FIVE YEARS AFTER its launch in 1998, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is not content with ageing gracefully. It has had a facelift. The saloon's new grille is slightly larger; its horizontal ribs are steeper; the central air intake on the front air dam is wider and the corner spoilers are meatier. The bi-Xenon headlights now rest behind crystal-clear lenses and the lustrous reflectors make the car's front look sharp and focused. At the back, the rear light clusters now have multiple horizontal elements and hidden is a new boot-lid handle that automatically slides out at the touch of a button and retreats back when locked - to keep the handle away from road dirt when not in use. The indicator-within-the-side-mirror device that started a wave of imitators now incorporates a bottom ambient light that helps night-time entry, as in the E-Class. There are subtle improvements in the interior, too. The door-side armrests are softer; the front central armrest now features a split lid and additional chrome strips. The centre console has a larger (16.5cm) COMMAND system display and new switchgear and the saloon's new front seats are of a softer foam and offer a pulsating massage function. Though the interiors of newer Mercedes models may be more glittery and extravagant, the S-Class' elegance still takes my breath away. The new Pre-Safe technology is impressive, too. Mercedes-Benz says that in up to two-thirds of all crashes, drivers have a few critical seconds in which they can avoid an accident and brace for impact. The S-Class' Pre-Safe facilities assist the driver to make the most of that time, by orchestrating brake assist, anti-lock braking and electronic stability program technology to predict the severity of an impending accident; tightening up the seatbelt tensioners and returning all seats to their optimal safety positions. The seats' travels are then adjusted according to the occupants' weight classes, and the two-stage front airbags adapt and deploy. The marque's Pre-Safe sensors can also tell the sunroof to close if the car turns over. The S350 replaces the previous base model, the S320, with Mercedes-Benz's enlargement of its V6 engine from 3.2 litres to 3.7 litres (note the 350 insignia no longer has any relation to the engine's displacement). The model's drive is now 245 brake horsepower at 5,700rpm, up from 224hp, with a maximum torque of 350Nm, an 11 per cent increase, between 3,000rpm and 4,500rpm. While the marque says fuel consumption remains the same, at 11.1 litres per 100km, the S350 can accelerate from a standstill to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds, 0.6 of a second faster than the S320. The latest model can also hit 246km/h, 6km/h faster than before. The S350 feels quite adequate in its straight-line performance. The car is pushy, whatever the rev range, and shows its brisk pace as it accelerates from a standing start from the Tsing Ma Bridge tollbooth to a breezy 110km/h. The S350's torque output is particularly strong at mid-range and benign on the ear in cruising. But if you put your foot down you will hear a naughty snarl. I notice the high-speed stability of the S-Class has been improved too. While there is no change to the basic front double-wishbone, rear multi-link suspension set-up, the electronically controlled adaptive damping system can now automatically lower the ride height by a centimetre twice, either at 120km/h and 160km/h in the Comfort mode, or at 110km/h and 150km/h in the Sport mode. I enjoy switching between the two suspension modes on the move but note its effect is not as obvious as the more hi-tech air suspension in the E-Class. The S350 is a blissful drive: it cruises gently and handles beautifully, as you might expect for a car costing $923,000 (from Zung Fu, tel: 2895 7288). But the Mercedes-Benz S350 can take more poundings than most of the owners care to explore. The S-Class has always been a benchmark of automotive taste among the affluent, but its most worthy opponent, the BMW 7-Series, brims with the latest technology. However, the Pearl River Delta's more conventional high flyers may still prefer the S-Class' classy and stately demeanour to the comparatively racy looking top-of-the-range BMW. And with its new cosmetic modifications, the S350 can bask in admiring glances in Central and exude confidence on the open roads of southern China.