Wellness on wheels: are you ready for in-car spa experiences? 

Mercedes Benz S Class
Mercedes Benz S Class

“Level Five” they call it. It’s the apogee of the autonomous driving movement, the moment when you’ll be able not just to take your hands off the wheel and your feet off the pedals, but actually leave the the driver’s seat altogether and go take a nap in the back. It’s when a car can do everything a driver might normally be expected to do.

Personally I’m looking forward less to a nap more to reading the newspaper on the M25 when the time arrives. Every concept we've ever seen for a Level Five category of car is packed with screens precisely at a time when (and I don’t know about you) I’m increasingly looking for opportunities not to look at a screen.

The new car comes complete with a "wellness centre"

I was then rather pleased that with the release of its made-over Maybachs and S-Class’, Mercedes-Benz, the makers of the most autonomous cars you can currently buy have taken a different route to. What to do with all that spare time the new car experience will afford you? It’s simply; in-car spas.

The car features a variety of scents to suit your mood

Well, not exactly; Benz’s Energising Comfort Control option is the automotive business’s first attempt at a “wellness experience”, some years after the notion entered the world of hospitality. When the sixth generation S-class first entered production three years ago (the “new” car is in fact a mid-life facelift) it introduced the idea of “fragrancing”, little spritzes of scent when sensors detected that the inside was getting a little sniffy or stale. (And, rather more seriously, if they thought you might be getting sleepy after a while - the BMW M760iL I drove the other week did this also; it’s a good thing).

The in-car experience is tantamount in the new model

In the new Benz, this concept is taken to the next level and the fragrances are programmed to work in harmony with the seat and steering wheel heaters (old tech), the door panel heaters (new), the seat massage programmes (middle aged), the programmable mood lighting (defiantly 21st-century tech) and - and here’s the kicker - the car’s music system. Local laws permitting, it’s the next best thing to driving in fresh, fluffy bath robe.

There are a number of settings; “freshness”, “warmth”, “vitality”, “joy”, “comfort” and “training” -  which comes with its own sub-menu depending on whether you are going to or coming from the gym - and one called “balance”, which I can only guess is for when you’re only saying you’re going to/coming from the gym. Choose your setting and the new S-Class will assault all your senses, bar taste. But give that one time.

Settings veer from scents to wake you up to more sedate fragrances

This being Mercedes’ flagship car, the world’s best-selling limousine and for many generations a harbinger of technologies to come, it does feature some rather more serious new technology also, including the first in a new generation of straight six cylinder engines, abandoned for V6 engines back in the late 90s. The first of the new engines are diesels - the most powerful in Benz’s history - but there are mild-hybrid petrol engines to come and even a plug-in hybrid. Further up the range a new four-litre, biturbo V8 picks up a name famous from S-Class history - S560. Above that sit eight and 12 cylinder AMGs.

The Mercedes Benz S Class

The little steps towards autonomous control are packaged under the Distronic Active Proximity Assist and Active Steer Assist, which now uses map and navigation as well scanning and visual data allowing the car a greater degree of anticipation of corners and junctions. There’s no leaving the driver’s seat yet though, although you can ask the car to park itself via a smartphone app once you have reached your destination.

Visually the facelift cars, on sale in the UK this summer, are distinguished by a new daylight running graphic in the headlamps, much bigger air intakes in the front bumper and, one assumes, clearly blissed out drivers at the wheel.