Mercedes-Benz S-Class S350DL AMG: Hey Mercedes! Take me home

·6-min read
The Mercedes S350DL AMG  (David Williams)
The Mercedes S350DL AMG (David Williams)

Big Mercedes-Benz cars have long been the choice of movers and shakers for formal transport - especially the range-topping S-Class model.

They’re hardly uncommon in London, mostly driven by smartly-dressed chauffeurs, often seen hovering in the smarter parts; the S-Class is not, really, the car you’d buy if you were going to be driving yourself or your family around.

That’s just as well for most owners. For while it’s undoubtedly swish, powerful, exceptionally luxurious and good to drive, the latest models are also something of a challenge when it comes to mastering the human/machine interface.

We tried the latest S350DL AMG Line model; very sleek, upmarket and impressive it was too, hiding its size well with flowing, neatly sculpted lines that contrived to give it a near ground-hugging appearance.

The delivery driver delivered a clear, to-the-point - but lengthy - talk on how to make best use of this car’s most unusual feature; MBUX, Mercedes-Benz User Experience infotainment system, which is how the driver - and passengers - ‘communicate’ with the car.

Once, all you had to do was turn a lock, get in and drive off but not in this car. Not today.

Its high-tech systems are capable of storing a gazillion pieces of information on its owner/drivers, so that it automatically sets individual preferences, ranging from the seat/mirror position, to the choice of dash (several different ‘looks’ are available, electronically), how the head up display works, heating, the position of the rear privacy blinds and panoramic roof blinds, and so on.

 (David Williams)
(David Williams)

Sophisticated

It will - of course - also store all the details kept on your phone, while also enabling access to a very sophisticated navigation display with ‘augmented reality technology’ and all-singing-dancing head-up display inside the windscreen, as well as intelligent voice control with speech recognition.

It’s all very clever - but it’s also a helluva lot to take in. I nodded sagely once the ‘lecture’ was over, dropped the driver off - and promptly struggled to remember how to do the simplest things such as adjust the seat so that I had a little more lumbar support... and a little less massage. (There are multiple massage functions to choose from, including heated ones, and ones to keep you alert and refreshed on long journeys, if you delve into the system).

The Heads Up Display inside the windscreen (Handout)
The Heads Up Display inside the windscreen (Handout)

A quick call to the driver resolved this but - on a 550-mile round trip to Cornwall and Dartmoor, to put the car through its long-distance paces on motorways, A-roads, country lanes and moorland - I never did feel truly confident that I’d cracked the ‘code’ necessary for an entirely friction-free relationship with this imposing black limo.

It’s good to know that it’s still possible – in addition to all the Mercedes technology - to use your iPhone with Apple CarPlay, either via a cable, or wirelessly, bringing instant familiarity to MBUX newbies.

Facial

Most of them are controlled from the generous, central, 12.8-inch touchscreen, backed by an additional 12.3-inch drivers digital display that had 3D ‘depth’, rather like a hologram and that - to launch those driver profiles - came complete with facial and finger-print recognition.

Driving - or travelling in - the S-Class is a heightened experience not just on account of the palpable luxury (quilted seats, beautiful fabrics, expensive-looking carpet, loads of space, a detachable tablet for controlling functions in the back) but also because of one or two additional, impressive, features.

The MBUX, Mercedes-Benz User Experience infotainment system (Handout)
The MBUX, Mercedes-Benz User Experience infotainment system (Handout)

Take the digital headlights. They don’t just illuminate the road ahead, they almost turn it into daylight. To avoid dazzling oncoming drivers they don’t just dip, they shape and contour the beam of light around oncoming vehicles; you can actually see the headlight ‘probing’ the road ahead, working out which bits to illuminate, which bits to leave in the dark, even adjusting the light colour. Twisting, night-time Cornish lanes never looked so pretty thanks to this shape-shifting technology.

More cleverly yet, the headlights ‘recognised’ the tail lights of vehicles in front (and other reflective surfaces), visibly placing a square ‘blackout’ on sections of the road ahead, to avoid undue reflections, or blinding the driver ahead. Very clever indeed - although not quite clever enough, judging from several protesting flashes from oncoming drivers.

Spaceship

Perhaps most beguiling of all was the interior ambient lighting, which conjured a feeling of cosy intimacy, and that ‘flashed’ as a warning when straying over the central road markings, or when the blind spot detection system spotted a hazard. At night it was like piloting a spaceship.

 (Handout)
(Handout)

The S-Class really is the way to travel, if you want efficient, understated luxury. Most of the time. It is very quiet (although not on concrete-covered motorways where the low profile tyres on 21-inch wheels transmit enough noise to spoil the hush) and, on good road surfaces, the experience is similar to gliding over ice, so smooth and swish is the progress. The big wheels do, however, thump into ruts and potholes; if it was mine, I’d sacrifice style, choose smaller wheels with thicker tyres and enjoy a more cushioned ride.

Despite its size - it’s 2,130mm wide and 5,320 long - the S-Class is easy to drive, although rearward vision is restricted, and it feels wide on small country lanes such as those in Dartmoor, hardly its natural habitat.

It is exceedingly comfortable (although I’d have liked the top half of the driver’s seat to recline further), with lots of room in the back, all complemented by a very large boot. I never did quite get on with the very bling head up display and turned it off; I found it distracting, with oversize navigation ‘arrows’ pointing the way. It might have been reprogrammable, but I couldn’t work out how, even after commanding ‘Hey Mercedes’, and asking MBUX for help via the voice control. The same went for the function which - when the car was stationary - superimposed images of the junction or traffic lights right over the navigation map; just when I was studying where we were going next. Too much.

Many owners go for the long wheelbase models because they will be lounging in the back, however, which is a very nice place to be indeed. And they’ll no doubt ensure that the chauffeur familiarises himself with all the hi-tech toys, so that they can enjoy them, and show them off to their associates, without actually having to remember how to memorise them all.

The facts

Mercedes S 350 d L AMG Line Premium Plus Executive

Price: £99,490 (range starts at £81,650)

Engine: 2,925 cc in-line six cylinder

Top speed: 155 mph

0 - 62 mph: 5.4 seconds

Max power: 286 hp @ 3,400-4,600 rpm

Max torque: 600 Nm @1,200–3,200 rpm

Combined fuel consumption: 39.2–39.8 mpg

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