Mercedes' new flagship is brimming with technology, power and luxury – lots of luxury
Class of Its Own PHOTO: TORQUE

As limousines go, the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a stunner. Its design
is sporty, contemporary and well proportioned, hiding the bulk of the 5.2 metres-long sedan well. The variant with AMG bodykit is especially alluring. But even without, the latest flagship is likely to stand out in traffic. Its lights, powered completely by LEDs, are the prettiest you will ever see.

Yet, it is not easy to fall head over heels with the new German saloon. Perhaps it has to do with the rushed schedule and relatively short time we had with it (Singapore journalists spent more than 40 hours in the air and only about four hours in the test cars).

Then again, Mercs seldom make you swoon immediately. The last one was perhaps the classic 300SL Gullwing. Rather, cars from the Stuttgart stable
have a way of growing on you, evoking a slow burn that takes up to a year to set your heart aglow. I suspect this barge of a vehicle is no exception.

The car is bigger than its predecessor, but much of the expansion lies with longer overhangs. The S500L's "long" wheelbase remains unchanged at 3165mm. Elsewhere, the four-door is slightly wider and taller.

The cabin has been configured for more space, though. In front, you will notice the chasm between you and the next seat. But it is in the second row that you will find the biggest improvement – legroom is fantastic, especially when you recline the rear seats.

Those seats can go almost flat, like those in the discontinued Maybach (Daimler's failed "Roller"). Get the front passenger seat out of the way, flip down a padded footrest, and you are in Business Class. Soft, fluffy cushions strapped onto the rear headrests complete the experience.

The boot is 30 litres smaller than before, largely on account of the reclining rear seats. And if the car is fitted with the highend Burmester hi-fi (which is expected to be a $50,000 option in Singapore), the width of the cargo compartment is also compromised. Nevertheless, Mercedes says it is still possible to stow four golf bags in the trunk, although at a glance, it doesn't look feasible.

Mercedes could, of course, have made an even bigger car. But as it is, the new S500 is already tipping the scales at more than two tonnes, despite having a lightweight aluminium body (a first for the S) and a
smaller-capacity, more efficient engine.

The weight comes from an epic list of luxury and safety features. There
are more than 100 motors and servos on board, and practically everything is automated. Besides the now common soft-closing doors, the boot lid can now be opened, paused and closed with a "kick" function. Even the rear seatbelt buckles are motorised. Those reclining rear seats are not only ventilated, they have massage functions that Osim would
approve of.

The S-Class has always been in the forefront of safety, but the new model takes it a notch higher. As with comfort, the focus is now on the rear occupants. Their seats come with "beltbags", which inflate to minimise bruising when they are activated in an impact. But even before impact, the seatbelts tighten, and the anchors retract by 44mm, pulling occupants away from the point of impact. Airbags within the thigh support of the rear seats also infl ate to prevent occupants from submarining. These are costly features, which will have to be replaced once activated. They are commensurate with the nett worth of probable passengers, I guess.

The most impressive safety features actually guide the car so that it doesn't get into an accident. My favourite is the latest version of Distronic, a radar-guided adaptive cruise control that Mercedes-Benz
introduced 15 years ago in its S-Class two generations prior. The latest version ties up with the car's electric steering system, as well as its brakes. It allows the S-Class to operate semi-autonomously under certain
conditions. What exactly those conditions are remain unclear, as this test-drive was too short.

But along a country road leading to picturesque Lake Muskoka, the S500 showed off its wizardry by keeping a constant distance from the vehicle ahead as it traced a right sweeper up a gentle incline. All without steering input.

It was unable to repeat the feat, though. The all-digital instrumentation
kept prompting me to take control of the steering each of the subsequent
times I tried to get the car into its smart "self-drive" mode.Not wanting to argue with something that probably has more computing power than the grey matter between my ears, I complied.

The new S-Class is so clever, it is able to adjust its suspension to suit the road ahead – the result of a technology it first unveiled in 2008. Called Magic Body Control, it uses scanners to detect changes in road contour, and adjusts its suspension accordingly. The system works
brilliantly in a special circuit, where the car went over a sizeable hump at 30km/h with nary a jolt. But in the real world, its benefits are less obvious – travelling at speed over rough roads in Toronto still elicited the occasional faint rattle in the cabin. In fact, the ride quality of the turbodiesel S350 not fitted with Magic Body Control seemed a tad better.

At the wheel, the S-Class has never been a driving enthusiast's car. This one is no different, even if it is somewhat more enjoyable on account of its effortless powertrain (first sampled in the SL500 roadster) and
superior refinement.

Its two-spoke steering wheel harks back to the golden age of motoring, and its electric steering system is amazingly communicative and responsive. The 4.7-litre V8 S500 is also perceptibly quicker than before, clocking a sizzling 4.8-second dash to 100km/h.

The diesel S350, which will arrive here with the petrol S500 and petrol-electric hybrid S400 in the fourth quarter, is truly impressive. It behaves almost like a petrol saloon, with no detectable diesel chatter. That's quite an achievement, considering how intrinsically quiet the S-Class is. Indeed, this is a limo you can conceivably love, given time.

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This article first appeared in the September 2013 issue of Torque.


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