Dream drive

HO HUM, what a quandary; you've just been catapulted to company chairman of a PLC and you've got the really difficult task of choosing the right set of wheels to match your newly elected status...

HO HUM, what a quandary; you've just been catapulted to company chairman of a PLC and along with your seven figure salary, pension plan, health insurance and nubile PA, you've got the really difficult task of choosing the right set of wheels to match your newly elected status.

It is a little bit of a balancing act to judge which of the big limousines will be the most suitable. The Rolls Royce is ideal but would have the shareholders screaming for your head on a plate for spending too much of their money. The Jag, as good as it is, is currently being driven by the finance director, and the sales director has just taken delivery of an Audi, so they're both out of the equation. Bentley's Flying Spur is about the right price, but the jury's still out on its carpet-tycoon-styling, and for that reason alone, it falls at the first hurdle. No-one likes a BMW driver, so the 7-series doesn't even get a consideration. And then the choice is left to one: the Mercedes S-Class.

This, the S600L, is the all-new flagship heading the Mercedes S-class line-up. It ticks every single box you would expect, and more. It's been built using recycled drinks cans and newspapers, and once it comes to the end of its working life, it then melts into an eco-friendly kiddies playground. Despite its greener side, the S600L is still a blatant plutocrat barge. It weighs in at nearly two and half tonnes and there is enough distance between driver and back seat passengers to put them in a different time zone. However, no car this size or this heavy should be able to be this quick. It defies all laws of physics. The wonderful silky-smooth, gas-guzzling 5.5-litre V12 bi-turbo engine whooshes it past the all important 60 mph bench mark in less time than it takes a Porsche Carrera 4 to cover the same ground, and does it all in near silence.

Ticking the 'luxurious' and 'refined' boxes is not a problem - but it shouldn't be really, when this particular Merc comes with a price tag of just under £100k. And unlike some recent Mercs that have promised much but delivered little, this S-Class doesn't just serve the goods on a silver platter; it practically rams them down your throat. Over the past few years the Mercedes build quality has been deservedly questioned. But this car should silence every single doubting Thomas because the S600L is a feat of automotive engineering. Yes, for a few grand more, you could be the proud owner of the new Bentley Flying Spur, but you won't get a cabin finished to the same standard as the S-Class nor will you get the same level of safety equipment and on-board toys.

The most talked about of these is 'night view assist'. When the headlights are switched on (automatically, of course), two infrared headlamps are also activated to illuminate the road ahead. The normal dials on the dashboard are then transfigured into a Play Station affair to display the images beamed from an infrared camera mounted at the front. It takes some getting used to, but once you've got the hang of it and forget you're not playing an arcade game, it does become a genuine safety tool to allow the driver to see impending road kill long before the S-Class's bulk squishes it into oblivion.

New innovations also take the humble cruise control into the world known as 'Distronic Plus'. Set it to the desired speed between 0 and 155mph and it automatically brakes if another car gets in the way. Okay, it's not exactly radical since a similar system can be found in the previous model, but where this one differs is that it brakes to a standstill and then accelerates once the road ahead is clear. Basically it allows you to sit in heavy city traffic and do nothing except steer. Sitting isn't a problem either, the 12-way electric front seats are the most expensive Mercedes have ever produced - and it shows. By using the central controller (much, much easier to use than BMW's iDrive) the temperature can be controlled from roasting hot to freezing cold. Also, whilst having your nether regions heated or cooled, the seats can be programmed to gently caress your back with the consideration of a Swedish masseuse or pummel it with the might of a Turkish Hamam.

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Mercedes still have a huge mountain to climb to regain the public's confidence and customer loyalty. However, if the new S-Class is anything to go by, they might just be taking the first steps in the right direction. Estelle Jarman from Brighton drives a Vauxhall Astra

I was a little overwhelmed when the invitation came for me to test drive the new S-Class Mercedes-Benz. I'd never driven a car of this size - it's as big as my lounge and I could even fit comfortably in the boot. The car is the epitome of extravagance and the furthest you could get away from my Vauxhall Astra. The seat moulded around my body; bits heated up at the flick of a switch, and it even helped me reverse into a tight parking space. But with all this luxury and in-car gadgets - would I buy one if I had the money? Yes, but only if it came with a driver.David Graham from Brightondrives Saab 9.3 Convertible To actually drive a car worth this amount of money was a little daunting at first, but after a while I soon forgot the cost element and started to relish the S-Class. It handled far better than I imagined, and the array of gadgets to make life on-board even more comfortable was staggering. All to soon my drive came to an end and I had to hand the keys back. Would I like to own an S-Class? I think the only way to really enjoy a car like this is from the back seat, being driven.Marc Simons from Brightondrives Volvo V70 Estate'What a brute' was my initial reaction when I was confronted by the S-class Merc. First impressions: lots of deep cushioned leather, wood or wood-like substances on the dash and door trim, a rear view camera as well as a rear view mirror and to cap it all, a 'virtual screen speedo'. Sitting in the driving seat of this land yacht is probably the last place any owner of one of these limos would be residing. As to driving the thing - well - the old Rolls Royce adage of 'wafting' did cross my mind - even though it was only along Hove sea front. A big, impressive automobile by anyone's standards.

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