Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Lexus RC
- S-Class' return to splendour
- Stunning high-tech cabin presentation
- Outstanding ride and handling capabilities
- Price of entry prohibitive for most
- 3D instrumentation can make you woozy
- A tad conservative in design
- Smooth, effortless V6
- Better looking than before
- Tweaked chassis feels good
- Useless rear seats
It's only in the running for the title of world's best luxury car. No biggie here, then.
Like Rolex and Concorde, S-Class has become a byword for ultimate, and deserved or not, the Mercedes-Benz defines its segment despite the best efforts of the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Lexus LS and (sadly now-defunct) Jaguar XJ, as well as pointing the way forward with new technologies that eventually trickle down to more proletarian models.
Replacing the half-million selling W222 unveiled in 2013, the W223 is the latest in a long line since the first W187 Ponton debuted in 1951, and includes the famous ‘Finnies' and Stroke-8 models that followed immediately afterwards, but it is the 1972 W116 that really set the template.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It's 2019 and the Lexus RC has been with us for four years which means it's time for a mid(ish)-life update. A glance at the specifications and tech details for its very low-key, late 2018 arrival suggests not much has changed. And let's be fair, it hasn't.
The mild refresh has brought a few changes in spec (in the right direction), price (the wrong direction, but few things are free in this life), and styling (you be the judge).
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Mercedes-Benz set out to restore the S-Class' place amongst the greatest sedans in the world.
In the heavily-optioned, near-$250K-plus S450 as well as the extended S450L at $300K as tested (the sweet spot of the range for now), we reckon the Germans have succeeded, pushing safety, comfort and technology boundaries, in a package that is true to the heritage of the series.
Tax-fuelled sky-high prices will certainly keep the S-Class niche in Australia, but the car is more than good enough to dominate its tiny corner of the upper-large luxury car sphere.
The best new car in the world? We reckon it's highly likely. Mission accomplished, Mercedes.
The RC's time on my drive was preceded by a cheaper, V8-powered Mustang, so it was fascinating to compare the Japanese approach to the American. They're not really competitors, obviously, but the Lexus' ability to cosset the driver while still showing a good turn of speed was an interesting counterpoint.
The 2019 RC350 isn't a step-change - if you want one of those, double your money and get the delightfully nutty RC F - but the changes inside, outside and underneath will certainly please the fans even if it doesn't bring in new ones in huge numbers.
Does anyone still even notice luxury coupes? If you do, is Lexus even on the radar?
Most Mercedes models have followed the Russian Doll-style cookie-cutter styling theme, and the heavy family look continues with the W223.
Still, the flush door handles do add a touch of Tesla-esque modernity, while the elegant silhouette and clean lines are in keeping with the luxury aspirations. Larger in every dimension compared to the old W222, the S450 is some 71mm-longer in wheelbase (3106mm) than before while the LWB's has stretched out by 51mm (3216mm), benefiting proportions as well as interior packaging.
AMG-branded wheels look sporty but – in the S450 at least – they're perhaps a tad too gangster. A set of flush alloys would give it a more-modern and techier appearance, in our opinion.
Overall, however, the S-Class ‘7' possesses the prerequisite richness of design. It isn't as bold and mould-breaking as models like the W116 were back in their day, but the styling is still a success.
By the way, the latest S-Class is the first Mercedes to employ the MRA2 longitudinal platform, which is rich in lightweight steels (50 per cent aluminium), is correspondingly stronger than before but also 60kg lighter.
With a drag co-efficiency rating as low as 0.22Cd on some overseas grades, the W223 is one of the most aerodynamic production vehicles in history.
As a whole, I've always thought the RC to be handsome, but the headlights - as on the IS - always made me wince a bit. There's too much going on, which is weird because the rest of the car is very easy on the eye.
As is common with a mid-life facelift, the work all happens at the front and rear. There's a revised bumper, tweaked mesh pattern in the spindle grille, and a much better looking set of headlights - with much cooler LED daytime running lights and headlights. They're still a bit much, but they're not jarring.
