Test driving the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S350 CDI

Aug 24, 2014, 08:25 IST | Amit Chhangani

The astonishingly brilliant S-Class presents itself as a more accessible option in the more prudent S350 CDI guise

The 2014 S-Class, without a shade of doubt, is the best luxury limousine at this point in time. When we reviewed the S500 variant of the car a couple of months ago, the quality of materials, the technology inside, the tranquil cabin and the stupendous dynamic ability of the machine simply blew us away. The new S-Class has created an extremely difficult benchmark for the rest of the luxury carmakers to achieve. The only downsides of the fully-imported S500 petrol car were its steep price and not-so-enticing fuel efficiency, even for the super rich. To address the issue, Mercedes-Benz India has now introduced a locally assembled version of the limo with a much preferred diesel power plant under the bonnet. 

Thanks to the lower duty structure on CKD units, the price of the new S350 CDI has gone down by close to R30 lakh over the S500 petrol version. Mercedes-Benz have also removed some features from the loaded S500 keeping only the most pertinent features on the diesel-powered variant. Nevertheless, the S350 CDI is still loaded to the brim with cutting edge tech and luxury equipment that would mollycoddle you silly.

Exterior changes
Not much has changed on the exterior of the oil-burning version. To start with, the S350 CDI rides on new 10-spoke, 18-inch wheels, unlike the sportier 5×2 spoke 19-inch alloys on the S500. The army of cameras surrounding the S500 is missing too, and the S350 CDI now features only a reverse parking camera under the boot-lid. The badges on the boot now read 350 and CDI on each side, unlike the solitary S500 branding on the petrol powered car. Finally, the sporty looking, angular, chrome-tipped exhausts on either side of the S500’s rear have been replaced by relatively inconspicuous twin exhausts on the left hand side, which aren’t even visible unless you look closely.

The S350 CDI’s steering loses the wood inserts found on the S500’s wheel, making it lose a bit of its premium feel

Engine and transmission
The 2987cc turbo diesel V8 power-plant propelling the S350 CDI delivers its peak power of 255 bhp at 3,600 RPM. More so, it produces its locomotive-like peak torque of 620 Nm at a low 1,600 RPM, endowing the S-Class with terrific in-gear acceleration.

The engine is mated with the trusty old 7-G Tronic transmission, which, though not the quickest in business, sure takes the accolades for being one of the smoothest. Gearshifts are incredibly intelligent, smooth and jerk-free. You wouldn’t ever sense the transmission at work, until you command it to perform a violent kickdown by burying the right pedal mercilessly.

The space at the backseat is generous. The S350 CDI’s, unlike the S500 can seat five passengers in comfort 

In terms of performance, the S350 CDI impresses with its 0-100km/h sprint time of about seven seconds, which is laudable for a car weighing more than 2.1 ton and delivers a fuel efficiency figure of above 10kmpl even with some spirited driving. Top speed is electronically limited to 250 km/h, and the S-Class reaches that point with authority.

Cabin comfort and features
The cabin of the diesel S-class remains silent by even the highest standards. The noise, in comparison with the ultra smooth petrol motor, is marginally higher, though we’d really be nitpicking if we complain. Some features have been removed from the S500’s mind boggling, gadget-laden cabin.

The Burmester surround system on the S350 is a watered down version of the system originally seen on the S500, though it still delivers terrific sound. The twirl-out drama of the tweeters has been taken away for the diesel version.

The 3.0 litre diesel unit powering the S350 CDI carries adequate punch, and is much more fuel efficient than the petrol powered S500

The cameras providing 360-degree view around the car have been replaced with a reverse camera. The infrared technology powered Night Vision Assist is also missing.

The fridge between the backseats has been replaced by a simple velvet box with rear central armrest working as its lid. Front passenger gets a heated seat, but not cooling ventilators. We really think that’s a surprising omission for our weather conditions.

Other changes include a manually-operated boot release, a smaller recline angle for the back seat and removal of the in-cabin Wi-Fi along with missing wood insert on the steering wheel.

The removal of the central trays and cover between the two rear passenger seats should come as a blessing in disguise for some, though. The permanent partition is now replaced by a flip-out central armrest with cup-holders.

