People all around the world can recognise an S-Class right away, its elegant design ever an expression of luxury and the automotive grandeur of its era. With this car, Mercedes has always sought to combine progressive design with the classic elegance that extends all the way back to its roots in the 1930s. It's a heritage more evident than ever in this sixth generation model with its classic architecture and flowing silhouette, a look that may be a touch more discreet than before but is also a little more sophisticated with its long bonnet, flowing, domed roofline and gently slanting rear end.
At the front, the grille is bigger than that of the previous model, the air intakes more prominent, while the styling around the advanced LED headlights and the way that the airflow is managed is just a whole lot more detailed. It's all indicative of the optimally co-ordinated care that's gone into all the things you can't see, like a sleek, wind-cheating and much stiffer bodyshell, half of which is fashioned from lightweight aluminium.
Moving back, you'll appreciate the taller and more dignified glasshouse, emphasising a profile that's a little more saloon and a little less coupe-like because the brand had with this generation design, a separate S-Class Coupe variant. With the long wheelbase bodystyle that hybrid customers have to choose, you don't get the slightly odd elongated look that characterises lwb versions of this car's competitors. That's because, unlike those rivals, it was originally designed around the longer bodyshape, rather than styled in shorter form, then stretched. The difference shows.
So you're free to simply admire the classic elegance centred in profile around the centre character line - what Mercedes rather awkwardly calls a 'Dropping Line' - that descends discreetly from the front to a rear section where a pronounced shoulder above the back wheel gives the rear end of the car a power-packed look. Talking of wheels, 18-inch rims are standard but to us look rather under-sized for the sheer enormity of this car. We'd want a car whose original owner specified 19-inch alloys instead.
The rear screen cuts into the C-pillars and the tail lights are completely encased by the car body. Like the headlamps, these are all-LED affairs, back in 2013 this car being the first in the world to do without a single light bulb inside and out. 35 LEDs light up these tail lamps, 56 of them are used in the headlamps and around 300 are scattered around the cabin. 21st century lighting indeed.
Drop inside and owners of the previous generation version will notice the more spacious feel, with significant amounts of extra head, elbow and shoulder room in a less cluttered cabin that's a long way removed from the button-fest that many Mercedes owners are accustomed to. Smooth curves and horizontal elements give a feeling of width, solidity and elegance without compromising on ergonomics, although we have to wonder whether BMW has better rationalised the mix of buttons and on-screen menus.
Ah yes, the screens. They certainly dominate this cabin, two 12.3-inch high-resolution TFT displays that one more dismissive colleague described as looking like a couple of iPads shunted together. We actually think they look rather sleek, with wondrous graphics that make those on rival infotainment systems look very old-fashioned. The screen directly ahead of the driver performs all the functions you'd expect from a conventional instrument cluster. Most of the other information you'll need is to be found on the centre-dash screen that delivers the bewildering functionality promised by Mercedes' COMAND infotainment system. To be fair, this isn't bad in its user-friendliness but there's a heck of a lot of depth to it that some buyers just won't take the time to learn.
You can't argue with the interior quality. Metallised switch surfaces with pearl-effect paint finishes in three colour shades, ornate speaker grilles, grooved organ-stop controls for the distinctive metal 'eyeball' air vents and superb attention to detail characterise a cabin trimmed in lustrous buttery leather with seats that even feature heated armrests. We're not sure about the two-spoke nappa leather-trimmed steering wheel with its old fashioned Mercedes-Benz badge script, but the analogue dashboard clock is lovely and at night, you'll enjoy ambient lighting with a choice of seven different colour settings.
Rear seat passengers are even better provided for, as is appropriate in a car that many owners will want chauffeur-driven. They've 14mm more knee room and 9mm more shoulder room than they would have had in the old MK5 model and of course, in the kind of long wheelbase guise that all hybrid S-Class models feature, there's plenty of room to stretch out and relax. Many models you'll come across will feature the 'Executive Rear' package that gives you an electrically operated, ventilated seat with powered side and rear window blinds for extra privacy and a backrest adjustable by up to 43.5-degrees. Some cars will also have been specified with the 'Rear Seat Comfort' package that gives you a seat massage function and seatback-mounted entertainment screens. They've to be operated by a fiddly remote control though, which seems rather out of date in these days of touch screen technology.
Perhaps it's because of all this rear seat trickery - no fewer than five rear seat option packages were originally made available to lwb customers - that the kind of folding rear backrest you'd normally get in a luxury saloon to extend the bootspace can't be offered here. So you're reliant on a 510-litre trunk that's a touch bigger than a BMW 7 Series and a touch smaller than an Audi A8 or a Jaguar XJ. It'll be quite big enough to transport the golf clubs and associated paraphernalia that most executives will cart about - and, laudably, isn't compromised in size by the batteries that Hybrid variants must carry about.
