SINGAPORE (Oct 15): Luxury, by definition, conveys an excess in grandeur. But in modern times, opulence holds a specific meaning. It is an exercise in projection, a teaser of what is next. It encapsulates the motivation behind the finest craftsmanship. In an era where innovation fuels an even more luxurious future, Mercedes-Benz is constantly retracing its esteemed heritage, without tipping into nostalgia, while still staying above the curve — because this is an
automaker that builds icons for tomorrow.

For a brand that denotes luxury, Mercedes-Benz no longer aims for just excellence — it wants to be the benchmark. And what better way to start than by giving its best-selling luxury sedan worldwide — the flagship S-Class — an upgrade.

The Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, which has seen a 21st-century addition by famed British architect Norman Foster wrapped around the original 1899 fairy tale-like castle, became the home base for our new S-Class test drive. It is easy to mistake this five-star hotel, perched atop the Adlisberg hill, for a fine art -museum, what with its extensive collection of paintings and sculptures by Salvador Dali, Takashi Murakami and Andy Warhol. The hotel’s ancient turrets, terraces and gables show that it still clings to its Swiss legacy, with the occasional bow to contemporary needs such as the 43,000 sq ft spa overlooking sweeping views of the Alps.

The Baroque and Romanesque architecture in Zurich had begun to smoulder with the rising sun when we hit the road in a refreshed S 560 4MATIC. It is not exactly a car you will remember cruising around in because one does not drive the S-Class, it drives you. And by you, we mean plutocrats, world leaders or the busy CEOs who use its luxurious interior as a mobile office. But this technology juggernaut proved to be a joy behind the wheel because Mercedes-Benz has given the body enough curvature so it does not feel like you are piloting a tank.

The new S-Class is not any lighter, but positively lither. And the latter could be felt from the surge of speed from the 4.0 litre V8. Less throaty than its S-Class brethren, the car’s twin turbo engine, combined with a nine-speed automatic, roars across the highways without any noticeable lag. The nimble handling and immaculate adaptive suspension helped us sail through every bump and dip along the way to our meeting point — the Neuhausen ob Eck airport, an airfield in the district of Tuttlingen in Baden-Württemberg in Southern Germany that was used as a military airbase by the German Army Aviation Corps until 1994.

Mercedes-Benz makes no bones about its obsession with refinement and aesthetics, even on the inside. The roomy cabin looks regal, not just because of the exclusive nappa leather upholstery but also the inclusion of the world’s first ENERGIZING comfort control. The intelligent system incorporates climate control — including custom fragrancing — and a bevy of features for the thoughtfully designed seats such as heating, cooling and ventilation. What this means is, you can configure a specific wellness setup to suit your current mood or needs. We reckon the massage function — a welcome perk surely — will be a permanent favourite.

The 12.3-inch high resolution screen uses a variety of reconfigurable displays.

“Bespoke” is a language Mercedes-Benz speaks fluently, as evidenced in its six multifaceted programmes — Freshness, Warmth, Vitality, Joy, Comfort and Training — that are tailored for your preference. Upon selection, the programme runs for only 10 minutes and will play music that has been preset or analyse your existing media’s beats per minute to pick out the perfect track to fit the selected mood. Each programme has its own custom lighting too — there are 64 interior colour options to choose from, which will illuminate the trim, central display, centre console, door handle, pockets, footwells as well as an available overhead control panel.

With a ceiling of cloudless blue sky above us, manoeuvring the winding highways gradually wore us down. But the discomfort was quickly mitigated by the crisp tunes from the immersive Burmester surround-sound stereo and the scenery of vast sunflower fields. The real succour, however, was the car’s Intelligent Drive system, whose camera and radar system have been significantly improved. The S-Class is able to change lanes, avoid obstacles and maintain distances all by itself — these you already know. But it now also adapts the speed ahead of bends or junctions, taking us another giant leap closer to autonomous driving.

Mercedes-Benz is not one to skimp on comfort and convenience. The high-resolution widescreen cockpit and cordless charging system for smartphones appeal to the executives who need to make instant decisions on the go — all while their seat massagers are engaged. And since the cockpit is fully digital, you can choose from three display styles and also configure the information as you please.

The pitstop at the Neuhausen ob Eck airport turned out to be a showcase of engineering prowess as journalists were given an opportunity to scorch the tracks with Mercedes-Benz’s other performance division vehicles, such as the AMG S63 and S65 models. Petrolheads, who are no strangers to pushing the limits, racked up consistent laps ever so coolly by laying down the throttle and charging into a curve. It was a clear demonstration — a stamp of confidence almost — of the technology behind these German thoroughbreds, which translates into a seamless drive for cars that size.

The S 560 4MATIC, which comes to the starting line with 345kW and 700Nm, packed plenty of punch on the gas pedal as we navigated through Stein am Rhein — a small town with half-timbered medieval houses abutting Lake Constance in Northeastern Switzerland — and belted briskly through some S-turns on our way back to The Dolder Grand. This car, a departure from its stablemates, whizzed through every corner and terrain with ease.

The S-Class is not the type to make you weak at the knees with its sumptuous body or exhaust note. It is, however, a beast graceful and debonair enough to ferry a prime minister between meetings yet vigorous enough to entice the deep-pocketed adventurer. It is a vehicle that envelops you in full-size German luxury, leaving you with only a singular thought to ponder upon and flaunt — “I am powerful.”

Kong Wai Yeng is senior digital writer of Options at The Edge Malaysia