Mercedes-Benz S350 7G-tronic (2009) Driving Impression  

Mercedes Benz S Class 2009

“Entry level” is not a term that sits easily with a car such as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. After all, this is not only the ultimate Mercedes, but also, in the minds of many, the best car in the world. Nevertheless, any model range has to start somewhere, and for the S-Class its beginning is the Mercedes-Benz S350 reviewed here. Priced against more powerful rivals from BMW and Audi, but still much more within reach of the average (rich) man, can the S-Class convince in its most basic form, or does it need all the frills of the more expensive versions?

Revised Looks for Mercedes-Benz S350

The recent facelift has done much to endow the Mercedes-Benz S350 with added glamour, especially when it comes to that all-important modern fashion item… a blinding collection of LEDs. Both the front and rear lamps benefit from this electric “jewellery”, but they’re not the only changes. The entire front-end has been reworked to give the S-Class a sharper-edged look, while at the rear the ugly body coloured inserts into the lights have finally gone. There are other smaller changes, too, but primarily the changes are all about the lights.

Mercedes does offer a number of attractive alloy wheel options, but the standard 18-inch items do the job perfectly well. The cabin improvements are perhaps a bit harder to spot. Mercedes says there are new colour and wood options, but whatever you may choose the first impression is of quality. This may be an “entry level” vehicle, but it certainly doesn’t feel it. The design is dominated by flowing curves and simplicity. The centre section of the facia is remarkably free of clutter and buttons, especially given the vast number of features included as standard. An elegant row of toggle switches take care of the most important functions, with the rest being managed by the Comand control system by using the rotary knob on the centre console which works in tandem with the large colour display on top of the facia. More electronic information displays are incorporated in the centre of the main instruments.

Comfort levels were already best in class before the facelift, so Mercedes didn’t fiddle with too many of the core features. The steering wheel is adjustable for rake and reach, and the front seats offer electric adjustment (including heating). Rear space is very good (though not quite limo-like), and the boot can swallow a massive 560 L-worth of high-quality leather luggage… or a good few golf bags.

Considering that the Mercedes-Benz S350 is classified as a base-model, the standard features list is very long. It includes four-zone climate control, auto lights/wipers, active bi-xenon headlamps, a sunroof, Speedtronic cruise control, keyless entry, satellite navigation, a top-notch sound system with a 7,2 Gb hard drive, Bluetooth and voice control and no fewer than 10 airbags. The safety package further includes ESP with hill-start, hill-hold and adaptive ABS brakes. Many of the optional extras are also safety boosting items, including blind-spot assist, lane keeping assist etc.

Smooth Operator

The normally aspirated 3,5-litre V6 looks a bit “light” on paper to propel a nearly 1,9-tonne luxobarge at a decent rate of knots. Still, a 0-100 km/h time of 7,3 seconds is nothing to be shy about and the top speed remains pegged at 250 km/h. These figures mean the Mercedes-Benz S350 is not as fast as its same-price rivals, but we suspect most customers will not care. What they’re getting is impeccable refinement and the type of performance and specifically overtaking urge that ensure the S350’s status as a superb long-distance cruiser. It is also surprisingly economical, with the 10,3 L/100 km figure being achievable when the driver is in a relaxed mood.

Mercedes has certainly worked on the refinement of its seven-speed automatic 7G-tronic transmission, a gearbox that has not always delivered smooth shifts (especially when changing down). In the Mercedes-Benz S350, however, there are no such complaints. Left in Comfort mode, the shifts are lazy… a perfect match for similarly slow throttle response. Switch to Sport mode, however, and things get much sharper, though not to the extent that the S350 feels like a wannabe-AMG. It simply becomes keener to respond to driver inputs. There is also a Manual mode, by the way, and even paddle shifters, but we suspect that for most S-Class owners, these devices will remain largely untouched.

Superb Ride Refinement

The Mercedes-Benz S350 rides on Merc's Airmatic air suspension with anti-dive and stabiliser assistance at the front, and anti-dive, anti-squat and a stabiliser at the rear. In its Normal setting, the ride is extremely comfortable, with the S-Class seemingly capable of gliding over imperfections with the occupants being none the wiser of the coarseness or bumpiness of the surface underneath them. This is what an S-Class should be about, and this “affordable” version puts in a superb showing. In Sport mode one can detect a greater resistance to roll, but in essence the excellent damping and compliancy remain. The Mercedes-Benz S350 is a car that excels as a cruiser, rather than a blaster. The steering, in typical Mercedes-Benz fashion is perhaps slightly to light and lacking in feel, but for most consumers this will be spot-on.

Mercedes-Benz S350 - Verdict

Grand sedans are designed to impress with their luxury, technology and performance. This means that, more often than not, the most impressive models in these model ranges are to be found near the top. The Mercedes-Benz S350, however, is a marvel, and quite possibly the pick of the current S-Class range. Do you really need AMG-like performance? Or all those additional safety and entertainment features? the Mercedes-Benz S350 boasts a very desirable standard specification and more than enough performance. Seated behind the steering wheel at 120 km/h +, there really is nothing that seems to be obviously missing. It gets a double thumbs-up.

We like:

• Smarter looks • Standard specification • Lovely ride • Cabin comfort • Quality

We don’t like:

• Erm… • No standard flat-folding rear seat • Lacks power of rivals

Fast Facts: Engine: 3,5-litre, V6, petrol Power: 200 kW @ 6 000 rpm Torque: 350 N.m @ 2 400 rpm Transmission: Seven-speed manual Wheels: 18-inch alloy Top speed: 250 km/h 0-100 km/h: 7,3 seconds Fuel economy: 10,2 litres/100 km


Also consider:

BMW 740i Steptronic: Similarly priced and significantly more powerful, the latest BMW 7 Series is a very strong rival for the S-Class. It still targets the wealthy businessman who likes to drive himself, but the ride comfort is also very good. Not as elegant as the S-Class, though.

Audi A8 4,2 FSI Quattro Tiptronic: Starting to feel its age in some respects, but the A8 remains a very charming offering with a particularly inviting cabin. This model also offers quattro all-wheel dive, which gives it incredible grip. Ride quality can’t match the Mercedes-Benz S350… or BMW.

Lexus LS460: A lot more powerful than its German rivals at a comparable price, but the Lexus still fails to garner much favour. The bland design and anodyne driving experience may have much to do with it. But it is very, very refined and exceptionally well made.