As before, drive is channelled through an in-house-produced nine-speed automatic gearbox and the 4Matic system, which uses a central differential to apportion drive between the front and rear wheels.
All up, there are four different preset driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. An additional Individual mode allows you to tailor the characteristics of the steering, throttle and damping to your liking.
It’s in Comfort mode where the new S-Class is at its compelling best. Here, the electromechanical steering (in combination with the milder of the optional rear-axle steering systems) is light but encouragingly accurate; the engine is suitably subdued in stop-start traffic and at constant cruising speeds; and the ride, at least on the optional air suspension of our test car, is superbly supple in its actions, almost as if it’s gliding, totally isolated from its surroundings.
On smooth German roads, it filters out small bumps with outstanding shock absorption and great isolation from the road surface. Its overall refinement is truly exceptional, making it a very cosseting car to travel in over extended distances. There may be a distant hint of exhaust roar as engine revs rise before the gearbox quickly chooses a higher ratio but, like the lick of wind around the door-mirror housings and road noise, it always remains distanced from the serene surroundings of the leather-lined cabin.
Switching into Sport mode is a quick and simple process, either via one of the few remaining analogue switches or via the Drive Select menu on the central touchscreen. So configured, the S-Class takes on a distinctly keener, more responsive and terrifically agile feel. The first hint of this is through the steering, which weights up accordingly. The throttle gains added sensitivity while the exhaust note also becomes more present, although not exactly melodious. Additionally, there’s a firming up of the suspension to rein in body movements.
Outside the confines of city driving, the added weighting within the steering adds confidence, the S500 4Matic turning fluently into corners with new-found levels of agility. There’s added sharpness to its turn-in and its steering is quicker to return to the straight-ahead than before, too. It’s wonderfully easy to drive quickly down winding roads, the only limiting factor being its added width on narrow sections.
You get the sense that the S-Class flows more keenly from apex to apex than before, with its substantial weight hidden beneath a new layer of dynamic excellence. The quick reactions of the air suspension’s three-chamber air springs quickly quell pitch and dive while providing outstanding body control in tighter bends. Meanwhile, the fast-acting 4Matic system ensures that there’s always plentiful grip and excellent levels of traction as well.
The S500 is quick, too, sprinting effortlessly to three-figure speeds and continuing to gather pace. Extend the accelerator pedal towards the end of its travel and the engine’s substantial shove dispatches the car down the road with an energy that defies its relatively modest engine capacity.