Synergy. I have a love-hate relationship with this word, whose meaning is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. However, I have no choice but to use it in the context of the Mercedes S560 4Matic, and I will return to this at the end.
Cars wearing the three-pointed star figured prominently in my teenage years in Singapore. In those days Mercedes was revered for making cars that were over-engineered, but at the same time they had a rather stodgy image that was the exact antithesis of the Italian marques from over the Alps.
In 1970 my uncle acquired a dark blue Mercedes 600. In 1973 a family friend who was a prominent local doctor often visited us in his 280SE 3.5, and in 1982, a few months after the W126 was launched, a 380SE sat in our driveway. Mercedes V8 power was thus very much part of my life as a teenage car enthusiast.
Fast Forward to 1991 and when I drove the 600SEL on the W140 launch in the South of France, the all-new 408hp V12 flagship impressed as a mailed fist in a velvet glove with the greatest cylinder count and power and torque levels ever seen in a production Mercedes saloon.
At the time the M120 6.0-litre, 48-valve, DOHC V12 motor was glorious excess in a car launched into the teeth of an economic downturn. The Mercedes 600SE/L would not be properly appreciated until years later when the world had returned to some semblance of normality.
In the meantime the powerful V12 engine was a tuners dream, and I tested increasingly powerful iterations up to and including the Brabus S-Class, SL and ML powered by their bombastic 582hp 7.3S litre. The experience was adrenalin fuelling, g-force challenging, and mildly ludicrous all in one hit. However, I never knew just how good this engine could sound until Horacio Pagani installed the AMG-built single-throttle-per-cylinder 7.3 litre version in the Zonda F.
As with any car balance plays a significant role in the S-Class, and indeed the CL and SL models that share most of its engines. The long and heavy V12, whether the naturally-aspirated M120 or the current bi-turbo M275/M277/M279 range, puts significant weight in the nose where it is least desirable, especially when the host vehicle has to dispense its huge output through just the rear wheels. This makes the V12-powered cars long distance champions rather than twisty road sprinters.
In the overall scheme of things V8 power strikes the perfect balance between the six-cylinder and V12 motors. The debut of the new 3,982cc M176 bi-turbo, direct-injection V8 motor also prompted the revival of the 560 label, a number not seen in the Mercedes range since 1986, when the 560SEL was launched as the new flagship of the revised W126 range.
Adding the optional 4Matic to the current S560 is icing on the cake, and all-wheel-drive perfectly dispenses the 462hp and 700Nm of torque in all weather conditions. Note that this is way more than the 408hp and 580Nm of torque developed by the M120 6.0 litre V12.
The close ratios of the latest 9G-Tronic automatic, and the total traction of 4Matic ensure that 0-100km/h is clocked in 4.7 seconds. The counterpoint is that a steady 160km/h (100mph) cruise in top gear registers just 1,900rpm on the rev counter, which helps both economy and refinement.
To put this in perspective I averaged 10.8 L/100km over 600km of driving in mixed conditions, including some rapid autobahn work. Although the official number is 7.8 L/100km this is still a decent number for a car of this size, weight and performance.
In the Mercedes portfolio only the equivalent Mercedes-Maybach and the S-Class Coupe register a lower interior decibel count. The former uses special tyres with internal foam bands and extra cabin insulation to slice away the decibels, while the Coupe reaps the benefit of its pillar-less side windows and 6.0mm thick double-glazing.