Your car, sir

HAVING a baby has turned me into a chauffeur. As my wife embeds in the back in a pre-emptive strike against impending infant in-car seat boredom meltdowns, I invariably sit alone in the front like a sort of North London Jeeves, taking radio station requests and having to grudgingly take sole responsibility for figuring out how to operate the sat-nav in a different car each week.

With that in mind, I thought it fitting to try out a stint behind the wheel of the latest and greenest incarnation of the Mercedes S-Class, the world’s most popular limousine, with well over 3m sold. We’re driving the S350 L BlueTEC – the long wheelbase version. Surely the world’s most prestigious taxi cab, this is the first credible version which can be said to have some eco credentials thanks to its 41.5mpg combined fuel economy and low emissions of just 177g/km.

Which means you can waft around in the world’s best-selling limo without polluting the City even if you are stinking rich. Thanks to some engine improvements – improved fuel injection and a boost to the turbocharger – emissions are down and economy is up and all without affecting power and performance. You get the same winning combination of safety, comfort and luxury features that lure the cigar-sucking fat cats back to the S-Class every time.

While many of these cars will be driven by chauffeurs, there is every imaginable driving aid in case the knackered exec decides to drive his or herself back from the black tie do after a day with a 6am start. This version has “Attention Assist”, an uninspiring name for a clever technology that will wake you up if you fall asleep in what is possibly the world’s most comfortable car. The car monitors steering behaviour and if it suspects that you might be nodding off, it vibrates the steering wheel to jolt you awake.

Other clever tech includes the View Assist night vision system which can show you the road ahead three times further at night and has pedestrian detection built in. An Active Blind Spot Assist system monitors traffic on both flanks and flashes a red triangle in your side mirrors to warn you of vehicles you may have missed. The airbag roll-call includes front and rear side airbags, window airbags and even an airbag to protect the driver’s knees in an impact. With so much safety tech on it, it’s the safest car on the road.

Big if not exactly beautiful, styling-wise the S-Class hides its size well and somehow manages to be both large and slender at more than 5m long. All of which translates into astonishing amounts of legroom front and back. Inside it’s a limousine, no doubt about it, so it’s all about the comfort, leather and wood. The front seats include massage settings and lumbar support as well as bolsters that inflate to hold you in your seat when you are cornering. When entering the car, the S-Class’s clever seat belts automatically adjust to the correct height and tighten and then loosen to confirm that you are held safely in the seat.

The 254 bhp 3.0 litre V6 diesel engine manages to express you to 62mph in just over seven seconds and the car feels powerful in spite of its eco credentials. At motorway speeds S350 is refined and has very little road noise. And for a car this big, the handling – particularly in the Sport setting – is something of a marvel. It even has steering wheel gearshift paddles which gives you some indication of how sporty the drive can be.

The on-the-road price, including VAT at new 20 per cent levels is £63,785, but the options fitted on the car we tested push the price up to a whopping £87,765. Proof that luxury – particularly eco-friendly luxury – comes at a price.

THE FACTS:
MERCEDES-BENZ S350
L BLUETEC

PRICE: £63,785
0-62MPH: 7.1 secs
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 177g/km
MPG COMBINED: 41.5 mpg

The verdict:
design
performance
practicality
VALUE FOR MONEY