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Click for pictures“Distinctive new
  Mercedes S-Class set
  to challenge BMW 7
  Series and Jaguar XJ
  for UK’s ‘best-selling
  luxury saloon’ crown”


At this week's UK media intro-duction of the new S-Class luxury saloons which go on sale from March Mercedes-Benz promoted the range as the new benchmark model for the luxury car sales sector. Potential new owners, car enthusiasts and the motoring media alike all eagerly await any new S-Class always a notable event in motoring history.

This time round Mercedes has worked very hard to improve the quality of their products and bring in new technology to restore their reputation, making this latest generation of the S-Class the most important of all. Not just for the company but, even more importantly, for its customers worldwide.

The new S-Class is a real technology tour-de-force. The fact that the optional advanced safety driving aids such as Distronic Plus, Active Body Control, and Night View Assist will only be ordered by fewer than 10 per cent of luxury car buyers is not the point. What is, is that it allows the S-Class to be the showcase for what Mercedes can offer ahead of many of their rivals.

This week Mercedes revealed that once the range is complete they would, in a full year, expect to sell 2,500 S-Class models in the UK. This would mean the S-Class should account for around 22 per cent of all luxury cars sold in the UK.

Currently the outgoing S-Class has a 20 per cent share of the luxury sector — which accounts for fewer than 9,000 cars annually in the UK. Due to market conditions Mercedes expects this total to remain the same for the next four years, with the S-Class increasing its market share with conquest sales from other manufacturers.

Competitors to the new S-Class are the BMW 7-Series (the current sector leader, which accounts for 25 per cent of 'luxury' sales), the Jaguar XJ (running it close with 23 per cent) and the Audi A8 with 19 per cent. Others, including the VW Phaeton, Maserati Quattroporte and the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, have combined sales which, in 2005, added up to a 13 per cent share of the sector.

After Germany and the USA, the UK is the largest market for S-Class sales. According to Claire McDonnell, Mercedes UK product executive for S-Class, S-Class customers are predominately males aged in their mid-50s and many are company owners or senior directors. Sixty per cent of sales are expected to be to retail customers. Traditionally, Mercedes retain 33 per cent of their S-Class customers. Advance orders suggest that around 7 per cent of UK customers will, at this early stage in the car's life, be taking the advanced technology options such as Night View Assist (priced from 1,200), the 1,840 Distance Plus Braking and the 2,310 Active Body Control.

The latest S-Class has the same design concept as the outgoing model: a five-seat saloon available with two wheelbase options. It is longer, wider, higher and lighter, with a 9 per cent improvement in fuel economy due to the lightweight construction and use of aluminium body panels.

In the UK, Claire McDonnell expects the S 320 CDI diesel saloon, priced at 54,975, to take 60 per cent of all S-Class sales. The best selling petrol model is expected to be the 56,720 S 350. The S 500, which costs 69,770, will be the third 'best selling' model from the new range. This model has a brand new 5.5-litre V8 power unit with 388bhp and 391lb ft of torque. All other engines in the range have been uprated.

All three of these versions plus the S 600 model are available in both standard saloon and long wheelbase limousine body lengths. Limousine models prices start at 58,975 for the S 320 CDI and rise to 101,955 for the S 600. In Europe there is an additional diesel engine option — a 4.2-litre CDI V8 unit, but this will not be part of the UK line-up as the small number of sales it would attract is considered to make it an unviable sales proposition. The petrol-engined 5.9-litre S65 AMG with 612bhp and 737lb ft of torque will be available in the UK from the summer of this year, priced from 140,000, while an S55 AMG V8 petrol version will be added later, in the summer of 2007.

Mercedes' S-Class range has a fifty-year history of sales, and the life cycle of each generation is in the region of eight years. Given its long history and sales success in the UK, the new S-Class is predicted to retain 45 per cent of its value over the traditional three-year residual value period.

At the recent media test-driving events Mercedes said that although the product characteristics of the newcomer make it sportier than the outgoing models, the emphasis for the new S-Class was on the core brand strengths of safety and comfort.

Exterior looks are always subjective and everybody will have their own view about the new S-Class. But I think the owners who buy and know about luxury and executive cars will not be disappointed. It is a substantial vehicle with loads of road presence and classic Mercedes-Benz.

More importantly, the interior is roomier than the outgoing model and it has the largest boot in its class. Even better, the Mercedes reversal of quality issues seems to be settled once and for all. The S-Class's cabin demonstrates impeccable design, quality and comfort. All the switches are clustered together in areas reflecting their roles, making it easy
for drivers to navigate their way around the comprehensive array of equipment. Mercedes also combines many of the car's driving control and information options in what they call their COMMAND system. This is much more user-friendly than the heartily-disliked BMW iDrive system.

Relative to its competitors the S-Class is an expensive car, but it is well equipped. However, there are lots of extra cost high-tech and luxury options that can add many thousands of pounds to the final price. But then again, the kind of customers the S-Class attracts expect that choice and can afford to pay.

After my brief test driving session there is no doubt that the S 320 CDI, priced at 54,975 and the cheapest model in the range, is the best model to go for if the driver covers a high annual mileage. With 232bhp and 398lb ft of torque available from only 1,600rpm, fuel economy of 33mpg, a top speed of 145mph and a 0-62mph acceleration time of 7.5 seconds, why would you choose the S350 petrol version which is less frugal and costs nearly 2,000 more? Used in conjunction with the standard seven-speed automatic transmission, the 320 CDI offers a near perfect partnership.

If a customer really does want to buy a petrol S-Class, then the new V8 engine in the S 500 is for them. This 388bhp powerplant certainly gives the S-Class more zip, with a 0-62mph time of just 5.4 seconds and a fuel consumption of around 24mpg. Because of the refinement and smoothness this all-new engine offers for the lower mileage owners, I can see this being their model of choice. The issue here is that its 69,770 price tag might be off-putting. For highly-taxed company car drivers wanting a petrol model, the 56,720 S 350 fits the bill nicely. As a customer, about the only complaint I would have is the pricey extra cost options — some of which I feel should be fitted as standard at no extra cost.

Whichever model S-Class is the final choice of the customer, it will be a supremely capable and stunning car of excellent quality that's fast yet frugal and that provides advanced but user-friendly technology — and probably one of the great luxury cars of today. — David Miles

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Mercedes-Benz S-Class S 320 CDI | 54,975
Maximum speed: 145mph | 0-60mph: 7.5 seconds
Test MPG: 33.2mpg | Power: 232bhp | Torque: 398lb ft

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---------------------------------------------------------- Mercedes-Benz S 320