Dawn Of A New Star | Mercedes-Benz S 350 L BlueTEC

BY Joel Tam

We drive the 'entry-level' Mercedes-Benz S-Class and find no signs of it's diesel-powered nature. Instead, this luxury saloon just oozes pure and creamy power!

Everyone knows that the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the epitome of a car that says "You've made it!". BMW and Audi have very good models that have tried to knock the Merc off its throne, and in recent years they've somewhat succeeded (the BMW 7 Series more so than the Audi A8). But the S-Class remains a resilient king that won't take competition lying down. Mercedes has a new S-Class for the new year, and yes, it is good!

The base model we have here is the diesel-powered S350 BlueTEC. If customers are willing to give the diesel a try, this might just be the best-selling S-class. Otherwise it is about $40,000 more for the S400 which is petrol-powered.

Armed with the previous generation 3.0-litre V6 turbocharged diesel unit, the engine in the S350 might not be new, but it has been revised to produce more power, more torque, a lower CO2 figure and improved economy. Packing 258 bhp and a hefty 620 Nm of torque, the S350 will hit 100 km/h from standstill in 6.8 seconds, and peak at a limited 250 km/h top speed. Best of all, it behaves completely like a petrol car; it is quiet, smooth and completely rattle-free. The only way to tell that it is diesel is by driving it - because the car pulls like a train!

It's not just powerful, it handles like a smaller car too. Switch from Comfort mode to Sport, set the Airmatic air suspension to Sport, and we are ready to roll. Run the S350 into a series of bends and you will find proof of how Mercedes has made it possible for such a large saloon to corner so well. It turns flat and body control is excellent for such a huge car. The DIRECT Steer system works well to stiffen the steering feel at speed too. The 7-GTRONIC Plus gearbox is carried over from the old model and remains largely easy to use, but somehow still lacks the rapid-fire characteristics of a ZF or dual-clutch transmission.

The rest of the car is typically luxurious and well-made. In addition to the cushy ride, being in the S-Class is extremely cozy. The seats are great, they succeed in being snug and roomy at the same time. A brand new dual 31.2 cm TFT colour display stretches across the whole instrument display, and houses the updated COMAND online telematics system and an in-built DVD changer and navigation. Getting used to the new instrumentation layout in the S-Class took me some time though. It somehow lacks the intuitiveness of a 7-Series. Controls have been designed to create a seamless look, but fail to be user-friendly.

Like all S-Classes, the S350 is packed with tech. A collision prevention feature, parking assistance, PRE-SAFE Impulse, Crosswind Assist, adaptive headlights, and the list goes on. Much talk has been going around about Mercedes' new Magic Body Control - a feature that makes the car feel like it is floating over bumps and undulations - but it is only available on the S500.

Perhaps the main gripe I have about the new S-Class is the way it looks. The previous model looked perfect, which made it a tough act to follow for the next model. The new one - while not ugly - is lacking in sleekness. S-Classes have always had smooth flowing lines. Even the old SEs and SELs from the 80's had elongated profiles. Th latest one just looks imbalanced, and the smallish 18-inch wheels do not help. 19-inch wheels are the minimum, 20-inch ideal.

Every new S-Class is made to wow the crowd. The new one is good, very good. But the wow factor is sadly missing. If you're a traditional wealthy businessman, it won't make a difference to you, the S-Class moniker is good enough for you to buy one. But if you're a discerning buyer, you'll know that there are many other compelling options out there. While the S-Class still manages to be a great luxury barge, I'm afraid it hasn't moved the game as much as I had hoped for. Still, it puts a big smile on my face because for a sizable sedan, it drives remarkably well. Here at we value a good drive, and in that area, the S350 is a star!

*A word of advise though: If you're getting an S-Class, request to have the ERP IU placed on the right side. Mercedes' default central placement makes it hard for many ERP-based car parks to detect the IU.