Matt Hubbard drives the new Mercedes Benz S500 L AMG Line.
The S-Class is Mercedes' flagship. This model, the W222, was introduced in 2013 and in the spirit of the S-Class contains innovative and useable technology that will filter down to lesser models in years to come.
Magic Body Control, Night View Assist, split screen digital displays, seat belt airbags, cloud integration and a hot massage function in the seats are some of the marvels available in the new S-Class. None of these are important or useful to the driver or passengers if they don't seamlessly integrate into and add to the experience. Do they? We'll take a look later.
This iteration of the S-Class loses some of the muscular bodywork of the previous W221. It's an altogether smoother shape that needs studio lighting to make out the defined creases and curves down its flanks. My photos, taken on a drizzly summer morning in Surrey don't do it justice but they do show what the car looks like in the real world.
It's a bit sombre really. A bit anonymous. Not striking nor outstanding but nor is it bland. I suppose that helps when some head of state decides to buy half a dozen, the peasants are less likely to complain than they would if it was aggressively stanced and looked twice as expensive as it is.
The price, at £88k for the almost top of the range S500 L AMG Line, is actually quite cheap when you think a Bentley Continental costs 50 grand more and the Rolls Royce Ghost starts at £200k.
It may be relatively plain in terms of design but at 5.2 metres long it does have presence.
Enough talk of the exterior, what's important is the interior.
And what an interior it is. Wood, leather, aluminium, Alcantara, deep carpeting and nothing so vulgar as piano black. The seats are supremely comfortable and the driving position perfect. Of course the seats and wheel are electrically adjustable. The steering wheel is wood but with leather where you're hands normally sit. When you do touch the wood it feels warm.
The dials are displayed on a digital screen. Adjacent to that is a 12.3 inch screen. This is controlled by a knurled knob just fore of the armrest. The screen uses a revised version of Mercedes' COMAND system which is much improved over previous versions.
Everything is intuitively easy to use, although finding a digital radio station took a few minutes as there are so many to scroll through.
The screen splits so you can have satnav (Mercedes' own system and amongst the best) on one side whilst playing with other functions on the other. My absolute favourite of these functions is the massage seats.
Massage seats aren't new in the S-Class but this time they've gone one further and added a hot massage function. I didn't particularly like that, who wants a hot bum on a summer's day?! But with 14 air bladders in each seat a vigorous massage whilst sitting in traffic is the perfect antidote to overcrowded roads and long journeys.
The occupants of the rear seats get 6-star luxury. The chairs themselves are nappa leather, have quilted cushions on the headrests, are fully adjustable and have the same massage function as the fronts.
Each passenger has lots of legroom, a TV, 12V point, USB point, a cupholder with heating or cooling functions and a wine cooler set behind the armrest. Oh, and electrically retractable blinds on the windows.
Would my brother and I, when we were children on some long drive to a campsite in France in the summer holidays on the vinyl back seat of dad's Austin Princess, have argued quite so much had we been seated in the back of this S-Class? Definitely not. Super rich parents have it easy.
Fire up the 455bhp, twin-turbo 4.7 litre V8 and it sounds like nothing's going on. The rev counter moves but there's hardly a sound.
Pull away and the noise level never increases beyond a whisper. The S-Class is serenity itself on the move. Only harshly surfaced roads produce anything beyond a distant rumble.
The ride quality is outstanding. Magic Body Control is a £4,340 option but by jove it's worth it. Cameras and sensors read the road ahead and adjust the air suspension accordingly.
But who cares how it works - it just does and sensationally so. No other car is so smooth.
The engine is powerful - 455bhp and 516lb ft of torque is enough to haul the S500's 2 tonnes to 62 in 4.8 seconds - but it's not a licence loser. Instead you drive the car smoothly and relatively slowly. What's the point of breaking the limit when driving along at 30mph is such a rewarding experience.
On the road and all the systems and safety features integrate with the driver as if they'd been working together for years. Lane assist, adaptive cruise control - everything is designed to aid the occupants conveyance from one place to another in the utmost luxury.
It's as far removed from the raw experience of driving a sports car with no assists as is possible. But the S-Class is designed to slow the heart rate rather than increase it.
The S-Class is refinement. It is also classy, a quality that's hard to attain and easy to lose should the wrong sort (footballers, reality TV stars) be associated with a particular car. The S-Class has class in spades and is likely to stay classy.
The Mercedes Benz S500 L AMG Line is an amazingly capable car. It costs £88,000 but the test car was optioned to £123,000. For what you get, what it does and bearing in mind how much the competition costs, it is a bargain.
Price - £88,395
Engine - 4.7 litre, V8, twin turbocharged, petrol
Transmission - 7-speed automatic
0-62mph - 4.8 seconds
Top Speed - 155mph (limited)
Power - 455hp
Torque - 700Nm/516lb ft
Economy - 31.7mpg
CO2 - 207g/km
Kerb Weight - 2,015kg
By Matt Hubbard