Road test: Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Filmed in 1991 for an old episode of Top Gear, he describes a typical owner as a man "who married a sex kitten and she's still purring," and points out that presidents of international companies and countries "travel S-Class".> Clarkson's hair may have got thinner and his analogies less clunky but one fact remains the same; the Mercedes S-Class is still one of the most exclusive saloons on the market.
The latest model is at the very forefront of technological and dynamic advancements, yet it still manages to offer a premium package that can impress even the fussiest owners.
It may not claim the same levels of luxury as models from Bentley and Rolls-Royce but it does give its more expensive rivals a run for their money in the driving stakes.
What is it?
Simply put: Mercedes' range-topping saloon in which the very latest technology and the most recent developments in chassis and suspension expertise debut. It is the vehicle of choice for those who spend more time in the rear of the car than the front and a vehicle that is so refined, it is preferable to a first class airline ticket for most journeys within a 500-mile radius.
What's under the bonnet?
A number of engine options are available, from a diesel electric hybrid that can return over 60mpg to the stupidly powerful V12 S65 AMG. The S350 diesel is perhaps the best option if you are looking for the perfect balance between performance and low running costs but we've opted to test the full-fat S500, with its 4.6-litre V8 developing an impressive 448bhp.
What's the spec like?
That's a difficult question because although the £88,130 base model boasts a standard options list that's longer than most Dan Brown novels, over £35,000 worth of options was still lavished on our test car. Standard equipment includes the clever Attention Assist, which monitors steering behaviour and can help to alert drivers to long journey fatigue, crosswind assist and a traffic sign recognition system. The infotainment hub is beautiful and easy to use thanks to a stylish click-wheel peripheral, while front and rear seat occupants can kick back and enjoy a massage with the in-car entertainment thanks to an expensive Rear Seat Comfort Package. Even more opulent extras include the epic Burmester sound system, the Magic Body Control suspension that glides over road imperfections and a full leather interior trim at a staggering £6,530. But are these extravagant extras worth it? The stupidly comfortable person in the rear with a big smile on his face says 'yes'.
Both Audi and BMW offer cheaper luxury saloons in the A8 and 7-Series but both fail to match the sheer weight of technology and impressively poised driving experience as the S-Class. An extra investment of around £20,000 over our ridiculously specified test car would secure a new Bentley Flying Spur V8 that arguably boats the next level of 'hand-crafted' luxury but its on-board gadgetry feels dated in comparison.
What's it like to drive?
Fantastically hassle-free, with even the longest and most arduous journeys depositing both driver and passengers at their intended destination feeling fresh and relaxed. The almighty V8 accelerates to illegal speeds in just a few seconds with minimal fuss; tyre roar and wind noise are non-existent and the selectable dynamic driving modes even allow for a few giggles when the roads become more entertaining. There was no disguising the sheer size of the long wheelbase model we tested, as tighter country roads and cramped country lanes required some forward planning to avoid a brush with oncoming traffic. However, despite the S-Class measuring up only slightly shorter than most commercial jets, it still managed to inspire confidence during the more 'spirited' drives.
The AOL Cars verdict
Believe the hype, the S-Class really is a fantastic piece of machinery that manages to fuse traditional levels of luxury with absolute cutting-edge technology. Rear occupants won't find the interior as commodious as the Audi, nor as quintessentially British as the Bentley, but they will praise the magnificently comfortable ride and first class levels of entertainment.
Price: £123,630 (as tested)
Engine: 4.6-litre V8
Max speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 4.8 seconds
Emissions: 207g/km CO2