Heralded by many as the “best car in the world”, the outgoing S-Class Saloon has set a tough benchmark for its successor to follow. Early indications have been extremely promising, though, and now the luxury car standards have been redefined.

Prices for the award-winning new model, which arrives in UK showrooms on 16th March, start from £54,975 for the S 320 CDI. Moving from the standard to long wheelbase version adds £4,000 to the price.

As befits the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz range, equipment levels are generous. The S 320 CDI has 17″ alloy wheels with 235/55 R 17 tyres; seven-speed 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission with Speedtronic speed limiter and cruise control as standard (controlled by a DIRECT SELECT wand on the steering column); adaptive brake lights (which flash in emergency braking conditions); and adaptive brakes that hold the car when stationary. These brakes are also fitted with ABS and BAS Brake Assist, and the ESP® electronic stability program and ASR acceleration skid control keeps things on an even keel. Metallic paint is standard, and nano-particle clearcoat will ensure a showroom shine for years to come.

Eight airbags (two front, four side impact and windowbags) are standard, as is a development of the popular AirMATIC air suspension system – giving the best of both worlds – a cosseting ride and spirited cornering.

The COMAND system has been radically altered and now incorporates a rotary COMAND Controller, giving easy intuitive access to all the car’s major controls and settings. A DVD/CD player and HDD hard disk-based navigation system covers most of Europe. MP3 format music is supported, and there’s a PCMCIA slot for electronic music transfer, too.

PRE-SAFE® is fitted across the range, and headlights and wipers are automatic. Heated leather seats are adjustable electrically (front) and luxury climate control keeps everyone at just the right temperature.

Ease of ownership is standard with every car, and the doors have stepless stops – they can hold open at any angle. Interior lighting from underneath the eucalyptus wood trim gives a soothing ambient glow at night, whilst locking is remote. The front seats are electrically adjustable and heated, the steering is electrically adjusted and has an easy entry system. Every seat has a three-point safety belt, and the outer four include belt pre-tensioners with force limiters.

The S-Class is also the first Mercedes-Benz to have an electric parking brake. When the driver stops, the parking brake is automatically applied, and there’s no need to switch it off when pulling away – the car can do that, too.

The electric parking brake may be a first on a Mercedes, but there are a number of options that have never before been seen on a production car.

A new DISTRONIC PLUS system (£1,840) keeps the S-Class at a safe distance from the vehicle in front over a wide range of speeds: from 0 – 124 mph (where laws permit). This means the car is much easier to drive in stop and go traffic. The package also includes BRAKE ASSIST (BAS) PLUS, which adds to the standard system. In emergency braking situations, when the driver has applied braking force, BAS PLUS automatically administers the correct amount of brake force to stop the car in the distance available. If the gap’s too small, the car warns the driver early, who can then prepare to take avoiding action.

ABC Active Body Control is available for £2,310 and offers suspension that smothers bumps and corners with virtually no lean at all – some 40 per cent less than the previous system.

Night View Assist (from £1,200 (S 500)) infra-red headlights give main beam levels of vision even when dipped lights are used. The infra-red beams are picked up by a windscreen-mounted camera which then shows an enhanced image on a screen in front of the driver. Unlit, cold, warm, small or large objects are shown on the screen, improving safety for occupants and other road users.

Bi-xenon Active Light System headlights with cornering lamps (£1,100) swivel when cornering, allowing drivers to see up to 95 per cent further than fixed lights.

Other options include a state-of-the-art harman/kardon LOGIC7® audio system (£790) – the world’s first car factory fit audio system with certified Dolby Digital 5.1 status. Also featuring DTS, 14 speakers and 600 watts of amplification, the system takes in-car entertainment to another level.

Analogue and digital television is available for £820, and offers (when stationary) crystal clear free-to-air TV channels. A six-disc DVD changer is available for £530 and, if coupled with the surround sound system, brings a touch of the cinema to the car.

The relaxation continues with advanced multi-contour massaging seats – front £880, rear £880. As well as adjusting a number of ways to find the perfect level of support, there are four massage programs that give a realistic massage, thanks to their in-built piezo motors.

Full pricing, specification and option details are listed at the end of the release.