When you’re the established benchmark in a segment it must be difficult to decide where to focus on improvement.
At initial glance it appears the engineers responsible for the S-Class update have enjoyed plenty of early knock-offs. External changes are limited to a new radiator grille and, on cars so optioned, striking Multibeam LED headlights with the distinctive triple strip of lights.
As usual for Merc’s mid-life updates, however, subtle exterior tweaks hide drastic mechanical changes. Chief among these is the introduction of a number of new engines. Mercedes has revived the inline six, the S450 offering an electrified 270kW/520Nm 3.0-litre petrol while the S350d and S400d diesels offer 210kW/600Nm and 250kW/700Nm respectively.
Further up the tree is our S560 test car, which debuts the non-AMG M176 version of Merc’s 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 in Australia. Like the handbuilt units in its more potent siblings, its turbos are tucked into the vee of the engine, yet the M176 majors on effortless torque and efficiency thanks to its ability to shut down four cylinders when cruising.
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Developing 345kW/700Nm, it offers more pace than most owners will ever use (0-100km/h 4.7sec) but a cultured V8 growl if they succumb to temptation; the sensible choice is probably one of the cheaper, frugal diesels, yet on a 200km cross-country cruise the S560 returned a remarkable 7.8L/100km. I believe that’s called having your cake and eating it, too – and this was the larger, heavier long-wheelbase version.
Selecting the L adds 25kg, 130mm to the wheelbase and $25,000 to the price, but is a must if you employ someone else to take the wheel. The back seat of an S-Class is truly land-based business class travel, with seats that recline and massage and infotainment screens and headphones to help the miles slide by.
The ride is exemplary, the very definition of waft, the S-Class using a stereo camera to scan the road ahead and prepare the adaptive air suspension for bumps.
Selecting Sport offers greater control with little deterioration in comfort, but to be honest while the S560 can be driven quite quickly, nothing about the car encourages you to do so. It’s like those designer running shoes; you could use them to exercise, but it would be a shame to get them sweaty.
It’s at its best when cruising along, Intelligent Drive using its Level 2 autonomous capabilities to take over as much of the driving as regulation allows.
As painful as it is to write in a magazine dedicated to enthusiastic driving, it’s also a very relaxing way to tackle a long, otherwise uneventful journey. Crucially, the technology is largely unobtrusive, Mercedes realising that luxury is more about the environments than how many gadgets are available. As such, it retains its place at the top of the limo segment. At least for now.
2018 MERCEDES-BENZ S560 L SPECS:
Engine: 3982cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 345kW @ 5250-5500rpm
Torque: 700Nm @ 2000-4000rpm
0-100km/h: 4.7sec (claimed)
Price: $295,000 ($312,965 as-tested)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Like: Lovely V8; superb ride; beautiful interior
Dislike: Top diesel almost $100K cheaper