This means that there is space for a fifth passenger in the S350 CDI, unlike the S500 which was strictly a four-seater.

Ride and handling
Even with its absolutely mind-blowing ride quality, quiet cabin and all-absorbing suspension, the S-Class is quite a revelation as regards driving dynamics. A long wheelbase, wide track and massive tyres make the S-Class extremely stable at high speeds. Add to that the exceptionally stiff monocoque holding the car together along with cutting-edge electronics, and the S-Class has the capability to turn into an outstanding driving machine if you so wish.

Rear left passenger can push and tilt the front seat forward with the press of a button, releasing acres of leg-space

There are two modes to choose from — Comfort and Sport. In addition, you can also raise the ride height to clear larger obstacles on rough patches. The S-Class swallows everything you throw at it with disdain. There is no other car we can compare the ride quality of the S-Class with. And it’s solid as a rock on the limit in a straight-line, even in Comfort mode.

In Sport mode, everything, from the suspension, to the steering to the transmission livens up. Even in Sport mode, the S-Class would manage to offer better ride than some of its other German counterparts would offer in their most comfortable setting.

The steering is delightfully precise and offers great feedback. Be it the deceptive downhill bends, or the small openings between slow moving vehicles inviting you to shoot through — the S-Class presents itself as a steadfast tool to be positioned on the road. The grip levels from the tyres and the steering feel is tremendous, and inundates you with great conviction.

Thanks to the heavyweight and the relatively softer suspension setup, there is some degree of body roll to be experienced, especially around sharper corners, and chicanes where the weight of the car gets transferred from side to side quickly. The fantastic damping never lets it get wobbly even under extreme stress. The ride-handling combination of this luxury limo is magical, if only you understand that it’s a 2,200 kg luxury- oriented limousine that you are piloting.

Our verdict
The S-Class has set a new benchmark for even the most seasoned luxury limo makers to emulate in finesse and opulence. It’s the absolute epitome of what a luxury limo should feel like. In the S350 CDI guise, the S-Class, as of today is an absolute no-brainer. 

Technical specs
engine — 2,987cc V6 diesel
power — 255 bhp @ 3,600 rpm
torque — 620 Nm @ 1,600-2,400 rpm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h, sec) — 6.8
Top speed (km/h, electronically limited) — 250

Bells and whistles
>> Massage programme for rear seats
>> Burmester Sound System
>> Rear Seat Entertainment
>> Active Park Assist
>> One touch legroom expansion for rear left seat
>> Panoramic sunroof 

Extravagance unlimited: More expensive limos

Rolls-Royce Phantom

An epitome of automotive excellence, Rolls-Royce has flourished since they were taken over by the BMW Group, and the Ghost has been lauded as a masterpiece. Since its launch, the Ghost has proved itself a worthy recipient of the famous Spirit of Ecstasy figurine. For its humongous size, and super silent, luxurious cabin, this thing drives quite well too. Powered by a massive 6749cc engine, the car boasts 460 bhp of raw power and 720nm of gut-wrenching torque. Price: R3.34 crore

Bentley Mulsanne

The Mulsanne is the most exclusive of all the super-exclusive cars rolling out of Crewe in England. It blends exquisite handcrafted cabin with stupendous performance. For its girth, the Mulsanne has the underpinnings to surprise even the most seasoned track racers around a bend. It’s also one of the fastest four-door luxury saloons. It is powered by a 6,752 cc V8 twin turbo powerplant, dishes out a sumptuous 505 hp of peak power and 1,020 Nm of torque. Price: R2.7 crore

Aston Martin Rapide

If sporty luxury is your thing, nothing beats the Rapide. It’s a full-size limo with the DNA of a sports car. The Rapide gathers attention like a rare few other. Powering this sculpted rocketship is a 6 litre V12 engine with 470bhp and 600 nm of torque. 0-100 comes in nigh to 5 seconds. The Rapide, like most other cars here comes loaded with luxury features as standard, including a Bang & olufsen 16 speaker system. Price: R3.5 crore

Go to top