On the inside, though, the Mercedes has plenty of material richness and acres of space, and it has taken on a conspicuous amount of digital display technology intended to win back customers who’ve had their head turned by Tesla over the past 10 years. It’s a touch roomier and airier-feeling than the Bentley, and has better visibility and a bigger boot.
On some level this is a working car, whereas the Bentley is much more of an indulgence. You can tell the difference. There’s an honesty and a bit less imposing grandeur about the Mercedes; you wouldn’t feel quite as much need to put on a jacket and tie to drive it – although, funnily enough, I suppose a great many will.
Not all of the car’s ‘digital improvements’ are worth their place, though, even if their adoption is somewhat inevitable in the coming luxury epoch of the over-the-air update. There’s an upsized augmented reality head-up display and a set of 3D digital instruments, which between them can rather bombard and confuse your eyeballs with all kinds of information you may or may not feel you need.
The fascia is dominated by a square, 12.9in touchscreen infotainment system that seems to awkwardly displace some of the fittings around it, and which is raked just far enough from the vertical to reflect light admitted by the nearside windows directly at the driver’s face. All are included for ‘wow’ factor, really – not, I suspect, because they make the S-Class easier to operate on any level.
Plainly, Mercedes thinks S-Class owners and drivers want more digital tech at almost any cost. To be fair, you do learn to adapt the car’s settings so that you don’t get bamboozled by pointing navigation arrows and holographic wizardry when at the wheel. You get used to the touchscreen controls for so many things, too; I wouldn’t choose them, but I could learn to live with them.
Maybe that was why, at the end of our test, it wasn’t actually all the new cabin technology that seemed to sell the S-Class short. Compared with the Flying Spur, it was actually the cabin materials. The Bentley’s knurled, mirror-chrome air vents, switches and fittings just look so good; their temperature, texture and solidity all make them a rare treat to the touch, too. Its leathers are beautifully soft and add an opulent finish wherever they’re used (which is almost everywhere there isn’t real chrome or wood). If you don’t like the ‘drinks cabinet’ walnut veneer, there’s quite the array of alternatives. Inside and out, almost every inch of the car both looks and feels really quite lavish.