The rear is a little cleaner but I reckon it didn't need much work. Along with new wing mirrors from the gorgeous LC coupe and new wheel designs, it's a subtle update, but a good one.
Inside is little-changed, which is good and bad. A new brushed-aluminium dash inlay, a new (naff) analogue clock, and not a huge amount else. The switchgear has a lovely damped feel, nothing clicks or snaps and it really is very serene indeed. Few cars can match a Lexus interior for feel and touch.
Some of the design decisions are confusing, though. A rotary dial to change driving modes looks more like it should be used to control the media system, and the media system's touchpad is really annoying.
For the beginning of our day with the S-Class, we were chauffeured from home to a mansion in Kew, a blue-chip Melbourne suburb. Our heavily-optioned S450L featured most of the aforementioned extras – including the Business Class Package and Rear Entertainment Package – and the experience was predictably, sumptuously memorable.
Reclining individual rear seats with easy-reach tablets, armrests offering access to all multimedia and available climatised and massaging cushions and backrests... we're no longer in our normal ride, Toto.
Yet, all these trinkets and gizmos are mere add-ons, that can turn a stretched Caprice into a flash hen's night carriage if enough money and glitz is thrown at it.
No, the new S-Class must impress in an altogether less tangible and more philosophical manner, involving all the senses, and not just what we see, hear and touch. It must appeal beyond the superficial. Otherwise, it is not a large Mercedes-Benz luxury sedan in the classic manner.
This is a Herculean task for the Stuttgart designers and engineers. By and large, though, the Three-Pointed Star has succeeded in achieving something special.
In its perception of peerless quality and engineering, the W223 is striving to move forward and look back simultaneously to the glory days of the seminal W126 (1980-1991). This is through meshing traditional virtues like solidity and quality materials while dazzling its passengers with technology that is still friendly enough to want to enhance your experience.
You can sink into the soft lounge seats, watch the world pass by silently outside and never be aware of the road underneath or the engine ahead. Double glazing, exquisite and aromatic fabrics and materials and lush tactile surfaces work their magic inside the car, while an airtight and aero body, solid platform, air suspension and a muted yet muscular powertrain all do their thing underneath. The atmosphere is special and rarefied. That's what an S-Class needs to be and that's what is happening in our $299,000 (as tested) S450L.
The same more-or-less applies up front, as the same trim, leather, wood and technology surrounds the driver and passenger. The spectre of the car that is surely The Car of the Last Decade – Tesla's Model S – is evident in the portrait touchscreen and sparse, almost wallflower dashboard design and layout. No big imposing architectures here.
Yet, while the American upstart actually takes stuff away, the S-Class packs the cabin with subtle features that – like when the planes stopped flying last year and the birdsong subsequently returned – only become obvious once the cabin's design simplicity clears all the white noise for you to be in a better frame of mind to enjoy them.
Take the haptic interface, for example, as it is perhaps the best we've experienced; the sense of well-being garnered from the cumulative effects of profound seat comfort (the massaging function was never switched off), cocooning micro climate environmental control, orchestral levels of audio entertainment and the theatre of light and vision performed by the two available screens; it is an automotive experience like no other. And the eye-tracking 3D-effect navigation set within the electronic instrumentation. No need for cinematic glasses to get the effect. The driving position itself, by the way, is also first class.
Room to stretch and grow for sure, and in every direction. But room for improvement? You betcha.
Your tester had a headache after a little while staring at that woozy 3D map. The central vents – four at the front, two in the rear – look and feel cheap, leaving us mentally redesigning them; they are frightfully out of place here; the carryover column-stalk auto lever should have been binned in 2005. And, even though the digital instruments have a number of options, none are elegant enough for the S-Class. That's an especially subjective criticism, clearly, but one that – in the context of classic Mercedes luxury sedan contenders – is justified given how timeless the Bruno Sacco era of Daimler design was. Look him up, kids.
Still, after a couple of hours behind the wheel, with our senses reset to calm, it is obvious that the S-Class cabin is a unique and wonderful place – as it should be at a cool quarter-of-a-million dollars.
PS At 550 litres (20L more than before), the boot is massive and luxurious enough to sleep in.
