• Mercedes-Benz S-Class: First Drive Review

A made-in-India first-class experience for the road

Being vocal for local has far-reaching benefits going beyond the socio-political spectrum. Take the Mercedes-Benz S-Class as an example. The best car in the world is now made in India and while it misses some features and makes less power than the ‘Launch Edition’ that was launched via the CBU route, the S 350d costs a staggering ` 58 lakh less now. But does the ‘made-in-India’ S-Class enhance the luxury flavour or dilute it?

Among other things, the Launch Edition featured an AMG Line bodykit. You don’t really miss it in this localised S-Class though. In my opinion, the standard bodykit does more justice to the S-Class nameplate as it feels less aggressive and more elegant than the CBU model. I admit the 20-inch AMG alloys looked cool, but the 19-inch ones here add to the bling too and more importantly, help in improving the ride quality. The overall silhouette remains unchanged and this S-Class even retains the cool, pop-out door handles and digital LED headlamp units.

Among other things, the Launch Edition featured an AMG Line bodykit. You don’t really miss it in this localised S-Class though. In my opinion, the standard bodykit does more justice to the S-Class nameplate as it feels less aggressive and more elegant than the CBU model. I admit the 20-inch AMG alloys looked cool, but the 19-inch ones here add to the bling too and more importantly, help in improving the ride quality. The overall silhouette remains unchanged and this S-Class even retains the cool, pop-out door handles and digital LED headlamp units.

Despite the downsizing of materials, the cabin feels very special. The plush driver and passenger seat are separated by a thick centre console that flows upwards into a 12.8-inch vertical tablet. Running the MBUX OS, this is one of the most intuitive systems I have used and feels brilliantly fluidic to swipe through and access the vast menu options. This one also loses out on the Launch Edition’s 1,350 Watt, 31-speaker Burmester 4D sound system but I found the 710 Watt, 15-speaker Burmester 3D unit here very likeable too. The floating instrument cluster misses out on the 3D effect, which I didn’t really miss either.

Thankfully, rear seats offer the same experience as the CBU version. The two thrones are swathed in plush Nappa leather and recline a full 43.5 degrees. Like before, these get heating, cooling and the all-important massage function. The S 350d even gets the Chauffeur pack where the left rear seat reclines with the footrest folding out. Confession time. The S-Class is one of the very few vehicles out of the many I have reviewed where instead of being behind the steering I spent most of my time lounging in the rear seat with the massage function on. It is one of the little joys of life that should be on every car enthusiast’s bucket list.

The rear seat experience is comparable to the first class seat of a premium airline. You get a large, reclining seat with a large screen in front and a Samsung tablet in the centre console that lets you control most features.

Even the way the S-Class glides on the road feels like an airliner. This, despite downsizing the diesel powertrain (350d from 400d). The 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder diesel unit delivers 286PS and 600Nm (down from 330PS and 700Nm), respectable figures even for a heavy limousine like it. In fact, the car is quick for its size, with a claimed 0-100kmph time of 6.4 seconds. The S 350d does miss out on 4MATIC and instead gets a rear wheel drive setup, though the S450 petrol does get 4MATIC. Step on the throttle and the S 350d gains momentum akin to an aircraft taking off. The most impressive bit here is the refinement, which is better than most petrol powered engines out there. It is surprisingly quiet for a diesel and even when driven spiritedly, remains surprisingly inaudible save for the muted whooshing sound from the turbocharger.

Another impressive bit is the adaptive air suspension which in Comfort mode offers a magic carpet ride. It also allows for the car to be raised to safely cross speed bumps. I feel that the made-in-India S-Class offers a plusher ride than the Launch Edition, as the 19-inch wheels are running higher profile tyres which lets you tackle the sharp edges and ruts on the road better.

It is quite easy to drive despite its size, though I wish it got the rear-wheel steering from the Launch Edition as among other things, parking the long car in tricky places calls for alacrity, though the 360-degree camera does help a lot.

The S 350d also gets radar-based safety features like adaptive cruise control and active lane assist and in fact, is the first Mercedes car in India to debut the ‘Car-to-X’ feature that detects potholes, speed breakers, traffic and weather and shares them with other Mercedes-Benz cars nearby via cloud connectivity. A look at the features list might lead you to believe the made-in-India S-Class has lost a lot of kit over the Launch Edition. However, having driven it in isolation, I feel it does full justice to the tag of being the ‘best car in the world’. It might miss out on some features but the locally-assembled S-Class boasts top-shelf quality and fantastic fit-finish levels. At Rs 1.59 crore ex-showroom the S-Class remains more expensive than its rivals but also continues to offer the best backseat in the business and is the best first-class ticket to work and beyond in these pandemic times. The Rs 58 lakh price cut is certainly the proverbial cherry on top.

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