There are three cars in the world with
such unimpeachable credentials for the job they do they will never, ever find
themselves referred to as a ‘some other car’s rival’. Others may indeed be their rivals, but it is never the reverse.
And it was ever thus, largely because
they wrote the rules for the segments they dominate. And now, with the launch
of the new Mercedes Benz S-Class hot on the heels of the new Range Rover and
new Porsche 911, all three have had a new lease of life in the last 12 months.
So there it is, in the gallery. We’ll
come to the looks in a bit, but what about the car itself? Did Benz knock the
old car down and start again like the aluminium fourth generation Range Rover,
or is it a subtle yet dramatic evolution like the generation 991 Porsche 911?
Umm…. It’s kind of neither. At least not on paper.
The technological evolution of the
automobile can be charted with every new iteration of the S Class, and this is
the eighth all-new car. Each has arrived on a raft of blazing new technology,
technology which eventually ended up on just about every other car, sooner or
This one, which its maker describes as
‘Utopian’, has an in-built air-freshener, or ‘air purifying system’, or ‘Air
Balance’. It will feature refillable scent pots at around £50 each, or you can
use your favourite aftershave. It’s hard to know where the idea ends or the
technology starts, or indeed what we should call it. But your car will have one
soon. If it doesn’t already. It’s churlish to mention it so soon — there
is more significant new kit on the car — but in S-Class launches gone by, such
trivialities wouldn’t even be deemed worthy of a mention.
Moving on. The new S Class launches in
two body lengths, the long wheelbase we are to regard as the standard car and
its SWB sibling. There will be more; a super-long wheelbase Pullman (in lieu of
the Maybach), a coupe (the next CL), and even four door convertible apparently.
There are four drivetrains at launch, a
six-cylinder petrol hybrid (S400 Hybrid), a five litre V8 (S500), a six
cylinder diesel (S350), and a four cylinder diesel hybrid (S300 BlueTEC
hybrid). The later is the Utopian car Benz has referred to with its ‘official’
64mpg and 115 grams of carbon/kilometre. The later would be more impressive had
Porsche not just launched a 91mpg, 82g/km Panamera hybrid.
Full credit to Mercedes, it has
recognised that even the rich don’t like a car that thumbs its nose each time
its chauffeur visits the pumps. But with two of its three rivals (the Audi A8
and the Jag XJ) taking the full aluminium route, it does seem old-school for
Benz to be sticking with half and half steel and aluminium. That said, both Jaguar
and Audi have suggested their customers don’t actually know or ultimately care
what their cars are made of.
The lightweight body shell however does
give you the chance to fit every conceivable piece of kit without troubling the
upper regions of tubbiness. Benz are saying the new S tips the scale either
side of two tonnes depending on drivetrain, so it’s no lightweight. But it’s
got the lot: we can’t think of anything remotely sensible that this car doesn’t
offer. And clearly Benz can’t either, hence the Febreze.
The front of the cabin is dominated
(literally — you wouldn’t call it harmonious) by two 12.3ins screens. One
houses what we called ‘the instruments’ back in the last century, the other all
the other controls for important stuff like the type of and rate of massage
being applied to the driver’s and passenger’s backs and bums. As we saw a few
weeks ago, the
on-board data system comprises not only Bluetooth, but wireless and KleerNet
and allows you to run the whole car from your iPad if you so desire. There’s a
200gb hard drive, app functionality and the optional Burmester stereo has 24
speakers and 1540 watts of power.
In the long wheelbase version you can
specify up to five different kinds of seats and the whole First Class Rear
thing. This car is all about the inside. The outside? Well, it’s
difficult to tell from the pictures, but it looks less dynamic than the current
car. Looks shorter too, although it’s actually a smidge longer (by 20mm, 15mm
of which translates in to rear knee room).
Innovations? Well, on the outside the new
S-Class has dispensed with lightbulbs altogether. So if you are someone who is
starting to get bored of all those sparkly little tags chasing you down the
road, we’re sorry — the new S Class is all LED. Over 500 of them
You will have noticed that we have still
yet to mention the world-first technology, the serious world first technology.
Well as far as we can tell there is only one BIG IDEA making its debut here,
though many of the then-new ideas from the SL make their way onwards. It’s
something called ‘Road Surface Scan’, and like many of the devices M-B insists
on Capitalising, it is just that; a little camera that scans the roads and sets
up the suspension to deal with the bumps before they happen.
The system is of course plugged in to the
rest of the car’s safety systems so the Pre-Safe we knew gets upgraded and now
includes systems like rear seat belt airbags, of the kind that will be familiar
to anyone who’s flown Virgin Upper Class. Not that we expect many of the buyers
of this car will have. They’ll be in first. Or in their own planes.