For a decade, the Mercedes S-Class has dominated the Luxury Car category of Auto Express’ annual New Car Awards. But this year, it was beaten by the brilliant new Range Rover - and the Audi A8 is a tough competitor as well.
Mercedes isn’t taking this lying down, however, and has launched an all-new S-Class in an effort to snatch back its crown. Packed with cutting-edge tech and promising class-leading comfort and refinement, the imposing flagship certainly has all the raw ingredients to claim the title of best car in the world.
Yet the newcomer faces some stiff competition. The latest Range Rover effortlessly mixes upper-crust luxury and refinement with imperious go-anywhere ability. Better still, it now has the interior space to match most limousines, while a new lightweight aluminium structure means it won’t cost a king’s ransom to run.
Completing our trio of top-of-the-range machines is the restrained Audi A8. A facelifted version is due soon, but the current car still sets the benchmark for efficiency, cabin quality and hi-tech equipment. So, has the Mercedes done enough to kickstart another decade of domination?
The Range Rover is a luxury car that can reach places other limos can’t. With its permanent 4WD and height-adjustable air-suspension, the opulent SUV is virtually unstoppable off-road. Star of the show is the Terrain Response System, which fine-tunes the traction control for surfaces including sand, mud, gravel and snow. On Vogue SE versions and above, it also has an auto mode, which seamlessly alters a whole range of settings to suit the conditions.
Ambient cabin lighting is standard on our luxury trio. Yet neither the Audi or Range Rover can match the Mercedes’ wow factor. There are seven colours to choose from, plus the lights are dotted throughout the interior. Unlock the Range Rover at night and mirror-mounted lamps beam a pool of light with the company’s emblem on to the road, though.
All of our contenders have been designed for people who want to be driven as much as they want to drive. However, despite an increase in space over its predecessor, the Range Rover still has 80mm less legroom than long- wheelbase versions of the S-Class and A8. There’s no separating the Audi and Mercedes for rear room, but the S-Class is the top choice here for passengers thanks to its lower seating position, softer ride and superior refinement.
If any model can lay claim to the title of ‘best car in the world’, it’s the Mercedes S-Class. Few rivals can match its tantalising blend of comfort, quality, refinement and cutting-edge kit, and it’s more engaging to drive than ever. Plus, the S350 is the cleanest, most stylish car here. The best just got better. Buyers get a choice of our car’s SE Line specification, with 18-inch alloys, or AMG Line trim. The latter is identified by a sporty bodykit and 19-inch wheels. Both models are available in standard and long-wheelbase forms. More models on the way include the S300 Hybrid, which combines Mercedes’ 2.1-litre diesel with an electric motor for 155g/km emissions, plus the S500 plug-in hybrid and V12-engined S65 AMG.
Luxury is about making you feel special, and the Range Rover does that every time. You get a great view out and a serene driving experience, while the off-road ability makes it a unique proposition. You expect a Range Rover to be good off-road and comfortable. But in spite of its mass, it also runs saloon rivals close for handling. Yet the dated infotainment system and cramped rear seats mean the big Brit has to give best to the Mercedes.
The Audi A8 is a good luxury saloon, but the S-Class makes it feel old-fashioned. It’s still good to drive, spacious and beautifully built; it’s just not as quiet as the Merc, and doesn’t ride as softly or look as modern. There’s no faulting the A8’s cabin quality, but the infotainment and design feels outdated next to the S-Class. Audi is due to launch a heavily revised model in January – it’ll have to be very good to take the crown.