Class Acts : 2021 Mercedes-Benz S 450 L 4Matic & 1968 W108 250 SE Automatic

By davidkhoo, 12 May 2021

Singapore - According to the missus, the best place to be in the new W223 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is luxuriating in the plumply-padded back-seats, and that's exactly where you should properly be spending all of your commuting time, especially if you're being sweetly serenaded by the dulcet tones of the late great 邓丽君 through the Burmester sound system.

In fact, five minutes into the drive, I was given strict instructions to take the "long route", so a fifteen minute trip stretched to forty-five minutes, even as she channelled her inner tai-tai, stretched out languidly in the back and sank even deeper into the supple, diamond-quilted rear seat.

Call me old-fashioned, but this sums up the entire essence of a S-Class: a decadent level of unhurried, luxurious comfort that spoils and pampers the passengers... so the last thing we'd do is to obsess over the little fiddly bits that should rightly bother the designated driver or your chauffeur.

As with most cars of such a legendary lineage, everyone has a tale to tell. One of my earliest car-going memories was being sent to school in a W116 during the time I lived with my maternal grandparents.

In those lower primary school years of the early 1980s, I was never interested in cars, yet a few things stuck indelibly with me after the month-plus timespan of being ferried between home and school in the W116 (the one generation I didn't manage to score in time for the group shoot).

The sublime manner in which the pliant chassis soaked up, steam-rolled and ironed-out all manner of road imperfections, the hermetically-sealed cabin's solid-hewn, tight quality of fit and finish, the tech toys and naturally, an engine engineered to cruise and not bruise.

In a nutshell, it's less about the individual ingredients, but how they all combine perfectly together to allow the occupants to arrive at the destination none the worse for the wear, regardless of traffic and time spent on the road.

Sound familiar? All these qualities can be applied to any generation of the S-Class, which is why the more things seem to change, the more they (hopefully) stay the same (Yes, we're also looking at you EQ S).

Naturally, the school runs in the W116 inadvertently spoiled me for regular cars, because unbeknownst to me at the time, the brand's superlative levels of cosseting comfort had insidiously subverted me!

And that's the whole point of the story: the S-Class pampers, cossets and spoils its passengers, and while you could self-drive, the experience is best savoured with your bottom ensconced in the rear seats, which remains a place of refuge unspoiled by vivid screens with information overload (as if modern life doesn't have enough of them).

L-R: W108 (1968), W126 (1988), W140 (1991), W223 (2021) by Lawrence Loy
L-R: W108 (1968), W126 (1988), W140 (1991), W223 (2021) by Lawrence Loy

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is one of the most iconic and steadfast bastions of luxury locomotion in the automotive world. It is an institution that has endured over more than half a century, with an appeal that transcends trends and the passage of time.

The W223 is a sleek and elegant lux-limo that exudes a vibe of discreet wealth, which is great in a climate where exhibitions of conspicuous consumption are regarded with resentment. 

If you're a casual enthusiast, you'll realise it's been less than 50 years since the W116 appeared (in 1972), which is the first model to officially bear the S-Class designation.

However, that's sophistry of sorts, because there was always a 'Sonderklasse' model from long before (the 'S-Class' lineage can be traced back to the mid-1950s), which is why we've pulled out a W108 250 SE Automatic from 1968.

It is the last of the Sonderklasse models before the first 'official' W116 S-Class, but incidentally, was the first to feature both regular and long wheelbase variants – something carried over through each successive S-Class generation since.

Few cars can match the presence of any S-Class on the roads: G-wagens, full-sized Rangies and Phantoms aside, there aren't many cars that will see other road users scatter in a bid to make way its passing.

Out and about, the W108 attracted its share of attention, with smiles and thumbs-ups a-plenty in addition to some degree of deference as the other road-users graciously gave way.

Perfectly content to sit and cruise in the left or middle lanes as it charts its own course through the highway, the S-Class sees no need to participate in the frenetic rat-race of feckless argy-bargy driving in a bid to get ahead in traffic – it has nothing to prove.

Crossovers may have taken over the roads, but there's a segment of owners that will always have a S-Class in their garages. The S-Class is expected to push the limits of technology, comfort and safety for all on-board, and the latest W223 is no exception.

We're not going to go into its long list of tech specifications because you can pick all that up from the brochure. Of special note though, is the impressive active/passive safety technology, especially when it comes to low-speed manoeuvring of the 5289x1921x1503mm (LxBxH) lux-limo around.

The combination of intelligent radars and cameras detects potential risk elements and takes semi-autonomous action to slow-down/brake to avoid impact.

Our demo S 450 L 4Matic isn't specified with the optional Rear Seat Entertainment System, and that's perfect because we're best served by technology when it is unobtrusive and invisible, not 'convenient' and 'in-our-faces'.

Besides, the chauffeur should be the one to either deal with, or is already familiar with the passengers' preferences for music, climate control and ambient lighting, all of which can be controlled and customised via the 12.8-inch touchscreen OLED mounted front-and-centre or the intuitive, learn-capable MBUX interface.

Folks happy to self-drive will be pleased to learn the W223 isn't just a car for the passengers, but it's a driver's car too (and we don't mean designated driver here).

Even though the rest of the non-AMG W222 range was more relaxed than ragey, the last S 63 AMG with 4Matic+ was a stupendous car that provided ample feel and feedback in addition to its flat-out onslaught, and there's a lot of that dynamic magic in the W223's steering responses.

Even in immense S 450 L guise, it's intensely manoeuvrable, nimble and light-of-feet, thanks to the rear-wheel steer.

This means executing three-point turns/parking in tight confines isn't a big issue, but more importantly, there's an incisive feel to the steering that belies its luxo-barge credentials.

The S 450 has mild-hybrid underpinnings, which includes 48V electrical architecture and integrated starter-generator for less consumption and energy recovery during braking recuperation.

The 500Nm of torque is on tap from just 1600rpm, so it'll waft you to cruising speed in no time at all, even as the passengers lose themselves in reverie.

When you do need a bigger hit of energy during overtaking, the EQ Boost musters an additional 22hp to complement the turbo'd 3.0-litre's 367hp, which will let you accomplish it safely and with authority.

The beauty of the S-Class is the effortless manner in which it leaves enough tactile analogue touches in a tech-laden luxury package.

As passengers you're able to digital detox and relax in a minimalist, but well-appointed 'lounge' area without the constant digital bombardment and connectivity that some mistakenly think are 'absolutely essential' to quality of life. Just No.

Like all the great chauffeur-driven cars, self-driving and being driven in a S-Class lead to very different experiences – and thus conclusions – and it is the latter that we find most relevant for Mercedes-Benz's iconic lux-limo, because they truly are the best seats in the house.

PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals

Mercedes-Benz S 450 L 4Matic (W223)
Engine 2999cc, inline6, turbocharged
Power/rpm 367hp/5500-6100rpm (EQ Boost 22hp)
Torque/rpm 500Nm/1600-4500rpm
Transmission 9spd 9G-TRONIC auto
0-100km/h 5.1secs
Top Speed 250km/h
Fuel Consumption 8.5l/100km
CO2 192g/km

Mercedes-Benz 250 SE Automatic (W108)
Engine 2497cc, inline6
Power/rpm 150hp/5500rpm
Torque/rpm 216Nm/5500rpm
Transmission 4spd auto
0-100km/h 12secs
Top Speed 185km/h
Fuel Consumption est. 11.7l/100km
CO2 n/a

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