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There’s no such thing as a bad car these days. Take Skoda, for example: they share a lot of their components with Audi, so they also share parts with Volkswagen and Seat too. And as the Audi/VW group built the Bugatti Veyron, that’s not a bad thing. (It sort of puts pay to my old Skoda jokes, like “why does a Skoda have a rear window demist? To keep the driver’s hands warm while he’s pushing it...”)
Even Perodua don’t make too bad a car, and we’re talking bottom of the barrel when it comes to them.
The undisputed king of the road, however, is the Mercedes S-Class. "Hold on!" I hear you cry, "what about the Rolls Royce?" Well yes, you probably have a point there, but how many times do you hear a motoring journalist whittle on about the S-Class? To see what’s going to be on your car in ten years time, they say, take a look at today’s Mercedes S- Class... And they’re right. What could only be found on an S-Class twenty years ago is bog standard on a Ford Fiesta today, and what was standard on the Merc ten years ago is either standard or an optional tick in the box on your new-car order form today.
So yes, the Rolls Royce might be the daddy of all things automotive, but the S-Class rules the road. You might see the Queen swanning around in a Roller, or Jim Davidson, or even maybe David Beckham, but you see the country’s dignitaries, the big decision makers, the euro-politicans, the company directors, all moving from A to B in a top-spec Mercedes.
But we’re talking here about a car that costs upwards of £50’000, depending on specification. The entry-level S-Costs £54’327 just to get on the road and, if you took the best-selling S320 diesel model and added all its luxurious optional extras you would end up shelling out closer to £60’000. So perhaps this review should stop here, as most of you reading this will be thinking “I can’t afford an S-Class” and will be thinking of switching to another page.
But maybe luxury isn’t as unaffordable as you think. If you’re prepared to go a little bit older and pick up a vehicle with a few miles on the clock, affording a Mercedes S-Class just gets a little bit easier. Take the 2002 model Mercedes S320 CDi, for example. At five years old, this is a steal of a car: costing over £50’000 brand new, today you can pick one up for less than £20’000.
To look at, the S-Class is luxury redefined. The exterior of the car simply exudes success without being brash about it, unlike some other Mercedes-Benz models. Silver is the best colour for this car, as it hides most of the wear and tear that vehicles get from everyday use, although it can look just as nice in dark blue. The rounded double headlights give off enough light to put Wembley Stadium to shame when high beam is applied and all the doors open and close with a satisfying, expensive-car ‘thunk’. No need to slam the boot shut, however: simply close the lid gently and the car will ensure it’s closed tight for you, pulling the boot lid down automatically into its closed position.
Inside the boot there is plenty of space to house most of your travelling necessities and, being a Mercedes, this means either a couple of golf bags or a couple of dead bodies – it just depends on your day job.
Get into the S-Class and you’re immediately cosseted by the sumptuous luxury of soft, leather seats and understated technology. Unlike the S-Class’s immediate competitor, BMW’s overly complicated 7-Series, this Mercedes doesn’t daunt you with an array of switch gear. Everything is where you would expect to find it, within easy reach of the electrically adjusted steering wheel (no manual labour here, you know – even the chauffeur gets a gadget or two to play with). The driver and passenger seats are fully electronically adjustable and the driver’s seat and steering wheel have memory settings so that there’s one position for your driver and another for yourself, when you give him the day off to go drinking with your henchmen.
The powerful, 3.2 litre turbo diesel engine is quiet and unassuming yet surprisingly potent when you squeeze the throttle. The S320 has a top speed of 149 miles per hour and its 217bhp allows the car to gallop from 0-60mph in just 7.9 seconds; quick enough to keep most motorway drivers happy. Insurance is respectable for such a behemoth of a car as it falls in to just group 15, although official miles per gallon figures are a little disappointing, showing in at 24mpg. This last figure, however, is a little deceptive: the S320 I’ve been pottering about in returned a much more respectable 30+mpgs on motorway journeys.
As well as the electrically adjustable seats, electric windows all round, an electric sunroof and that fancy automatically closing bootlid, the S-Class comes complete with a superb sound system, comprising CD player, TV unit and hard-drive based satellite navigation system. Being a 2002 model, the sat nav is a little dated – the post-code entry system is somewhat restrictive and reminiscent of early handheld TomTom devices, but it’s more than capable of getting you around the country and, if you figure out how to bypass the post-code information and enter the address directly, it’s a lot more accurate.
The S-Class is reasonably gentle on its tyres and the onboard computer adjusts the service intervals dependent upon how you are driving the car. Drive it hard, the service is going to become due a lot quicker than if you drive it gently. Whilst it helps resale values to get the car serviced at a Mercedes-Benz main dealer, most mainstream car repair shops these days have the technology to deal with Germany’s finest computer boffins and, as all it really does is tell the mechanic whether the oil must be changed or not, there’s nothing wrong with taking your car to the local workshop for servicing rather than back to Mercedes. It’ll save you a couple of hundred pounds per service and, as the car is now a few years old, nobody’s going to berate you for taking this course of action.
All-in-all the S-Class is a superb contender for the title King Of The Road, but I have to say it doesn’t quite cut it for me. It’s refined, comfortable, quick and luxurious. It has the technology we all wish our cars had and it’s a head turner for so many different reasons, and that’s why I just helped a friend pick up a 2002 S320 CDi model for just £15’600, including six months tax, a warranty, and a full valet – and it even includes a complete Mercedes-Benz fully stamped and approved service history.
The problem with driving an S-Class? Whether you’re a banker, a mafia head, or a pub landlord, you look a total tit driving it if you are less than sixty years old and slim.
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