Motoring: The Independent Road Test: If you've got it, try not to flaunt it: Roger Bell finds Mercedes-Benz's attempt at restraint not altogether convincing

Mercedes-Benz's big luxury saloons have not been enjoying an easy ride. No matter how next year's rumoured facelift may try to camouflage their size, the S-class models will continue to flaunt conspicuous consumption. Such gross extravagance is a wonderful indulgence for those with the means (and contempt for the greens). As a marketing approach, however, it has lost its edge.

Big, thirsty leviathans were the first to suffer in the recession. (Mercedes was once reported to be sitting on an unsold S-class stockpile of more than 16,000 cars.) Britain's new price-based taxation system for company cars has now dealt another body blow to the luxury market, just when the economy was showing signs of recovery.

Mercedes's latest S-class model seeks to reverse these setbacks via a more parsimonious approach. Price, weight and consumption are down, though the car's bloated appearance remains. The S280 does not come cheap at pounds 38,050, especially as many items of equipment (powered seats, radio and sunroof, for example) cost extra. Dip into the options list and the price could easily soar to pounds 45,000 or more.

At more than 37cwt, the S280 is still no lightweight, either. It is, however, quite modestly powered by a 2.8-litre, six-cylinder engine identical to that in smaller siblings. If not exactly frugal, the S280 is at least less thirsty than the faster pounds 45,000 S320, the next model up in an S-class range which passes via the S500 to the mighty pounds 93,480 S600 limousine, powered by a gas-guzzling 6.0-

litre V12.

Performance is effortlessly sedate rather than scintillating, though the S280 will cruise the (unrestricted) autobahns at a fussless 120mph, the minimum demanded by many German drivers. Silky quietness, rather than vigour, is the refined engine's forte. The smooth-changing four-speed automatic transmission shifts almost imperceptibly, but even when switched to the sportier programme, a heavy foot on the accelerator is required to provoke a downshift.

Better response (and marginally better economy) comes with the optional five-speed auto. Manual transmission is not available.

Obesity and agility are usually incompatible. Not here. For a big, smooth-riding car with accomplished, comfort-biased suspension, the composed S280 handles remarkably well. It belies its girth and weight with a niftiness through the corners that encourages press-on driving. Steering is sharp, body control impeccable, stability reassuring and braking strong. Despite modest power and great mass, the S280 is far from boring to drive: chauffeurs will enjoy themselves. Only when manoeuvring is the car's size an embarrassment (guide rods pop out in reverse to aid parking).

It is not, however, free of minor irritations. The wiper switch is an ergonomic nonsense, and rear three-quarter visibility is bad. The traditional foot-applied, hand-released parking brake - a sop to the Americans - is a clumsy affair, too.

To ride in, the S280 is as cosseting as any rival. Up front, the cabin is so wide that the armrests are too far away to use comfortably. In the back, there is room for three long-legged passengers to lounge in comfort. Heavy sound insulation, backed by double-glazed windows (virtually immune to misting), restrict noise levels to a background murmur. Even this, the cheapest S-class model, is sumptuously trimmed and furnished (though leather upholstery is an expensive option). Standard equipment includes two airbags, anti-lock brakes, and walnut veneer.

Brief acquaintance rarely does justice to a Mercedes-Benz, least of all the compromised S280, which endeavours to provide top-drawer luxury in a cut-price package. You need to live with a car like this, ideally for years, to appreciate fully its quality and strength.

SPECIFICATIONS

Mercedes-Benz S280, pounds 38,050 ( pounds 40,950 as tested)

Engine: 2,799cc, six cylinders in line, 193bhp at 5,500rpm. Transmission: four-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive. Performance (claimed): 0-60mph in 10.5 seconds, top speed 131mph. Touring consumption: 23.5mpg.

COMPARISONS

Audi A8 2.8 V6, price to be announced

New front-wheel-drive luxury car, coming soon, with revolutionary aluminium spaceframe chassis and body. Performance and economy benefit from huge weight saving. Very smooth, quiet and refined: both 2.8 and more powerful 4.2 V8 with four-wheel drive have won rave reviews.

BMW 730iSE, price to be announced

Conservative new model, on sale soon, camouflages its size better than the Mercedes. Super- smooth V8 engine, but weight blunts performance. Nice to drive, beautifully made and finished, lots of goodies and gadgets. The faster, 740i version is more satisfying.

Jaguar XJ6 4.0S, pounds 34,950

New Audi and BMW expose Jaguar's age but have done nothing to dim its strength of character. Not as roomy in the back as its rivals, and not quite as refined under the bonnet, either. Price, performance and panache are main advantages over the roomier, clinically superior Mercedes.

Lexus LS400, pounds 42,863

Scourge of Europe's grandees despite undistinguished pedigree and styling. Produced by luxury division of Toyota, comfortable LS400 is uncannily smooth, quiet and refined. Strong performance from V8 engine, impeccable build quality. Consistently tops US customer-satisfaction polls.

(Photograph omitted)

Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    English Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day + Pay between ?110 - ?130 Day: Randstad Education Cardiff:...

    SAP Deployment Manager

    £480 per day + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Deployment Manager-Ta...

    Microsoft Dynamics CRM Consultant

    £50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Urgently seeking a Dynam...

    Test Lead - Financial Reporting - Banking - London

    £350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: Test Lead, London, Banking, Financial Reporting, ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game