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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mercedes S320 CDI

Model: Mercedes S320 CDI
Bodystyle: 4dr Saloon
Engine: 3.0 V6, turbodiesel
Transmission: 7–speed automatic

What is it?
The S-Class Mercedes has long been toted as the “affordable” way to get into luxury motoring, comparing favourably with Bentleys and Rolls-Royces costing several times the price. But the S-Class that the majority buy is not one of those with a great big V8 petrol engine, but the humble diesel. Even those that can afford to spend £60k-plus on a car can’t ignore fuel costs these days. There is currently only one diesel S-Class, the 320 CDI. It’s only a three-litre despite the badging, but this all-new 235bhp V6 is a fine engine. Seven speed automatic transmission is standard, as is an automatic parking brake and a host of safety and technical features. Long-wheelbase models cost an additional £4k. This combination of power, luxury, safety and frugality may make this car a candidate to be the best all-round car in the world…
Where does it fit?
£55,000 is the entry into the S-Class range and gets you either this 320 CDI or an S280; you’ll want to add at least £5k to that to spec it up. An endlessly intriguing feature is the Distronic cruise control, which uses radar to detect a car in front and brake the Mercedes to an appropriate speed (£1,840). The multi-contour front seats, complete with ventilation, are a nice option too at £880, though £1,100 for noise-insulating glass seems a step too far. Key rivals include the Jaguar XJ, BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, Lexus LS and, if you tolerate the lack of prestige, a VW Phaeton.

Is it for you?
If you are in the market for a luxury car, the S-Class has to be on your short list. The brand is, despite recent blips, still unsurpassed in terms of prestige. Mercedes has also managed to move from one model to the next without falling foul of controversy around the styling, factors that have affected both BMW and Jaguar. The bulging wheel arches are perhaps not what was expected but the look of the S-Class is harmonious and well judged.
What does it do well?
Of the many facets of the S-Class, it is the comfort that hits home first and hardest. The test car had the optional multi-contour front seats with a further option of ‘comfort headrests’. The result is sublime seat comfort with sufficient adjustment for occupants of every size. The air-damped suspension, with damping that adapts according to your driving style or can be overridden with a switch, complement the seats perfectly. The new V6 turbo-diesel is an impressively refined unit too. Although it lacks the outright power of the petrol engines, it has plenty of torque and is fine in day-to-day use.
What doesn’t it do well?
The S-Class is really quite a hard car to fault. It’s arguably not as sporting as the BMW or Audi, but it’s a close call. The real downside is when it comes down to costs, both buying the car, running it and the company car tax bills.
What’s it like to live with?
There is no getting around that this is a large car even in the regular wheelbase format but, even so, the visibility is good and city driving is almost as straightforward as a motorway run. It is supremely quiet, even without that optional noise-insulating glass. Space front and rear is impressive, and the boot enormous. Many of the controls are accessed through a single knob on the centre console. Tricky at first, the argument is that the need for a vast number of separate is overridden by the “Comand” system. The radio display is simply delightful, mixing modern and old fashioned in a completely new way. The sheer extent of technical development is eye-watering. Night-vision is an option to let you see further up the road at night. Press the footbrake hard and it will keep holding the car until you pull away. And it’s hard to imagine a car with more safety features.
How green is it?
The 320 CDI is as a green as an S-Class gets, with a combined average economy figure of 34mpg in the government tests, a figure that we saw on the car’s trip computer too. That’s not bad for a car that weighs two tonnes, and vastly superior to any of the petrol engines. CO2 levels are 220g/km, so not yet at the top scale of the company car tax band.
Would we buy it?
Yes. Well, probably almost certainly. The S-Class is certainly easy on the eye, drives very nicely and offers supreme degrees of comfort. It’s not an overwhelming class leader, however. Rivals also offer luxury and have different characteristics that will make them more appealing to some potential owners. But would you be disappointed if you bought the S-Class? Provided your dealer lived up to the promise, we very much doubt it.

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