At this point, it’s become standard operating procedure for Mercedes-Benz, and many other luxury carmakers. Bring in the top-trim imported version in limited numbers, use it to demonstrate the full might of its technological superiority before it's sold out, and leave it to the locally assembled version to do all the heavy lifting thereafter. Merc did that with the all-new W223 S-Class, following that impossibly tough act with the locally assembled S 350d which, once again, seeks to set a benchmark for full-size luxury cars – a space where it currently reigns supreme.
Mercedes-Benz S 350d: What’s different?
The locally assembled S-Class gets the same diesel powertrain as the S400d. Which means the cylinder count on the 3.0-litre straight-six turbo-diesel hasn’t changed but the power output is a tad lower, going from 330hp to 286hp along with a 100 Nm drop in torque taking it from 700 Nm to 600 Nm. It’s also available in RWD form only (unless you opt for the 4Matic AWD petrol S450) and doesn’t feature rear-wheel steering like the CBU. The AMG line body kit has been replaced by a more conservative, svelte form – make no mistake, the S-Class is still a striking-looking limo, even without the 20-inch AMG alloy wheels, which have been replaced by 19-inch ones.
Do the changes make it a lesser car?
Absolutely not. And that’s the whole point. The S350d is the biggest seller in the S-Class range and everything from its pricing to its packaging has been calibrated to make it work in the local context. The marginally smaller rims enhance the ride quality, the RWD orientation, arguably, makes it more fun to drive and the absence of rear-wheel steering while marginally affecting its turning radius, doesn’t exactly affect performance in any way. The straight-six is still one of the smoothest oil burners out in the market, with ample levels of power. Nothing about the locally assembled S shouts “compromise”, because Merc has been careful to retain the truly great bits.
The generational leap in technology is evident on the inside. Sure, this is arguably the best the S-Class has ever looked on the outside, with LED digital headlamps, flushed door handles, tasteful use of chrome and most importantly, a regular-sized grille, but it’s on the inside that propels you into the future. Look past the 64-colour ambient light setup, the E-Class-like three-spoke steering wheel and you find that most of the advancements are subcutaneous. Mercedes’ proprietary Mercedes Me connected tech now allows the S to interact with other high-end Mercs which can upload data to cloud servers and warn the driver of approaching potholes, congested roads or blockades. Active lane-assist, adaptive cruise control and emergency brake assist also make their way onto the extensive list of features.
The large. the 12.8-inch, vertically mounted touch screen is something I’ve grown quite accustomed to. So much so that the pillar-to-pillar screen orientation of upcoming Mercs like the EQS will take some getting used to. For now, the dual-screen set-up is about as smooth and tactile as it can get. The cabin is decidedly low on physical buttons, which prove a bit tricky on the steering, but compared to the likes of what’s found in Land Rovers, these buttons work pretty well. The three-dimensional view on the instrument cluster is, sadly, absent here but Merc has retained the party piece: the “Chauffeur Pack” which reclines the front passenger seat, and folds out an ottoman for the rear passenger seat – arguably the one most frequented by the owner.
Let’s be perfectly honest, 600 Nm of torque is more than plenty, even for a two-tonne limo. The S350d isn’t about swift linear propulsion because that would defeat the whole purpose of an S. Instead the march towards triple digits is more measured, so as to ensure that the occupants of the rear seat don’t spill their finely aged Merlot. Or have the armrest-mounted removable tablet slam into their faces. No, the S350d moves with the surety and grace befitting a car of its stature. You’re still very aware that this is an oil burner, something that cannot be said of BMW’s diesels for example. The diesel motor burble is noticeable, if not pronounced, and that’s the first chink in the S350d’s otherwise immaculate armour that you take notice of.
Adaptive Air Suspension is thankfully, still at work. Not only does it allow you to lift the car over truly insidious speed bumps, it diligently chews up and spits out uneven surfaces on the road, like a very tenacious pitbull. The absence of rear-wheel steering is only felt at high-speed cornering, the likes of which the average S-Class owner isn’t going to indulge in. Thanks to its driving modes, this can turn into an engaging driving experience, if not an outright driver’s car. More of a driver’s employer’s car. This is because apart from its reclining function, the leather-draped rear seats offer cooling, heating, massaging and everything short of cooking you a four-course meal.
VerdictWith a new Audi A8L coming in, followed shortly by the likes of Range Rover Sport, the competition is likely to get tough for the S-Class. BMW too, for its part, has unveiled the upcoming 7-Series which is specked out like a covert military bunker. But the S-Class has managed to thread a line between plush and ostentatious in a manner few cars can and its sybaritic confines have gone on to make it a byword in automotive luxury. When you think of a luxury sedan, odds are it conjured an image of an S-Class or a Maybach. At Rs 1.57 crore (ex-showroom) the S350d is a whole C-Class cheaper than its imported counterpart. And it’s cut the cost massively without compromising in any way on the key attributes that make the S-Class a masterclass in modern luxury, namely comfort, poise and refinement.