Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI

1/12/2012

You might reasonably wonder why we’ve chosen to road test a Mercedes-Benz S-Class four years after its debut. But a very subtle facelift marks the first major revision to the car that has presided over its class since its launch.
Not only do we need to test the changes, but we haven’t yet attached our timing gear to the diesel S320CDi, which has surprised everyone – Mercedes included – by taking 60 per cent of S-class sales in the UK.

Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI Design

Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (1)
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (1)
The new nose treatments adds fractionally to the car’s five-metre length and the rear lamps have been gently reworked.
The S-class’s steel monocoque and panels are suspended by an Airmatic air sphere at each corner which offer both self-levelling and adaptive damping functions.
The 3222cc 18-valve iron-block straight-six diesel in this S320CDi keeps the same capacity but gets a series of changes. Probably the most significant is the use of a variable-nozzle turbocharger; greater low-end torque and lack of lag are the main benefits.
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (2)
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (2)
There’s now twin – rather than single – pilot injection; now two tiny sprays of fuel are introduced to the cylinder before the main injection to warm it and reduce diesel clatter. Power is up 7bhp to 201bhp at 4200rpm, but more importantly torque leaps 22lb ft to 369lb ft.
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI On The Road
We managed 60mph in 7.6sec, two seconds quicker than the similarly powered S280 petrol. But what you really need to know is that it matches the more expensive, 245bhp S350; bear this in mind when you read the economy section. The ton is done in 21.1sec – think three-litre exec saloon or decent hot hatch.
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (3)
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (3)
It’s all done with nothing more than a purposeful hum from the front. At 70mph the S320CDi is 2db quieter than the 4.2-litre petrol Audi A8.
The perfect chassis balance is always elusive, but the S-class may well have it nailed. Ride comfort is exceptional. No sharp intrusions disturb the cabin – there’s none of the stiffness that air springs often produce over potholes – and the adaptive damping quickly checks body heave over bigger surface changes.
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (4)
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (4)
The passengers are insulated but the driver isn’t isolated; you sense enough of the road surface below and the workings of the suspension to feel connected.
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI Living
The single greatest criticism of the pre-facelift S-class was that its interior lacked the perception of quality of material and robustness of construction which ought to mark a Mercedes. It has been remedied; new plastics look more expensive and the new switchgear and reprofiled seats are better to use.
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (5)
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (5)
Like most other Mercedes, the S320CDi is relatively lightly equipped. A single CD player, climate control, leather upholstery and the large COMAND system screen are now standard but the satellite navigation, TV and phone it can control are not.
In the context of the range the diesel seems excellent value; it’s only £3235 more than the entry S280 petrol and adds an electric sunroof and lamp wash.
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI
And the long-wheelbase option seems worth having. Your £2650 gets you an additional 120mm of rear legroom, rear parking sensors, an electric rear blind, heated front and rear seats and electric rears.
The revised S-class’s single greatest advance is the Pre-safe system, which allows the car to prepare itself for an accident, closing its sunroof, moving the passenger seats to the optimum position and pretensioning the seatbelts. There are front airbags which adapt to the severity of the accident and weight of the passenger, side bags for front and rear occupants and inflatable curtains which can be triggered by the rollover sensor introduced on the E-class. This is a very complete safety spec.
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (6)
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI (6)
We managed 35.3mpg, superb for a two-tonne car capable of a 7.6sec 60mph sprint. After three years, expect the S320CDi to keep 63 per cent of its value, considerably more than any petrol-powered S. Its popularity with company buyers will be helped by its extraordinarily low emissions.
Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI Verdict
9/10 History Design and Engineering On the road Living with the car Verdict At our best car in the world test last year an S-class won easily, and this facelift only bolsters its strengths even more. The new petrol engines are remarkable for their power, but the diesel simply has a broader range of talents. This is the best version of the best car in the world. We’ve yet to drive the perfect car, but this one gets closest.

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