THERE'S THE SLIGHTEST styling influence of the premium Maybach brand in the new Mercedes-Benz S500L. Both marques are owned by DaimlerChrysler but, despite that resemblance, the big saloon won't be mistaken for anything other than a Mercedes. That's good, for the German carmakers will be keen to avoid controversial styling in its top models, something it succumbed to with its chunky, complex W140 Series two generations ago. The new, biggest Benz in the general range replaces a model series that Mercedes claims is the world No1 in the luxury class, with about 500,000 units sold. The S-Class tested here is the long-wheelbase S500LV8 (fitted with a 5.5-litre V8 engine) that distributor Zung Fu is selling for HK$1.58 million inclusive of on-road costs in Hong Kong. Standard equipment for the S500L is extensive. Highlights include separate climate control for rear-seat passengers, electronic seat adjustment, auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, airbags front and side, Comand eight-inch display and DVD player, Speedtronic cruise control, parking sensors, glass sunroof, air suspension, rain-sensing wipers and Bi-xenon headlights. Our test car has heated and fan-cooled seats front and rear, and a night view assist system. The new limousine is larger than its predecessor. There is a choice of two body lengths, either 5.076 metres or 5.206 metres long - 33mm and 43mm longer, respectively, than the previous S-Class. The wheelbase ratio on the two models has also increased, by 70mm and 80mm to 3.035 metres and 3.165 metres. In addition, the body is now 16mm wider and 29mm higher than before. Even though it seems big on first acquaintance, the S-Class soon melts around you and once you're familiar with it, can be threaded through traffic with ease. Inside, it's pure quality. The leather-stitched dashboard cover and the wood veneer with satin and chrome interior is beautifully finished, although I'd be happy to lose the veneer on the steering wheel. Unlike the much-criticised BMW i-Drive system, the Mercedes Comand central control knob actually works - after a few days practice. The doors have heavy hydraulic struts in place of door catches. These are calibrated so that when pressure on a door is released, it will stay open in that position. Loading up for a weekend away, the requirements of a family of three soon fill the S-Class boot. The S500 is fitted with a new 5.5-litre V8 with 285 kW. Maximum torque is 530Nm, available between 2,800 and 4,800rpm. The car accelerates from zero to 100km/h in a claimed 5.4 seconds. That's a bold claim: it is almost supercar quick and quite an achievement for a two tonne-plus saloon. Yet, when accelerating at full throttle from rest to merge with one of Canberra's 100km/h freeways, the Benz catches me by surprise. Conversation in the car stops, the scenery blurs, the engine powering through a seven-speed ZF automatic gearbox with a glorious wail and the fluid urgency that only a highly strung V8 can produce. This power house is also capable of dawdling along in traffic without complaint. The big Mercedes feels adept on the road with its combination of ballistic acceleration, assertive braking and stable dynamics. Height-adjustable air suspension can be difficult to engineer properly for a smooth ride yet on the S-Class it has succeeded in providing a fantastic ride. The new saloon's optional night view assist (HK$17,000) uses an infra-red light camera on the car's nose to reproduce an image on a screen readout in the dashboard to look beyond the view of the headlights, Benz claiming as far as 160 metres ahead. With a flick of the headlight rotary dial, the screen appears, covering the speedo needle in the instrument cluster. The speedometer adopts a bar graph-style readout while the main screen readout converts into a display of the dark road ahead. While the screen cannot be relied on alone for night-time driving (its narrow field is disconcerting to view, for starters) it provides an excellent view beyond the range of the Bi-xenons, already one of the best lights on the market. In Australia there will be plenty of drivers who will appreciate this technology to help avoid kangaroo strikes, but even on a dark Canberra street I was able to view a garbage bin tipped over onto the road well before it came into view of the headlights. This technology may be in its infancy but it is certainly no gimmick. A technology tour de force, the new S-Class is a highly competent saloon that could do with more comfortable front seats and a bigger load space. But these are minor irritations in a highly sophisticated, luxurious car. No wonder up to 1,045 S-Classes were delivered in Hong Kong in 2006. They make bosses look very swish.