Mercedes-Benz S-Class heralds the future of cars for years to come

Mercedes-Benz S-Class heralds the future of cars for years to come.

Look at a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class today and you’re getting a glimpse into the cars you may be driving yourself in five to ten years time. The timing depends on your budget, if you don’t have upwards of $215,000 in your automotive budget today, you will have to wait. But rest assured that many of the safety features in the big Benz will be standard in $14,990 cars one day.

We have been watching the new S-Class carefully, starting with its launch in Hamburg, where we witnessed its spectacular global unveiling; then at a more modest affair at the RACV Motorclassica in Melbourne when the S-Class was first shown in Australia a couple of weeks back.

Mercedes-Benz_S-Class_rearNow we have finally got behind the wheel – but not before spending time being chauffeured in the back seat. Driving comments later, but let’s examine the car in detail first.

We haven’t been impressed by some S-Class designs in recent years, but this all-new one has excellent styling. Elegant with a touch of aggression, the big Mercedes looks superb on the outside and positively luxurious inside its large cabin. Seating is provided for five, but we expect that four – with the centre-rear armrest folded down – is a more likely use for the majority of owners.

Mercedes-Benz_S-Class_interiorThe biggest feature of the interior is the huge display screens. They cover about two-thirds of the width of the dashboard; other makers seem to be apologetic about their screens, but Mercedes obviously see them as the way of the future.

High quality materials are used throughout and there are multiple trim, colour and finish options on offer. Perhaps set up an appointment at your favourite Benz dealer to personalise the car, but be sure to make it a long meeting because there’s plenty of choose from.

Ambient lighting is a major feature, but we have yet to see this at night and look forward to doing so when we can borrow a car to spend a week testing in your home area.

Two engines are offered in standard Australian S-Class models at this stage, with a third option on the hot AMG variants. The S350 has a 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel with 190 kW of power and 620 Nm of torque. Its official fuel consumption rating is just 6.0 litres per hundred kilometres – amazingly low for a car of this size and performance.

The Mercedes S500 has a 4.7-litre turbo-petrol engine with 335 kW and 700 Nm. The S63 AMG produces a huge 430 kW and 900 Nm from its bi-turbo 5.5 litres.

All three sit in front of seven-speed automatic transmissions, but the one in the Merc AMG uses the high-performance SpeedShift unit for even sharper changes.

To try to avoid crashes, Mercedes-Benz S-Class monitors 360 degrees around itself and alerts the driver to possible dangers. If the driver ignores the alerts or doesn’t take sufficient action the car will take control and brake and/or steer its way clear. If that’s not enough it will do everything it can to mitigate the collision forces.

Mercedes is quick to point out all these features should not be regarded as an excuse for driver inattention, saying the responsibility always remains with the person behind the steering wheel.

Safety belts in the outboard rear seats of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class have inbuilt airbags as an option. These expand the width and depth of the belt during a crash to not only provide better protection, but also to minimise belt bruising. The airbag safety belts aren’t required in the front seats as the occupants are protected by the conventional front ‘bags.

Mercedes S-Class has no conventional light globes. Instead it uses hundreds of LED lights which use about a quarter of the energy.

Intelligent headlights automatically provide as much light as possible in exactly the right spots. The lights not only vary in intensity, but also move from side to side and up and down. This spreads the light widely and lets you see far more than standard lights.

Just as importantly the Mercedes’ lights do this without dazzling other drivers.

The new S-Class looks for roadside dangers by way of cameras and radar and flashes extra light on them. For example, the car will ‘see’ pedestrians and larger animals. This not only helps the driver see the potential dangers, but also alerts the person on foot to the car’s presence.

Taillights and brake lights vary in intensity according to ambient light. Showing maximum light when the car is in bright areas, such as cities, but less when it is surrounded by darkness.

New S-Class is big, smooth, quiet and comfortable to ride in as befits the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz range. The rear seat legroom in the standard wheelbase car is adequate, that in the long wheelbase offers stretch out comfort. In the latter the seats are electrically adjustable for angle, height and headrest. They’re not exactly lie-flat in the manner of business class seats in aircraft, but would certainly make long distance cruising very pleasant.

This big Benz is a two-tonne car so isn’t what you would call nimble, but it certainly hangs on with grim determination in corners and provides exceptionally safe road holding. Still to come downunder is a an advanced suspension system that looks at the surface of the road ahead and adapts the suspension to suit lumps, bumps and dips – whatever the terrain tries to throw at it.

The big-torque engines are pretty responsive and provide excellent urge for safe overtaking, as well as the ability to flatten hills so you barely realise the car is climbing.

Given that the unofficial tag of ‘best car in the world’ is generally given to machines in this class, the all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class gets the nod from us.

The complete Mercedes-Benz S-Class range is:
S350 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-door sedan: $215,000 (automatic)
S350L 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-door sedan: $222,500 (automatic)
S500 4.7-litre twin-turbo petrol four-door sedan: $285,000 (automatic)
S500L 4.7-litre twin-turbo petrol four-door sedan: $310,000 (automatic)
S63 AMG 5.5-litre bi-turbo petrol four-door sedan: $385,000 (automatic)
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Mercedes-Benz dealer for driveaway prices.

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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