As you'd expect, not much goes wrong with an S-Class, though our ownership survey for this 'W222'-series model did unearth an owner who'd had a series of problems, including issues with the COMMAND infotainment system, safety programmes that disconnected suddenly and water leaking into the headlights. Check all these things out on your test drive.
There were various recalls issued on this model through its life. In December 2013, a recall was issued addressing the fact that in rare cases, the connections of the seatbelts to the front seats might not have been installed correctly. In January 2016, a recall was issued based on potential issues with the engine stop/start system, advising owners that incorrect software might have been installed that could cause erratic idling when coming to a half and potentially even an engine shut down. Another recall in January 2015 was based around potential oil leaks.
More issues seem to relate to the Hybrid variants. In November 2015, a recall was issued for S-Class Hybrid vehicles that were manufactured from 1 February 2013 to 24 April 2015. Owners of these were advised that due to incorrect software, the combustion engine might fail to start but that restarting the vehicle by using the key could reset the system. Hybrid owners got another recall in January 2016, when they were told that due to a fault, the transmission might lock up at low speed.
(approx. based on 2013 E300 BlueTEC Hybrid model) An oil filter costs around £8 to £9. Brake pads sit in the £25 to £56 bracket for a set. An air filter costs in the £37 to £44 bracket. A fuel filter costs in the £52 to £78 bracket. A water pump is around £77. The tail lamp cluster will cost you around £310 to replace, while a headlight will cost around £102.
With this sixth generation S-Cass saloon, Mercedes offered buyers a choice of three hybrid models. The starting point for this side of the line-up was a four cylinder 2.1-litre diesel/electric derivative - the S300 BlueTEC Hybrid. Next up was a non-plug-in petrol/electric model, the 3.5-litre V6 S400 Hybrid. And a Plug-in flagship variant, the 3.5 V6 S500e Hybrid.
We'll start our driving dynamics analysis with the diesel/electric S300 BlueTEC - which was the first four cylinder S-Class. That might put you off right up front and, true enough, the 204bhp 2.2-litre unit that was borrowed from smaller E and C-Class models is a touch rougher than the bigger capacity powerplants that better suit this car's station in life. Still, it's usefully boosted by a 27bhp electric motor that cuts in and out to power the car to 62mph in 7.6s and help return a Fiesta-frugal set of running cost figures. Personally though, we'd be more tempted by the other relatively affordable S-Class Hybrid option, the S400 Hybrid model. This is a petrol/electric powerplant (a 306bhp 3.5-litre V6 boosted by the same 27bhp electric motor), so inevitably, its returns aren't as good, but they match those - and the performance - of the conventional diesel and are delivered with more refinement and finesse.
The ultimate S-Class hybrid option is the astonishingly frugal but pricey S500e Plug-in Hybrid variant that pairs a 329bhp petrol V6 with an electric motor that's much pokier than that used in the S300 and S400 models, putting out a useful 107bhp and vastly improving running cost returns (94mpg anyone?) while boosting the pathetic electric-only driving range you get in the ordinary Hybrid versions (under a mile) to a much more usable 18 mile total. Not that you'll get close to that if you exercise your right foot and a rapid 5.5s 0-62mph sprint time.
The depth of design also engenders wonderful peace of mind too. Take the way that this car will be so hard to shift off its course on a blowy day thanks to the crosswind stabilisation function included in the stability system. If you're hit by a gust on one corner of the car, this loads up the springs on the other to counter-steer into the wind. Further day-to-day cleverness is evidenced by washer jets integrated into the wiper blades for more effective cleaning. Plus Intelligent LED lights that adjust to the road you're on and dip themselves at night. Even the brake lights are reduced in intensity after dark or if you're stationary in traffic as a courtesy to drivers following. Just another example of Mercedes thinking long and hard about making this car better than the rest.
The S-Class spearheads technological development, not only for Mercedes-Benz but for the automotive industry as a whole - and has done for decades. It's that important and is why this is - and will continue to be - the world's best selling luxury car. And, in hybrid terms, the leading choice in its segment from the 2013 to 2017 era.
With petrol/electric, diesel/electric and Plug-in hybrid options, this sixth generation S-Class gave its rivals quite a headache. You can certainly make a strong case for the S400 variant over a conventional non-hybrid diesel-powered S-Class variant, while the S300 BlueTEC Hybrid is a cost-effective all-rounder even if it isn't quite as refined as its stablemates.
It's the S500 Plug-in Hybrid version that will really astonish you though - if you can afford its exalted asking price. Did you ever imagine just a few years ago that you'd be able to buy a fully-fledged luxury limousine able to deliver nearly 100mpg and 69g/km of CO2? It's an astonishing feat of engineering - much like this car. If you're still not convinced by hybrid power, you have to try it. Luxury motoring as you've never experienced it before.