If you want to be driven in sober, efficient but technologically advanced style, get a Mercedes S-Class. For decades now, the venerable big saloon has been both range-topper and technical showcase. The first European car to have airbags and one of the first to have ABS, it was the platform that launched many of the things we take for granted in a modern automobile. Large, solid and classically elegant, the 'S' is a no-brainer for corporate fleets and CEOs.
The latest generation of the S-Class, the W222, was preceded by the usual marketing bluster about innovation and technology. But the new car stands at a crossroads. Modern safety tech is largely concerned with prevention, not protection, and Mercedes has had plenty of experience with systems that help a car cruise, brake and even steer automatically. The new car is where all these systems have been brought together to create something that feels almost alive. With all sensors engaged, the S-Class will waft along, keeping up with traffic, staying in its own lane and even scanning the road ahead to instantly prime the suspension to cancel out any unwanted bumps. It works, too, although human input is needed at all times for legal reasons, so you feel the subtle tug of the steering beneath your fingertips as it follows the road ahead.
This is the future. Under test conditions and with slightly tweaked software, Mercedes' engineers have given the car the run of the autobahn 'by itself', reporting that it managed around 50km on its own without any human intervention. It's no great leap of the imagination to foresee a future where chauffeur joins the ranks of chimney sweeper, coachman and leech collector on the list of near-obsolete professions.
However, we got behind the wheel of the S63, the V8-bearing, fire-breathing, tyre-shredding performance variant. Can psychotic levels of power really be squared with a car that thinks for itself? Disregard the trickery and there's a lot to enjoy behind the wheel. The cliché would be to write that the S63 'corners on rails', but in truth it would take a truly committed driver to explore this car's limits, and they'd need a racetrack to do it. Far better to enjoy the Mercedes' other party trick, catapult-style acceleration, which pushes this vast car to 100km/h in around four seconds. The sensation is all the more extraordinary given the car's mass and the cabin ambience; you'll believe a boutique hotel can fly.
The correct way to specify your AMG Mercedes is, of course, to leave off as many distinguishing marks as possible; those in the know will discern the engine from the number of tailpipes and everyone else will just ignore you. In stark contrast, Mercedes' press car comes with every option ticked, leaving no one in any doubt as to what you're driving. Inside it has something of the ambience of a grand express train, with an almost deco-cinema feel to the mix of dark and light surfaces, chromed switchgear and the vast screens that convey the car systems and navigation. Back-seat ambience is beyond reproach in terms of space and amenities (there's even a small champagne fridge) but with this particular model you'll always have the sense that the driver's seat is the real place to be.