The passenger side rear seat can be reclined into a full lazyboy chair with a leg cushion.
Johannesburg - I was relieved the Mercedes-AMG S-Class I was driving wasn’t black, lest I be mistaken for a member of the dreaded blue-light brigade.

The pearlescent white of the test car seemed a less intimidating hue, a more subtle coating for what is otherwise a very unsubtle car. In terms of outright luxury and power, the V12-engined long wheelbase S65 L represents very nearly the pinnacle of the Mercedes-Benz sedan line up - just below the Maybach versions which are mechanically identical but 20cm longer.

Writing about such a car tends to be a superlative-ridden exercise and yet, even at this R3.46-million price point, the perfection isn’t quite complete and there is cause for not-entirely-gushing comment.

For instance the front and rear seat infotainment systems which, as comprehensive as they are, have to be operated by buttons instead of more user-friendly touchscreens that are becoming the accepted standard in cars, including the just-launched new Mercedes A-class.

That said, the updated S-class gets new touch-sensitive buttons in the steering wheel that respond to swiping motions like the screen of a Blackberry phone, which does make menu navigation easier without having to take your hands off the wheel. The infotainment system can also be operated by an updated Linguatronic voice control that now recognises 450 commands.

It’s part of a recent mid-life update to the S-class range that brought in some cosmetic, engine and technological tweaks. The updated navigation system has speed sign recognition and also real-time traffic alerts, and there were a few times when the navigation voice helpfully alerted me to a tailback up ahead.

The upgraded S-class brings us ever nearer to the fully autonomous car era, with its assorted driver aids that keep the car at a safe following distance and in its lane. The updated radar cruise control automatically slowed down the car for upcoming turns in the road, though this occurred with a somewhat jerky series of brake applications and the technology could still do with some polishing.

The night-vision system is a very effective safety feature though. Projected on the instrument panel, it ‘sees’ further into the darkness than the human eye can, and also draws a digital red box around pedestrians.

The minor facelift sees a reshaped radiator grille and multibeam LED headlamps with three light bars as a prominent design feature. Optional ultra range high beams illuminate the road up to 650 metres ahead. The front and rear bumpers are redesigned too, and though the facelift is mild there’s been a lot of under-the-skin work with a total of 6500 new components.

The new S-Class range, including the top-of-the-range Maybach models, adopts a new feature called Energising Comfort that links various onboard comfort systems together. It means that, instead of separately setting the climate control, ambience lighting, massage and fragrancing functions, customers can quickly configure a specific ‘wellness set-up’ to suit their mood.

Also new is the Ask Mercedes app, an augmented reality overlay that, when you hover your iPhone or Android smartphone camera over the dashboard or steering wheel, tells you what the car’s various buttons do - basically a simplified owner’s manual.

Two new high-resolution displays under one shared glass cover blend into a fully-digital cockpit, which allows the driver to set three different display styles for the instrument panel: Classic, Sporty and Progressive.

The roomy and luxurious cabin is purpose designed to pamper big shots as they whisk from corner office to the golf course, and it does this splendidly. The finely stitched leather and beautifully finished metal radiates business-class glamour, and there’s space galore for four adults in the two-plus-two seating arrangement (though the boot is surprisingly average for such a large car).

Front and rear seats are heated and cooled, electrically reclinable, and offer several massaging programmes. The passenger side rear seat can also be reclined into a full lazyboy chair with a leg cushion.

Each rear-seat passenger gets a screen on which they can play their individual choice of entertainment, from either a DVD or a USB stick. There are also two inductive smartphone charging pads; one each for the front and back seats.

The passenger side rear seat can be reclined into a full lazyboy chair with a leg cushion.

The updated S65 stays untouched under the bonnet but with 463kW and 1000Nm that six-litre biturbo petrol V12 hardly needed any extra urge. And urge it has, oodles of it. It’s the kind of performance that whisks the big car forward like a hot hatch, not a 2.2 ton limousine.

This mink-coated missile sprints to 100km/h in just 4.3 seconds and tops out at a governed 250km/h (or 300km/h with the optional AMG Driver’s Package). This swiftness is conjured in incongruously hushed fashion, but that V12 does holler majestically when you open the double-glazed windows to have a listen.

Mercedes quotes consumption of 11.9 litres per 100km and we achieved 12.6 mostly on the open road, though it shot up to more than 17 in urban driving.

This being the most powerful AMG model with firmer suspension, it makes for a ride quality that’s comfortable if not quite in the creamy-smooth wafting league of lesser-powered S-class models. Adaptive air suspension greatly lessens body roll, squat and dive, delivering a driving experience that makes this huge sedan feel a lot lighter than it is. The S65 also has a curve-tilting function that causes the body to lean to the inside of a turn like a motorcyclist, reducing the perceived lateral forces.

The car’s ride height can be raised by 40mm to increase the ground clearance. At high speeds, it is lowered by up to 15mm, reducing aerodynamic drag and increasing handling stability.

VERDICT

The S65 L is a high-tech luxury limousine that lays on the most lavish put-your-feet-up comfort, yet can dice with sports cars.

Sadly the days are numbered for this giant of a V12 turbo engine, which Mercedes-Benz is phasing out as part of the downsizing trend, and soon the iconic 65 badge will be no more.

Mercedes-AMG S65 L

Engine:6.0-litre, V12, turbopetrol
Gearbox:7-speed automatic
Power:463kW @ 4800-5400rpm
Torque:1000Nm @ 2300-4300rpm
0-100km/h (claimed):4.3 seconds
Top speed (governed):250km/h
Fuel Consumption (Gauteng):12.6 litres/100km
Price:R3 460 026
Warranty:2-year/unlimited km
Maintenance plan:6-year/100 000km

Drive360

Follow Denis Droppa on Twitter @DenisDroppa