S is for special features – and Mercedes class
Mercedes has used its know-how to create an S-Class with a range of amazing extras
Date Reviewed: July 1, 2013
A long, black Mercedes-Benz S-Class has long been favoured by dictators – Robert Mugabe’s is reportedly so heavily armoured that it requires its own fuel truck to follow it on longer trips – and by bankers who want to slip quietly from airport to skyscraper to mansion. So, in tough times, should the rest of us care that an all-new S-Class has arrived?
Yes we should. As the pinnacle of the Mercedes-Benz range, the S-Class gets everything this storied carmaker knows about carmaking. Previous generations of S-Class have helped pioneer safety systems we now take for granted on humbler cars, such as anti-lock brakes and stability control.
When you read about the extraordinary safety features on this new S-Class, you might wonder why Mercedes is going to so much trouble to save the lives of rich folk. But keep in mind that many of these features are so expensive that they have to be cost options even on the pricey flagship model. Putting them into production here starts the process of getting that price down, and getting them into more cars.
But the S-Class is a luxury car first, so let’s see how Mercedes has done in that regard. Externally, the new car is handsome, well-resolved but subtle. Inside, the new S is simply beautiful, its cabin executed with a verve and wit that reflects the fact that China is now the biggest market for this car, and that the average age of its customers there is just 35. Highlights include the intricate filigree finish of the aluminium covers of the optional Burmester audio system, and the LED cabin lighting which seems to pour from every crevice in your choice of acid-trip purples and reds, or cooler tones if you prefer. In fact, the S-Class is the first car to switch wholly to LEDs for its lighting, inside and out: there isn’t a light-bulb to be found in it.
But the back seats are arguably the most important in an S-Class. Here, the accommodation has gone fully first-class, with the option of two individual rear chairs, the one behind the passenger seat stretching out airline-style with a calf-rest, the seat in front motoring out of your way. Optional screens can play movies, but also display the same kind of “in-flight” information about your journey as you find on a plane. Stretch out back here and you keep expecting a stewardess to appear at your shoulder with champagne and mini-pretzels.
It’s easy to forget that under all the gadgetry and luxury, there’s still a car down there. The oily bits are as impressive as ever; we tried the 455bhp, 4663cc V8-powered S500, which displayed the seamless, surging acceleration needed to outrun those pesky rebels, but with a refinement that ensures your phone call to the Swiss banker who’s hiding your funds isn’t interrupted. There will also be a 258bhp diesel from launch, and a 333bhp 3498cc petrol-electric hybrid that emits just 148g/km, on a par with cars two classes below. Higher-powered V12 and AMG-tuned versions will follow.
The ride is even more impressive: cloud-like air springs are standard, but the optional Magic Body Control system is new and frankly weird. It uses two “stereo” cameras to read the road ahead, spot obstacles such as speed bumps, and control the suspension to allow the S to glide over them as if they weren’t there. Rolls-Royces ride very well, but an S-class equipped with this system is just in a different league.
Airbags in seatbelts
And what of those safety systems? This car is so safe it now has airbags in the seatbelts. It can detect a car approaching too fast from behind, and prepare itself and you for a rear-end collision. It can see a child in the road ahead and stop itself. It can even spot, in the dark, a human or animal that seems to be moving across your path, and tell the difference between the two, flashing its headlights at the human, but not the animal, which might be startled and freeze. There are far too many other safety features to list here – you’d have to be remarkably foolhardy to have an accident in this car.
Apologies if this sounds a bit breathless and gushing. The majority of S-Classes will be finished in a sober black inside and out and won’t get more than a couple of these options. But it’s hard not to be impressed by a carmaker at the peak of its game making the very best car it can, and hard not to be excited by the preview it offers of features we’ll all soon enjoy.
OUR VERDICT It’s hard not to be impressed by a carmaker at the peak of its game making the very best car it can
The lowdown: Mercedes-Benz S500L
4663cc V8 putting out 455bhp at 5250rpm and 700Nm of torque at 1800-3500rpm