The S Class may be around since the 1950s but recently it had lost its way (especially the last two versions) making it all too easy for journalists to recommend alternatives from the likes of Lexus, BMW and Audi. Thankfully the new air-sprung ‘S’ is a big step forward.

The exterior design is sophisticated. The frontal area is subtle and smart while the side view is dominated by bulging wheel arches that demand you ‘spec’ the car's standard 17-inch alloy wheels up to more ‘Pimp My Ride’ proportions. The most striking feature of the new car is the sloping rear end with its clamshell boot similar to the BMW 7 series. There are two body lengths to choose from (standard and ‘L’) and this choice really depends on whether you are going to drive or be driven.

Inside the S Class initially seems a bit ‘bling’ – I mean does anyone really need to turn the dash mounted TV screen just a few degrees to favour the driver or passenger? But it is the sum of lots of little touches that makes me like this car a lot. In no time you’ll feel totally at home. The stubby gear lever and excellent seven-speed automatic gearbox make the kilometres fly by effortlessly. The V6 S350 may be the entry level petrol S Class but it has enough urge to frighten most boy racers away from the lights while motorway cruising and safe overtaking is stress free.

A lot of thought has gone into the interior, I especially like the way the centre armrest/consol is double hinged so it opens perfectly for either passenger or driver. In any luxury car these days there are so many electronics you simply wouldn’t have enough dash space for all the buttons so Mercedes uses what it calls ‘COMMAND’. This is basically a grouping of switches that you can operate via a dial with your left hand; in reality it is only slightly easier to use than BMWs I-Drive and best left to your chauffeur!

Taking a leaf from the competition Mercedes has spent a few quid on making some decent party tricks available with the most noticeable being ‘night vision’. This system uses infrared headlamps to see into the darkness and project potential hazards onto a TV screen well before they’d be in range of the car's conventional headlights. Sadly this option was not fitted to my S350 test car.

There is an old saying, “If you have to ask the price you cannot afford it”, so for me and the majority of road users, here is the price list: €105,100 gets you on the first rung of the ladder with the excellent diesel S320 CDi (173bhp/235nm). My test car is the cheapest petrol at €110,490 while the S500 will set you back €139,590 but it remains the definitive S Class with its big V8 engine (285bhp/388nm). If you’ve more money than sense the S600 will cost you a cool €214,335. The ultimate S65 AMG price remains TBA.

The S Class now sits firmly on top of the luxury saloon sector and will be the default choice of every CEO and hospital consultant with Audi, BMW and Lexus reduced to providing fairly decent alternatives.

Michael Sheridan