As ever, a sports coupe is the not the place to consider starting your DIY career, but front seat passengers luxuriate with plenty of space. A good-sized glove box joins two cupholders in the centre console which also has a decent-sized bin for hiding things, as well as a sensible place to put your phone (no wireless charging, sadly).
Rear seat passengers have very little space for their limbs or heads but at least the seats are comfortable. Two more cupholders back there, but really, nobody will use them.
The boot is a very useful 423 litres.
Price and features
Right now, only two S-Class models are available – the S450 from $240,700 plus on-road costs and the 110mm extended-wheelbase S450L (LWB) for another $24,900 on top. Most buyers overwhelmingly opt for the latter.
Despite what the numbers may suggest, both are powered by a 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder turbo petrol engine, delivering 270kW of power and 500Nm of torque to all four wheels via a nine-speed torque-converter automatic. Greater choices are coming later, including an all-electric version known as the EQS.
Almost every conceivable safety item is standard on the S-Class, including world-first rear-seat airbags located behind the front seats in the LWB model, taking the surround-airbag count to 10.
You'll also find route-based Speed Adaptation (adhering to the posted speed limits), Evasive Steering Assist (a sophisticated form of crash mitigation), adaptive cruise control with active stop/go, Active Lane Change Assist that automatically moves the car into the lane you indicate to), Mercedes' PreSafe crash-preparation tech that primes all the safety systems for impact, electronic stability program that encapsulates all the active driver-assist tech, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking front and rear (including for cyclists and pedestrians), Traffic Sign Assist, Parking Package with Active Parking Assist and 360-degree camera and tyre pressure monitors.
On the equipment front there is the latest iteration of Mercedes' MBUX multimedia system with (another) world-first 3D display, complementing an OLED central display, powered closing doors, leather upholstery, air suspension, leather upholstery, velour floor mats, a multi-beam LED headlight system with adaptive high beams, heated and folding exterior mirrors, heat and noise-insulating acoustic glass for front side windows, dark privacy glass for rear windows, sunroof, roller sunblinds for rear windows, metallic paint and 20-inch AMG alloy wheels on runflat tyres.
Want cutting-edge multimedia? There's MBUX II's augmented reality for navigation and fingerprint scanner, as well as a more natural-speech Mercedes-Me Connect voice activation with global search.
Plus, predictive navigation with live traffic, parked vehicle locator, vehicle tracking, emergency call, maintenance management and tele-diagnostics, digital radio, Burmester 3D surround-sound system with 15 speakers and 710W amplifier, remote door locking/unlocking, geofencing, speed-fencing, valet parking, head-up display, Smart Phone integration with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, wireless charging, ambient lighting, two-zone climate control, poplar wood trim, electric adjustment for front seats, steering column with memory function, climatised front seats, keyless entry/go with flush-fitting door handles offering hands-free access (including for the electric boot),
Besides the ‘forward facing' airbag for the rear-seat occupants, the S450L also scores electrically adjustable rear seats with memory and automatic rear climate control.
Key options – and the list is massive – include an $8700 Rear Entertainment Package, that brings rear-multimedia access, rear tablets with wireless headsets and rear-seat wireless smart phone charging, an AMG Line pack with a body kit, different alloys and larger front brakes ($6500), Business Class Package that includes aircraft-style reclining rear seating and tray tables ($14,500), Nappa leather ($5000), augmented-reality HUD ($2900), 21-inch wheels ($2000) and four-wheel steering ($2700). There's also a $14,500 Energising Package with contoured seating, heated-everything and massaging seats.
Please keep in mind our test cars featured many such extras. Tick all the boxes and you can add nearly $100,000 to the price of your S-Class.
So, is the S450 good value? Given some of the breakthrough safety and luxury features it offers, it is unique. Too bad the Federal Government's Luxury Car Tax makes them so much more expensive than they need to be.
While you can have an RC300 in the mid-sixties, the F Sport starts at $77,529, $200 extra than before. On the face of it, it doesn't look like amazing value, but get a Euro competitor and you'll be paying more.
