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Motors

Mercedes’ €90,000 dilemma

Wednesday, 29th November, 2017 5:23pm

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to have a €90,000 dilemma.

Oh, whatever shall I spend my Lotto win/inheritance/trust fund/investment portfolio on? Well, of course at one time there would have been simply no question — you’d have bought an S-Class.

For so long the doyen, equally, of tycoons, oligarchs, dictators, presidents, Oscar-winners and, at the second hand stage, airport shuttles, the S-Class is getting a big update for 2018. Not that you’d know from the outside.

There are some very, very, very, really quite minor tweaks to the lights at the front and rear. The headlights now have a swooshy ‘three torches’ LED signature, while the rear lights are said to be more ‘crystal-like.’ Fair enough…

Actually, under the skin, there has been one massive change. The old 3.0-litre V6 diesel has been replaced by a brand-new straight-six. As a bit of a straight-six aficionado (I once had a heated discussion with a colleague who dared suggest that a V8 was superior), this is truly bread from heaven for me.

The new S350d engine, which retains the 3.0-litre capacity, uses a new variable valve-timing system and slippery Nanoslide coated cylinders to good effect, combining 286hp and a walloping 600Nm of torque.

Mercedes says that it’s both seven per cent more efficient than the old V6, and designed to comply with the new Real World Driving Experience fuel economy regulations. It emits 145g/km, which isn’t bad for a big bus such as this.

And, it is almost totally silent. Straight-sixes are inherently better balanced and less prone to vibration than a V6, and the new S-Class uses this to impressive effect. At anything below half throttle (and with 600Nm you rarely really need more), you just can’t hear the damned thing. No wonder Mercedes boss Dieter Zetsche continues to claim that diesel power still has a future.

Given the impressive spec sheet, we decided that it was time to take the S-Class out of its normal outside-lane comfort zone, and instead took it for a spin up the Wicklow mountains towards Sally Gap.

This is a classic discarded ribbon of a road, dreadfully surfaced, narrow, peppered with oblivious tractors and the odd tourist bus. And the S-Class ate it up.

In spite of being unable to deploy its new autonomous driving features (it can now brake ahead of corners according to what the sat-nav tells it, and can change lanes for you too) and bereft, in this car, of the optional Magic Ride suspension (which scans the road ahead and warns the springs and dampers when a bump is approaching), the S-Class felt every bit as good as it would have swishing up in front of the Four Seasons.

It even has a new, smaller (surprisingly small, actually almost Peugeot-small) steering wheel to underline its dynamic prowess. With Comfort mode selected, it still imperiously found every apex and was even a tiny bit entertaining when passing through a series of corners. Sport mode made it sharper yet, but the degradation in ride quality, while slight, just felt improper for an S-Class. Even so, where BMW’s 7 Series once reigned supreme as the only limo-that’s-fun, I think the big S now is a real competitor for that crown.

Ah, but oranges, as they say, are not the only fruit. Mercedes has another circa-€90,000 joker in its pack, and one that could undermine the S-Class just a little. I speak of the €93,365 E43 AMG.

Abandoning the bigger-hitting E63 AMG’s big V8 for a smaller turbocharged V6, the E43 could be thought of as a ‘lesser’ AMG.

Well, you might think of it like that. Right up to the point where you press the starter button and are greeted with a crackle and sizzle of a hot V6 starting up. It’s nowhere near as aurally bombastic as the V8, but that is to the benefit of discretion, so that’s perhaps no bad thing. The headline figures are 401hp, 520Nm of torque, and a 0-100kmh time of just 4.6secs, 1.4secs quicker than the S350d.

Actually, that makes it something of a bargain, because to get that kind of performance, not so long ago, you’d unquestionably have had to spend more than €100,000, and right now the E43 has no direct rival, as BMW’s impressive M550i won’t be made in right-hand drive.

With the steering wheel on the correct side, the E43 is something of a weapon, and I mean the multi-role, perfect-for-all-situations, F15E Strike Eagle kind of weapon.

Dial it all down to Comfort and lope along and this could be any other taxi-rank E-Class diesel — quiet, comfortable, easy-going.

Hit the Sport button, though, and it really comes to life. Yes, you can feel the gap between this and the insane E63, but this is still a car possessed of very senior performance.

With 4MATIC four wheel drive, it made even easier work of the same stretch of the Wicklow countryside, and all with a delightful exhaust note, a soprano crackle compared to the basso profundo bombardment of the V8. Combine that with terrific steering feel, and an un-compromised ride quality, and you have a truly talented car.

But for which to go? The S-Class impresses, as it always does, with its refinement, its comfort, its quality, and yet this one surprises a little with truly engaging chassis deportment. Here’s a ministerial car in which you can actually enjoy yourself on the right road. Assuming you ask your garda driver to sit in the back, that is.

It’s the E43 I’d have though. Its smaller size and less haughty styling means it slips a little more under people’s radar, and only a true anorak will spot the AMG badges and wheels.

As an undercover assassin, it really takes some beating. Even when it’s put up against its supposed betters…

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