply an identical A8 60 TFSI, however since there wasn’t one obtainable on the proper time the one different six-cylinder choice was the 55 TFSI, dishing up 335bhp, which on this context – if few others – can appear just a little undernourished.

The 7-series, Panamera and A8 ranges begin round £70k, and the S-Class from just below £80k, however a quick look at our spec tables reveals how simple it’s to show any of them into six-figure purchases (or four-figure month-to-month PCP funds). We have tried to not get too distracted by choices and devices and splendid adornments, though there is no denying that a part of the enchantment of the S-Class specifically is the innovation in its know-how, whether or not that be for pampering the passengers or thrilling the motive force.

The presence of the Porsche – in some methods its polar reverse – brings into focus the query of what precisely we imply by luxurious automobile. Is there some type of golden ratio – maybe four-fifths cushiness and one-fifth dynamism? It will be attention-grabbing to find whether or not the Porsche’s variations really feel like benefits or handicaps.

And the selection of a hybrid BMW means we won’t ignore questions of gas consumption and emissions. However principally we’ll be utilizing the traditional check of a luxurious saloon: how recent do you’re feeling – how able to make a million-dollar enterprise deal – on the finish of an extended, quick journey? Not that each journey in a luxurious saloon shall be lengthy and quick – some shall be pootling just a few miles throughout city – but it surely wants to have the ability to take that in its stride.

s-class 7-series cornering

Mercedes first. The brand new S-Class goals to eclipse its category-defining predecessor by a considerable margin in all related departments whereas concurrently destroying the competitors. Formidable? Proudly so. And it commences this mission by rewriting the rulebook on in-car consolation.

True consolation is not only a matter of excellent seats – it should stem from the automobile’s willingness to be pushed easily and quickly. To this finish, the Merc has essentially the most superior rear-wheel steering ever, which provides a contact of magic to the time period manoeuvrability. However, sure, it does even have the world’s most subtle seats, which create – along with essentially the most elaborate sound-deadening efforts – a really splendid isolation from the vagaries of terra firma and the mundane working noises of a motor automobile.

It goals to make the passengers really feel actually particular, via elegant design, nicely thought via ergonomics and superior connectivity. Able to studying lips, eyes and gestures, the S-Class supplies a really particular consumer expertise certainly. It provides unique entry to a realm between gliding and floating.

Throughout our three days of testing, all 5 specialists had been eager to take a look at whether or not the laurels awarded prematurely had been justified. All approached the conservatively styled Mercedes with their sceptical heads on – certainly, all of us thought, it may possibly’t be nearly as good because the hype says it’s? However none of us stepped away dissatisfied. Truth is, these with exceptionally skilful digits and a penchant for something digital could not be stopped from exploring the high-end MBUX leisure system, the augmented-reality head-up show and the multi-talented Energizing packs, which do not simply supply a selection of therapeutic massage features, in addition they co-ordinate sound, temperature, lighting and even smells in tune together with your temper and necessities.

s-class rear cornering

On the finish of day one, two key Merc strengths emerged: an omni-present sophistication on all fronts, and the mind-boggling manoeuvrability in confined areas.

The cosseting trip is a mix of many components. Even the tyres are lined with a Bentley Mulsanne-style low-noise foam, the usual air suspension suppresses most irritations with suave nonchalance, and people superb seats put a fascinating layer of insulation between man and machine.

Having mentioned that, the low-speed trip might be just a little extra supple nonetheless, and the physique actions on undulating turf tackled at pace might be half an amplitude much less emphatic. Each points shall be attended to by the non-obligatory energetic suspension obtainable later within the yr. It faucets 20 sensors, stereo cameras and one hydraulic actuator per wheel to eradicate extreme yaw, rebound, pitch and roll. It is prone to be nicely well worth the wait and the additional outlay.

There’s one space the place the S-Class doesn’t beat the opposition, and that space might be discovered beneath the bonnet of the S500, the place the six is irritatingly unrefined; you’d do nicely to discover different engine choices. However that is just about it for negatives.

The Audi A8 is equally in need of severe minus factors, however nor does it stand tall in sufficient methods. It is extremely competent at many issues, and has all the time been a category act, so any imperfections stand out. For example, there may be work required to squash the often irritating noise degree (wipers, tyres, engine, wind). Moreover, the A8’s persona appeared barely unclear to most of our testers, hovering between super-sized all-rounder and a sport-luxury cocoon.

a8 cornering

Its new predictive energetic suspension – which provides a Consolation Plus mode – is great. It retains the physique nearly degree no matter g-force and steering motion, and swiftly does away with any trace of dealing with waywardness. It is this wizard chassis that places the A8 again into rivalry.

