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Mercedes-Benz S350 2012 review

Striking in its design, the slightly-angular look is not pretty but it has presence.
EXPERT RATING
9
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If you could whack wheels and seats in a crystal ball, it would be akin to - in some respects- driving an S-Class, aside from the fragility of the bodyshell.

The Mercedes-Benz passenger car flagship (and its CL coupe cousin) has been the chaperone for the brand's newest safety gear - airbags and anti-lock brakes are among the many innovative features brought forth by  the big German uber-sedan.

Value

Well, we're north of $200,000 so cheap'n'cheerful an S-Class is not - brimmed with features and serenely comfortable, it is. 

The infotainment system is equipped with satnav, TV/DVD capability within the Harman Kardon sound system, Bluetooth phone link, radar cruise control, a sunroof, parking sensors front and rear with reversing camera, auto-dimming centre and driver's side external rearvision mirrors, active bi-xenon headlights and LED running lights, an optional wood and leather steering wheel (for $1600), electrically-adjustable heated and cooled front seats, leather trim, keyless entry and start, quad-zone climate control and tri-colour ambient lighting.

And that's skimming the surface, as most of the expensive stuff fits into the other categories.

Technology 

Aside from some of the safety highlights detailed later, the innovations within the features side of the equation are more evolution than revolution.

The S350 has the new narrower 3.5 litre V6 with spray-guided direct petrol injection via piezo injectors, four valves per cylinder and adjustable camshafts, new air intake and exhaust system, which offers 225kW and 370Nm - increases of 12.5 and 5.7 per cent respectively - with 8.2 per cent better fuel consumption at 9.8l/100km.

The "entry-level" S-Class sits on 19in wheels (which fill the wheelarches out nicely) but controlling the wheel/tyre package is the electronically-controlled air suspension system, which is teamed with an adaptive damping set-up that offers sport or comfort options - the former giving good control while the latter doesn't turn it into a wallower either.

The standard air-suspension system automatically levels the car and at high speed reduces the ride height automatically. The S350 also has LED tail lights, active brake lights, hi-beam assist for the bi-xenon head lights.

The front infotainment centre screen also has a clever Split View feature, which allows the DVD player to be viewed by passengers, but the driver only gets soundtrack and the normal display.

Design

Striking in its design, the slightly-angular look is not pretty but it has presence, while still managing to downplay the rather considerable dimensions of the S350.

Sharper than the previous S-Class, which had rounded edges galore, the new car still has some softer corners - but anyone who thought the old looked as though it was shaken from a jelly mould would be happier with the current car.

The interior is spacious without being cavernous (the LWB version takes that cake with ease) so four adults will be spaciously and comfortably accommodated - including luggage in the 560-litre boot.

Safety

The S-Class has the now-expected full crumple zones and a count of nine airbags - dual front, side and full-length window airbag's, driver's knee airbag. The braking system has the long list of de rigeur features - anti-lock system, stability control, hill start assist, brake hold and drying function. The electronic assistance doesn't end there - the S has Distronic Plus, which keeps and eye on things in case the driver's attention wanders. 

There are a number of systems on duty - the active blind spot system monitors the area behind the car, including the blind spots, which turns the triangle in the mirror red if a vehicle is detected - change lanes on a red signal and the car ticks you off, or if there's a collision risk, the system can intervene using the brakes to grab one wheel and return the car from whence it came.

The active lane keeping system uses the same means - taking information monitoring road markings - drifting across lane or other road markings can elicit a vibration on the wheel as a warning, or it can brake the appropriate wheel to keep the car centred.

The S-Class has Presafe (the system that prepares the car for an impending impact) but there's also BAS Plus Brake Assist, which first warns the driver and then can automatically brake the car if radar sensors identify a possible collision - if the driver does eventually hit the brakes, the system will summon up the required brake force.

Driving

The German car maker did a survey a while back that showed S-Class drivers were more relaxed and had a lower heart rate while driving. It's not hard to see why (although I'm not sure that applies to an S63 or S65 AMG driver) but directing the big sedan is anything but a chore.

Normally I'm considered - at the very least - a pro-active driver, but the S-Class' relaxed demeanour permeates the driver - a relaxed, gentle pace is the big Merc's chosen canter. The car defaults to Eco mode for the seven-speed auto, slipping quietly between ratios, while in Comfort mode the suspension keeps disturbances in the cabin to a minimum.

The three-year old has been known to resist a mid-afternoon nap but has found it difficult to avoid a snooze, such is the calmness within. It does require a genteel pace into corners in this mode, as it will lean a little, something the Sport mode counteracts a little more efficiently as you'd expect - pressing ahead on a country road, the big sedan covers ground with aplomb.

The new V6 has been endowed with a little more character, as well as added pep - it sounds happier than the old V6 Merc powerplant, which didn't rate aurally or in application. Given it's propelling two tonne around it does an admirable job (0-100km/h is achieved in a claimed 6.9 seconds).

The high-beam assist is helpful and useful, but not infallible - sometimes it picked up on the reflection from signage and then fails to register the lights of other vehicles, although the occurrences were rare. The infotainment system offers good quality sound, connectivity and data access, but on more than one occasion decided to shutdown and restart for no apparent reason.

Verdict

The yardstick for this segment has no shortage of quality competition, but the updated entry-level model now has an improved powerplant, a long features list and - something that still carries far more weight than the few hundred grams involved in its manufacture - the three pointed star.

Pricing guides

$77,685
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$45,700
Highest Price
$109,670

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
S350 3.5L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $45,700 – 57,750 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2012 S350 Pricing and Specs
S63 AMG 5.5L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $68,300 – 86,350 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2012 S63 AMG Pricing and Specs
S350 CDI 3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $59,100 – 74,690 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2012 S350 CDI Pricing and Specs
S600 L 5.5L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $60,300 – 76,230 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2012 S600 L Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
9
Stuart Martin
Contributing Journalist

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