Magazine article The Spectator

Leave It with Me

Magazine article The Spectator

Leave It with Me

Article excerpt

Spectator readers are part of the process of natural selection and in their case species differentiation has produced a biological need to know about Top Cars. Those tested so far (cars, that is) have been the BMW 750il, the Bentley Turbo R and Toyota Lexus ('Motoring' 30 December 1995, 23 March 1996, 15 February 1997). This month it is one of the icons of motoring, the S class Mercedes.

I once had a relationship with a big S class of early Seventies vintage, a somewhat faded beauty by the time she drifted down to my level but still magnificent. Passengers could unfold broadsheet newspapers in comfort, the leather armchairs were of clubland proportions and it went faster than anything I had then owned. I recall 120 mph and gaining on a Belgian motorway, under the illusion they had no speed limits, until snow and ice persuaded us to abandon what we should never have begun. It had air suspension that lowered the car to the ground whenever you left it (it wasn't supposed to) and - possibly connected - a worrying vibration at speeds over 80. I sold it to an airline pilot.

The beauty this time, however, was an S320, which has the 3.2 litre six cylinder engine. The four others in the luxury class range from 2.8 to a mighty six litres. This one costs 49,200 in its basic form and 54,939.96 with extras (metallic paint, leather, electric front seats, alloy wheels, radio and an ultrasound system that tells you that you are about to bash the gate post). It will do 0-62 mph in 8.9 seconds and has a top speed of 141 mph. Combined urban and extra urban fuel consumption is 21.1 mpg.

First impressions of this car were good, for the apparently trivial reason that Mercedes sent the detailed press pack in advance. They are the only manufacturer I've known do this and it makes you think - well, if they're thoughtful in small ways, maybe they'll be thoughtful in big ways, too. And so it proved. This car is made to last and designed to live in. Everything about it, from the size of the pedals to the fold-away pocket-preserving key and the feel of the seats, is thoroughly thought through and considerately done. It also passed the hat test front and rear (a flat hat, anyway).

It is a delight to drive, solid, sure-footed and responsive. I like solidity in things and you feel the weight in this car without it being a burden. Also, I always feel that following that Mercedes star lends purpose to my progress. For my wife, the favoured thing about all Mercedes saloons is that you look down and along the bonnet. …

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