What concerning the BMW? Simply because the A8 is in essence a bigger and pricier A6, the 7-series is in a nutshell a much bigger and bolder 5-series obtainable with just a few extra mod cons. Fairly frankly, that is not sufficient for both automobile to chop it towards the Mercedes or, when totally different priorities matter, the Porsche.

In line with BMW, the 745e averages 122.8mpg, and that is no typo. To come back even near this planet-saving quantity, the 10kWh battery have to be absolutely charged and the accelerator ought to solely be depressed exhausting when completely mandatory. However it may be performed, even when the noticed zero-emission vary was nearer to 21 than to the claimed 31 miles. The welcome geofencing perform switches off the combustion engine as quickly because the automobile enters a clean-air zone. So long as the motive force workouts due charging self-discipline and the automobile is primarily used for commuter and intra-city journeys, the PHEV idea does have its deserves.

The one dynamic draw back considerations the distinction in energy and grunt between an empty and a totally charged battery. Minus its e-motor, the 745 makes 282bhp. In most conditions that is a lot – and the straight-six is sweeter than the Porsche and Audi V6s. However use it exhausting and you will quickly expertise an old style type of vary nervousness, because the gas tank of the 745e was diminished from 78 to a paltry 46 litres to make room for the battery.

The strong-voiced Porsche wins the efficiency trophy fingers down. It is not simply the figures, though they do inform an enormous chunk of the story: Panamera 4.3sec, 183mph; Benz 4.9sec, 155mph; BMW 5.1sec, 155mph; and the Audi 5.7sec, 155mph.

panamera side pan

In opposition to the stopwatch, the quartet is sort of shut collectively, however in actual life it’s crucial to dial within the sportiest engine-transmission setting to make these behemoths fly. And fly they are going to: the gruff and knotty Panamera setting the tempo, the A8 comparatively shut behind, the 7-series heavy however nonetheless fast, the S500 completely able to maintaining with the gang regardless of extra pronounced physique motions via corners, beneath exhausting braking and full acceleration.

The Panamera targets a clearly outlined group of patrons who’re extra eager about their new buy’s Porscheness than in conventional super-saloon properties. The trip is okay on clean surfaces however deteriorates at low pace, on broken-up tarmac and over any transverse irritation, be it a minor enlargement joint or a collection of pace bumps. This muscular and sinewy set-up might deter some, and but it’s in fact completely in sync with the short and exact steering, the non-obligatory carbon-ceramic brakes which spoon out your mind beneath exhausting use, and the lightning-quick throttle-to-engine-to-transmission chain of command.

The 4S consciously avoids traditional premium-segment traps like contourless lounge seats, a cabin atmosphere paying homage to a hermetically sealed field and variable compliance constructed into steering and brakes. As a sporty five-door GT – as a Porsche – the Panamera could have none of that. The driving force can push just a few buttons to emphasize verve or rest, however the space past this slim genetic framework is off-limits.

While you really feel like swinging the whip in a automobile weighing over two tonnes, potent brakes are of the essence. On this respect, solely the Porsche deserves the highest rating, particularly with our check automobile’s carbon-ceramic rotors which appear to be even much less immune now to chilly and wet climate. It may well brake considerably later, tougher and extra persistently than its playmates, if want be many times. The Audi follows within the slipstream of the Panamera with the second-best stoppers and the second-best – if mildly synthetic – steering.

On this context it is value noting that each one members had been outfitted with rear-wheel-steering methods, however solely the Merc can present an excessive steering angle of as much as 10º, which reduces the turning circle by a considerable 6.5ft – it appears like spinning on a dime in contrast with the others. Audi (Dynamic All-Wheel Steering), BMW (Integral Lively Steering) and Porsche (Rear-Wheel Steering) have all gone for much less excessive set-ups for a shorter digital wheelbase impact when parking, and the phantasm of an prolonged wheelbase for high-speed stability. For some purpose, the examined 745e nonetheless displayed a sure directional ambiguity on the autobahn, not helped by the comparatively nervous steering and random gentle suspension excitations all-round.

s-class 7-series overhead

Having the Porsche right here is sweet for highlighting the dynamic limitations of the others. Just like the Macan and Cayenne, the Panamera competes on a taking part in discipline that’s comparatively new to the model, but it surely does so on Cayman and 911 phrases. The Panamera is, in different phrases a superbly sensible if considerably bloated sports activities automobile, a household man’s excuse to stay loyal to the marque till the children go to school, and a cunningly positioned different to all these SUVs. It is a huge automobile, however not vastly roomy inside.

