When it comes to premium, out-of-reach-of-nearly-everyone ways of travel, there are three simple tiers or classes. There’s Business Class, then comes First Class, and the top-drawer, the S-Class. The latter further restricts the mode of transport to four wheels only; it’s manufactured only by a German carmaker that goes by the name Mercedes-Benz, and it is very aptly called the S-Class, too. Wonder how they came up with that, but it is, let me assure you, the epitome of leisurely travel — without the wastefulness of a short-haul flight or worse, a luxury cruiseliner. We took a Mercedes-Benz S-Class on a road trip from Mumbai to Goa and back to experience it the way it’s intended to be used.
It’s not unusual for flagship luxury sedans like the S-Class to be driven by the owner. While that might still be a rare sight in India, not everyone abroad wants to delegate the driving duties to their chauffeur always. The back seat is definitely the place to be with all the space one could ask for, multiple massage options, and a plethora of features, but as an ardent Mercedes-Benz aficionado and a firm believer that there’s nothing more fun in this whole wide world than driving, I was pretty clear where I would sit for the next 1250km or so.
Goa and Bombay might be separated by 600km but it doesn’t feel that long because of the inter-infiltration of culture, and since it’s common for Mumbai dwellers to spend their weekends in Goa, in my mind, a 12-hour-long drive to spend only a few hours in Goa is not unusual. In the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, that distance seems to be reduced further because of how well the car drives. Not a surprise, though, considering if one weren’t as lucky as myself to masquerade all of this as work, they’d have to spend nearly Rs 2 crores to enjoy a drive like this. We started at around 4 a.m. because anything later would have hampered the drive as traffic tends to build up. And while that wouldn’t have made an iota of difference in the S-Class, I still would’ve needed to be careful of overenthusiastic mortals who would want to creep towards the car just to get a glimpse of a possible celebrity sat in the back seat. While negotiating traffic wouldn’t be as much of an issue, I was concerned that the onlookers might get disappointed by the absence of anyone in the rear seat, and my silly mug (a very content one though) would infuriate them even further.
In the first 20 minutes of driving, it was clear that the air suspension just about decimates the majority of speed bumps and potholes. One needs to lower the car’s speed to cross the slightly taller speed breakers, but with the ability to raise the suspension, it was a breeze. The next 20 minutes had another surprise coming my way: that the S-Class was nearly as easy to manoeuvre as the current E-Class, despite the Indian-assembled media loaner not having rear-wheel steering. A few kilometres down the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and another aspect of the S-Class surfaced: its natural use case isn’t in doing intra-city runs ferrying high-profile customers to board meetings and back, but rather in gobbling miles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, on well-paved motorways.
The early start enabled us to drive peacefully without worrying about the imminent traffic in Pune. We crossed Pune before the rush hour began; and then came Satara, followed by Kolhapur, and eventually as we crossed over to Karnataka, we were greeted by sights of signboards signifying that we had made it to Nipani. Goa is a little over three hours away from here, and Nipani offers you one of the entry points to Goa. On all my previous drives to Goa, I had veered off the track and would often encounter less-than-perfect roads. While the S-Class had been flawless until now, I didn’t want a bad experience of scraping the car’s underside.
We skipped going into Sawantwadi and took the road that would lead us to Banda and eventually Goa. At the time of the drive, which was just after the local Goan elections, the route we took had well-paved tarmac for the most part, with only a handful of sections where due to the ongoing roadwork, the S-Class had to be driven at a fairly scary slope downwards and then climb back up. It cleared all of that, without throwing the slightest of a fit. Although, it did give me a mini heart attack, when only a few minutes later, as I was trying to overtake a ridiculously slow-moving truck in the twisties, its autonomous emergency braking system triggered, had a pretty significant brain fart, and with all its braking might, stopped the car. All of this happened as I had committed to overtaking the said lorry. It was close, but a few swipes on the infotainment screen’s menu and the system was given a break for the rest of the drive.
But it wouldn’t have been a fun drive, had I not witnessed the inescapable charm that the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has even as it was made to look for consecutive apices, almost endlessly. The steering is responsive but not communicative, which, to a large extent, is understandable. The suspension copes up with basic direction changes and still offers a good, confident turn-in. The 3.0-litre straight-six makes about 284hp and 600Nm, and the latter is pretty evident when leaving one corner and going into the next one. This one’s a rear-wheel drive and the nine-speed gearbox appears to be tuned well for everything one would usually ask of this luxury sedan. I’m not sure if anyone would want to take their S-Class to the tight bylanes of Goa but with the help of the onboard cameras, that too becomes a doddle.
By around 5:30 p.m., we made it to our hotel for the night. Considering the following day was going to be a repeat of this but in reverse (the events and not the gear), I wanted to rejuvenate. Some may suggest going to one of the beaches for that, walking through the villages or maybe visiting Fontainhas, or just finding a good eatery, grabbing a beer and relaxing. Which sounds great, but then, so is driving around Goa in the S-Class, and it was pretty much a no-brainer.
We stayed at Casa Menezes, a 300-year-old home converted into a heritage hotel by de Menezes family, which also houses one of the oldest MINIs in the country. The surroundings are peaceful, and since it’s just about 15km away from Panjim, everything is well within reach. There’s a lot to like about the local architecture, the European influence on the culture and food, and most importantly, how the Goans have managed to keep the Indo-Portuguese heritage intact.
The other European parked on the property’s drive has a similar story. It’s gone through multiple changes over the years, but it still has whatever it takes to be the best — most definitely Mercedes-Benz’s best. The first car to be called the S-Class was launched 50 years ago, so it’s pretty evident that the 223-series Mercedes-Benz S-Class has a lot of responsibility on its shoulders. And it’s equipped enough to make you dispel any doubts that you have. It’s an undeniably pretty car launched when people (no matter how rich) tend to reach for tall, ungainly SUVs as their everyday runabouts. When all they’d ever need in a luxury car is quite possibly present in the S-Class; from the never-ending list of massages for the rear passengers to the ability to transport its occupants in the creme-de-la-creme of travel: the Sonderklasse.
Prices start at Rs 1.6 crore (ex-showroom, India)