You get 19-inch alloys, a 17-speaker stereo, four-wheel steering, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, sat nav, electric heated and ventilated front seats, leather everywhere, a limited-slip diff, variable ratio steering, adaptive dampers, keyless entry and start, and an improved safety package.
The 17-speaker stereo is a treat but the media system is not; controlled from the console by a touchpad, it's hard to use and a pain to navigate. It has Bluetooth and USB connectivity with terrific sound, but it requires patience to operate - which includes the time to get the required qualifications (okay, slight exaggeration). And there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to take the edge off. Pity.
Engine & trans
Where are the V8s?
Right now, the only W223 you can buy is powered by an all-new 2999cc 3.0-litre in-line direct-injection six-cylinder turbo petrol engine dubbed the M256, complete with double overhead cams, an electric compressor intercooler and assistance from a 48-volt mild hybrid system and integrated starter-generator, adding 16kW and 250Nm to the 270kW of power at 6100rpm and 500Nm of torque from 1600-4500rpm.
Top speed is limited to 250km/h, while the 0-100km/h sprint-time takes just 5.1 seconds in both models. Impressive for a two-tonne-plus luxury limo.
The RC350 packs Lexus' creamy 3.5-litre, naturally aspirated V6, a step up from the RC300's turbo four-cylinder. Power remains at 232kW/380Nm, driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed torque-converted automatic.
The RC350 cracks the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.3 seconds, which isn't bad considering it's a hefty beast at over 1700kg.
The RC300's turbo four spins up 180kW and an impressive 350Nm if you're keen to save a few dollars upfront and on running costs.
With the aid of the mild-hybrid system, the S450 returned a combined average of an impressive 8.2 litres per 100km, which translates to 187 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilometre. 95 RON premium unleaded (or higher) is recommended. In the urban run it consumes 11.3L/100km (11.5 for S450L), and just 6.4L/100km (6.5 for S450L) in the extra-urban result.
At 76 litres, the fuel tank will allow a combined average range of about 927km between refills.
Lexus says the 350 will manage 9.1L/100km on the combined cycle but I scored a rather less convincing 12.8L/100km. Again, that's probably not bad considering its weight. The tricky dash display had me thinking it was an amazing 7.8L/100km, but it was km/L...
There is no stop-start, cylinder-on-demand or battery regen tech to save fuel - features its European rivals all have at least one of.
In former times, as the Germans say, a ‘450' on the boot indicated V8 power. In the W116 S-Class era it was one of the world's most evocative badges when ‘SEL' was also attached.
As mentioned earlier, though, it's the M256 3.0-litre turbo-petrol with a 48-volt ‘mild hybrid' electrical system that's doing the driving, to all four wheels. The real V8 W223 will probably surface later this year or in early 2022 with the S580L flagship. Bring it on.
This is not to say that S450 isn't good enough. With that electrified assistance, the blown straight six is smooth and swift off the line and rapid as the auto seamlessly steps up through all nine gears. Because it's so hushed and refined, it doesn't feel 5.1s to 100 clicks quick, but watching the speedo says otherwise – acceleration is assertive and strong right up way past the legal speed limit.
All that's missing is the burbling soundtrack of a classic Benz bent-eight. Oh well. Outstanding economy is a price we're literally willing to pay in lieu.
Even more impressive is the S450's ability to hustle along mountain roads like an overgrown sports sedan.
Now, for Australia, all S-Classes are fitted standard with an adaptive ‘Airmatic' air-suspension set-up, including air springs and self-levelling tech. In Comfort up to 60km/h, the ride height can be raised by 30mm, or lowered by 10mm under the standard 130mm baseline in Sport at any velocity, while in Sport+ it falls another 17mm.
With that in mind, yes, the standard air suspension performs a magnificent job smothering out most surface imperfections around town. Yet its real other party trick is to tighten up the chassis when corners get interesting and Sport mode is selected. Aided by progressively weighted and reassuringly responsive steering, the Mercedes tips into turns with precision and poise, slicing through with virtually no discernible body lean or understeer.