The 4S epitomises different luxurious by changing traditional full-size saloon values with a dozen variations of sportiness. Though there’s a long-wheelbase Government model for many who require extra rear leg- and headroom, extra sheet steel doesn’t purchase a extra compliant trip, extra snug seats or extra up-market avenue cred. No, the Panamera is before everything a Porsche, and we would not have it every other method.

Driving dynamics apart, the cabins have to be the most important think about these automobiles’ enchantment. There are execs and cons throughout the board. Even the freshly minted Merc feels dated in locations – proof of the German producers’ fixed battle to combine smartphone-driven improvements. The oddball BMW devices can look like a declaration of kind following cluelessness, whereas Porsche’s advanced Innodrive function appears designed to check your intelligence; it is a huge a part of a Porsche’s enchantment that it appears like a driver’s automobile, so an easier interface could be welcome within the Panamera. Even the 3D show that Mercedes is providing within the S-Class appears like a miniature proscenium stage seen via a kaleidoscope. The cabin of the Audi is nicer to the contact and kinder to the attention, however the graphics of the Digital Cockpit and the 2 stacked touchscreens haven’t aged nicely.

7-series panamera chase

Full reward to the 745e for retaining the acquainted iDrive controller which lets the motive force use one hand to do the peripheral work whereas eyes and thoughts can give attention to the highway. Within the Audi and the Porsche, one should fumble-touch and circa-swipe one’s method via fast-fudging shows.

How about voice management? It may well begin a therapeutic massage session or change the radio station, but it surely refuses to deactivate ESP, set the space margin of the energetic cruise management system or change on the sidelights. Whereas nothing will cease the invasion of contact buttons, multi-functional touch-sliders and cheeky iris scanners, the stress on customers happier within the analogue previous can not less than be diminished by summoning leave-me-alone black panel graphics.

Do not get me flawed – after a comparatively brief adaptation section, all these MMI methods are manageable. However if you’ve paid handsomely for a intelligent, luxurious automobile, you need to really feel such as you’re in cost.

Ultimate reckoning

s-class group rear tracking

The Mercedes within the clear winner. It is from excellent, however does a whole lot of issues exceptionally nicely. If you’d like a luxurious saloon like an S-Class, get an S-Class.

That is roughly what we anticipated to seek out after we began the check, however because the three days went on and the miles mounted up, the rating was much less clear-cut than anticipated. How come? As a result of along with loads of exhausting information, variables like perspective, private choice, the impact of name picture and design, character, ergonomics and the man-machine interplay additionally entered the equation. These are advanced automobiles and so they all demand a fancy, nuanced response.

And that is why the Panamera charges second. The Porsche is taking part in a barely totally different recreation; it isn’t failing to be nearly as good because the S-Class, as a result of it isn’t making an attempt to be like an S-Class. Slightly, it is interesting to a small sub-set of luxurious saloon patrons who put rather more emphasis on efficiency than consolation and passenger-friendliness. It is a sports activities automobile dressed up as a five-door coupe, and it’s dynamically the perfect right here, whereas additionally with the ability to go a good distance in direction of satisfying the posh saloon purchaser.

The Audi and the BMW have a lot to commend them. The A8 is a quick and fuss-free cocoon, whereas this specific 7-series provides a inexperienced answer that can work nicely for some whereas not difficult for general victory. In contrast to the Porsche, they each very a lot try to woo core S-Class patrons, however on the entire neither the 7-series nor the A8 is sort of particular sufficient to vie for the highest spot. In long-wheelbase kind and with that zig-zag rear steering, this comparatively humble six-cylinder S-Class is the present automobile to beat, albeit with some reservations. But it surely’s exhausting to see any model – any mixture of trim and powertrain – being particular sufficient to match the Merc.

The plug-in hybrid model of the S-Class has enormous promise. However earlier than lengthy it could be that the market has moved on. Mercedes has already proven what it is planning with the all-electric EQS, Porsche has its Taycan, Jaguar – historically robust on this class, is at present absent – and its deliberate substitute for the XJ has been canned. And for some, Tesla already has the reply with the Mannequin S.

However let’s not get forward of ourselves. Proper right here we’ve 4 tremendous automobiles, certainly one of which is a fairly exceptional continuation of an unrivalled heritage.

Mercedes S-Class vs rivals: the decision

s-class group static

First place
Mercedes S500
The epitome of luxurious, with cleverly built-in know-how and ingenious steering.

Second place
Porsche Panamera
Uncooked efficiency and second-to-none driver involvement, however trip and refinement are huge of the mark.

Equal third place
BMW 745e
Good intentions, however the e-range is simply too restricted for this to make excellent sense. Not as sporty or as refined as you’d hope.

Equal third place
Audi A8
A8 ticks all the precise bins, but would not fairly equal the sum of its components. Too artificial and chilly to be cool.