Straight-six engines and mild design tweaks ensure its crown goes uncontested.
Mercedes-Benz has pulled the wraps off of its flagship luxury saloon, the all-conquering S-Class, at the 2017 Shanghai Auto Show. With this facelift exercise, the Stuttgart manufacturer has gone further than most do with such updates, going as far as to debut a new range of inline six-cylinder engines, the first for the marque since it began fitting V6 powerplants two decades ago.
The straight-6 units (an engine layout that BMW’s famous for, by the way) are derivatives of the four-cylinder engines that the brand already has, and will see use across the Mercedes-Benz lineup in due course. The first of the new engines will appear as diesels initially, with petrol engines coming round later. The petrol engines pair up with a brand-new 48-volt electric system that will accommodate an electric booster compressor and integrated starter generator, part of a “mild hybrid” system that Mercedes-Benz reckons will extend the longevity of the current-generation S-Class.
The German luxury marque is also making a lot of noise about its new diesel engines, fitted to S350d and S400d variants, which see use of a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six, developing 210kW/600Nm and 250kW/700Nm respectively. Despite the power jump over the outgoing diesel powerplants, the diesels are claimed to be more than 7% more efficient (at 5.5L/100km and 5.6L/100km respectively).
If fuel economy isn’t your bag, there’s also a new V8 joining the S-Class lineup. Under the bonnet of the new S560 (the range-topping variant before the bonkers AMG models) you’ll find the 4.0-litre bi-turbo V8 from the outgoing S500, though it now produces 345W & 700Nm. Mercedes-Benz claims this engine is “among the most economical V8 petrol engines in the world,” and is 10% more efficient than the powerplant it replaces. That economy is due mostly to cylinder deactivation, which allows the big petrol to run like a 4-pot on a light load.
That same 4.0-litre V8 sees employment in the Mercedes-AMG S63 4Matic+, which ousts the 5.5-litre biturbo V8 at the top of the tree. Though the displacement drops, power remains a healthy 450kW, and this powerplant also features cylinder deactivation.
Mercedes has explained that there will soon be a S560e hybrid, using a new 3.0-litre straight-six powerplant and an electric motor. Later, a plug-in hybrid model will join the lineup, offering as much as 50km of pure-electric range, which will likely employ the same petrol powerplant as the S560e.
Driver aids have seen a bump too, with optional items including ‘Distronic Active Proximity Control,’ and ‘Active Steer Assist.’ These systems mean that the S-Class can accelerate and brake within the speed limit, and steer unaided or for up to 30-seconds at a time. The ‘Magic Body Control’ system that we’ve seen before also sees an upgrade, and now includes a ‘Curve’ functionality that is broadly similar to the lean feature seen in the S-Class coupe, where it tilts the body by up to 3-degrees in corners.
Visual revisions are subtle, with things like grilles being updated, headlights featuring a unique ‘tri-stripe’ daytime-running light effect, new bumpers, and the same shimmer-crystal treatment for the taillights that we first saw in the new E-Class. Inside, the digital instrument cluster & infotainment screen now sit behind a single glass pane, there’s a new touch-sensitive controls for the COMAND system, a redesigned steering wheel with new cruise control… controls, and optional LED ambient lighting that can offer up to 64 different shades.
There’s also a rather gimmicky system called ‘Energising Comfort Control,’ which tweaks the air conditioning, fragrancing, seat massagers, lighting, and sound-system to sooth, excite, or stimulate the driver over six programmes, those being ‘Freshness,’ ‘Warmth,’ ‘Vitality,’ ‘Joy,’ ‘Comfort,’ and ‘Training.’ We’re curious to see how this system works in reality, and if it’s any more than an interesting feature that will go unused.
Sales will begin in the UK in October, which means we could see the new S-Class make Aussie landfall in time for the 2018 model year. Though the full-size saloon segment is a hotly contested market, we have little doubt that the Sonderklasse will continue its reign as the supreme limousine to which all others are measured.