Now, we're not talking a leisurely drive on rural highways here, but Healesville's famous Chum Creek Road, where even a Porsche Cayman would feel like it's had a strenuous dynamic workout. The S-Class can be hurried along with confidence and finesse, displaying outstanding handling and roadholding for a 5.2-metre long limo. And the fact that the ride quality only suffers marginally when the red horns are out is all the more remarkable.
Back in the cut-and-thrust of inner-city peak-hour traffic, the Benz in Comfort mode continued to reveal its driver-orientated yet passenger-focused twin-personalities, zipping in and out of gaps while remaining comfy and composed inside.
Only when parking in tight spots are you truly aware that the W223 is longer than a Mazda CX-9. The optional four-wheel-steering system is claimed to slash the turning circle to A-Class hatchback levels. 10.9 metres is the claim.
The 2021 S-Class never ceases to amaze and delight.
As it has ever been, the RC350 is one smooth, smooth ride. Even the way the doors open is relaxing: swinging wide open like the hinges are made of butter, (except butter that doesn't melt or sag). Look, I'm trying to avoid saying smooth again.
Engine start-up is barely audible and while pottering about the engine remains just as subdued. It's up to the digital dashboard, with its instruments clustered into a single dial with a digital speedo, to let you know what's going on. Few cars outside of the Lexus stable are this relaxing to drive.
What I don't remember from the last time I drove an RC was all-wheel steering. Either I wasn't paying attention or Lexus snuck it in - but it really makes a difference. It's not as aggressive as, say, the bonkers RC F or Renault Sport Megane, it's just there to help bring the heavy car around. It also seems better sorted than the same system in the bigger LC500. And the steering's variable rack works well with it as a partner, too.
The RC's adaptive suspension is so good at what it does. It never over-tightens the suspension but does make a difference in Sport+. It's not really in the 350's nature to take it out for a good thrashing, but it's certainly capable - if held back a little by its portly kerb weight and soft brake pedal feel.
The W223 S-Class has not been crash-tested yet by ANCAP or European affiliate EuroNCAP, so does not have a star rating. However, Mercedes-Benz claims it has striven to create one of the safety vehicles on the planet. Who are we to argue?
Almost every conceivable safety item is standard on the S-Class, including world-first rear-seat airbags located behind the front seats in the LWB model, taking the surround-airbag count to 10.
You'll also find route-based Speed Adaptation (adhering to the posted speed limits), Evasive Steering Assist (a sophisticated form of crash mitigation), adaptive cruise control with active stop/go, Active Lane Change Assist that automatically moves the car into the lane you indicate to), Mercedes' PreSafe crash-preparation tech that primes all the safety systems for impact, electronic stability program that encapsulates all the active driver-assist tech, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Autonomous Emergency Braking front and rear (including for cyclists and pedestrians, at speeds from 7km/h to over 200km/h), Traffic Sign Assist, Parking Package with Active Parking Assist and 360-degree camera and tyre pressure monitors.
The Active Lane Keeping Assist works in a speed range of between 60km/h and 250km/h while Active Steer Assist helps the driver follow the lane at speeds of up to 210km/h.
The RC comes with eight airbags (including knee bags), ABS, stability and traction controls, active bonnet, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward AEB and forward collision warning.
There are two top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX fittings in the back.
ANCAP has not tested the RC but it scored a 'Good' rating from the US IIHS test regime.
Unlike many luxury brands that persist with a sub-par three-year warranty, Mercedes-Benz offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Intervals are every year or 25,000km, with a capped price service plan starting at $800 for the first year, $1200 for the second year and $1400 for the third year, totalling $3400. Alternatively, there is a Service Plan starting at $2700 for the first three years (saving $700 from the normal capped-price service plan), $3600 for four years and $5400 for five years.
Unlike parent company Toyota, Lexus offers a four-year/100,000km warranty. Also unlike Toyota, you don't get an absurdly cheap deal on servicing, and there's with no capped-price regime. Lexus wants to see your car every 12 months or 15,000km.
To soften the blow of no capped-price servicing, Lexus will either give you a loan car or, even better, come and fetch your car from you before returning it vacuumed, washed, and serviced.
You also get a fairly comprehensive four years of roadside assist and a few other perks.