What's the news?
As it has been on sale since 2014, the sixth-generation of the Mercedes S-Class is due for its midlife update. New engines, new technology and new levels of opulence are promised by this flagship motor, the best-selling luxury saloon in the world in 2016 with more than 300,000 examples shifted in three years, and although we're looking at the saloon here, these changes should filter to the other variants of S-Class in the near future.
Minor primping of an elegant, imposing three-box shape is the order of the day here. Mercedes has introduced a new radiator grille, which has three 'twin-louvres' running horizontally on all models and vertical spars behind. The difference here is that the six- and eight-cylinder cars have the louvres in chrome, but the spars in gloss black, while the V12 model has the vertical strips in chrome too, creating a 'grid effect'. If you buy the super-luxuriant Mercedes-Maybach version, a tiny 'Maybach' logo is slotted underneath the top louvre to one side of the grille.
New Multibeam LED headlamps and Ultra Range High Beam ensure the most illuminating experience when driving at night, while at the back are crystal-look LED lamps, a redesigned bumper and exhaust pipes framed by a chrome trim element that spans the width of the S-Class. Alloy wheel sizes run from 17 to 20 inches in diameter and there are seven new designs to choose from.
While the S-Class MkVI has always had two huge displays in its dashboard, they were previously bisected by a strip containing some ancillary switchgear. Now, though, it has the smooth, widescreen cockpit that has been seen in the latest E-Class, which clusters the two high-resolution 12.3-inch displays behind a single shared glass cover. That brings in touch-sensitive control pads on the steering wheel spokes, although we must say we don't think we've ever seen such big panels of buttons on a car's steering wheel as this. That's because the Distronic adaptive cruise control is now incorporated onto the wheel, instead of a column stalk.
Within is 64-colour LED ambient lighting, Keyless Start, an optional Burmester high-end 3D surround sound system and all the luxury toys and appointments you'd expect of the Benz flagship, so the cabin remains a glorious place to be. New to the 2017MY S-Class is Energising Comfort Control, which links various systems in the car together - like climate control (including fragrance), seat heating/ventilation/massaging, lighting, music and the armrest heating - and then controls them en masse along specific 'wellness' settings that run for 10 minutes at a time. Choose from Freshness, Warmth, Vitality, Joy, Comfort and Training.
The 630hp/1,000Nm 6.0-litre biturbo V12, used in the Mercedes-AMG S 65 and the Maybach models, continues, but elsewhere there are new engines so let's focus on those. First up is a 4.0-litre biturbo V8 for the S 560. It develops 469hp and 700Nm, good for 8.5 litres/100km (33.2mpg) and 195g/km CO2 - that's around 10 per cent better on fuel than the preceding S 500, thanks to the V8 having the ability to run on four cylinders when the need dictates.
Then there's the Mercedes-AMG S 63. The Affalterbach firm has dumped the old 5.5-litre biturbo V8 engine, rated at 585hp and 900Nm, replacing it with the 4.0-litre biturbo V8 that's used in the C 63/E 63/AMG GT models. This also makes 900Nm, but then kicks out a ginormous 612hp, which rather makes the S 65 look even more redundant than before. Expect 8.9 litres/100km (31.7mpg) and 203g/km CO2 from this leviathan, which also features cylinder deactivation under light throttle loads.
However, diesel power is where it's at (certainly for us here in Ireland) and Mercedes is giving buyers two S-Class choices based on one engine. It's an inline-six turbodiesel that we're sure will be lazily referred to as a 3.0-litre before long, even though - at 2,925cc - it's actually a 2.9. 'Base' specification, if we don't get shot for calling it that, is the 286hp/600Nm variant in the S 350 d, which returns 5.5 litres/100km (51.4mpg) with 145g/km CO2. Step it up to the S 400 d, though, and you're in the most powerful diesel car in Mercedes-Benz's history. It develops 340hp and 700Nm, with little in the way of eco-penalties: 5.6 litres/100km (50.4mpg) and 147g/km CO2 compare favourably with the S 350 d.
It should be pointed out that all these models come with 4Matic all-wheel drive as standard, seemingly spelling the death knell for the rear-drive S-Class. However, that might be a touch presumptuous of us, as Mercedes says further new high-tech engines are in the pipeline, including an inline-six petrol motor and a plug-in hybrid capable of 50km of electric range.
Mercedes is also bolstering the car's near-self-driving credentials with Distronic Active Proximity Control and Active Steer Assist, which can automatically adjust the speed of the car ahead of curves and junctions, and which also has a better view of surrounding traffic thanks to enhanced camera and radar systems - the S-Class even uses map and navigation data to calculate driving behaviour. Furthermore, Magic Body Control has been given the Curve function to tilt the S-Class into the bends; it's the first time the saloon has had this feature, although the Coupe/Cabriolet already benefit from it.
"The development of the new S-Class was extremely extensive," said Ola Kallenius, who is responsible for Mercedes group research and development. "With a whole series of new features and functions, the S-Class remains the technological pioneer."