Review: Mercedes-Benz S500 L
A generation change for the S-Class means a new benchmark for luxury on wheels
Dr Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the Board at Daimler AG admits, in so many words, that no other car stands for the Mercedes-Benz brand promise more than the S-Class. And there’s enough truth in that statement because this car has been the benchmark for the automotive industry, with its array of new technologies and comfort systems. The S-Class is still the benchmark, even compared to cars that are probably built with more exotic stuff or cost as much as the GDP of a small developing nation.
The ‘S-Class’ designation may have been first coined in 1972 but the history of this car began in 1904, when the Mercedes Simplex (no Benz then) broke cover. The beauty of this car was that it came with doors – its passengers had arrived. This whole arrival business is still taken very seriously by the folks at Stuttgart. And there’s no better showcase for this than the S-Class.
In India, the outgoing S is still on sale, although company sources say whatever units are still being assembled or will be assembled – till the new model pictured here reaches India in January 2014 – are already spoken for. Which is why those wanting to buy an S in the future should look at this new car with more interest despite the fact that it’ll be dearer by around Rs 10 lakh over the current model.
Technically, in its tenth generation, the new S-Class has grown marginally. It is longer, wider and taller but the wheelbase remains the same as on the current car. Nevertheless, the cabin is slightly bigger, so there is more head, shoulder and elbow room for the front passengers.
Daimler knows that gone are the days when the S was predominantly sold in Europe, and its owners were more often behind the wheel. Today, the S is extremely popular in Asia, where its strong sales numbers warrant that the rear passengers get as much, if not more than the driver. This is one reason why, for the first time in the S-Class’s history, the long-wheelbase version was designed first and the short-wheelbase made out of it.
Compared to some of the radical designs we’ve seen on new Mercs lately, the S-Class looks conventional. The silhouette is typically S – a swooping roof with a coupe-style slope at the C-pillar. The front now sports a wider and taller grille with the three-point emblem on top. The headlamps are less tapered at the edges, more wrapped around the corners in a sweep.
While Mercedes was among the first to fit electric headlamps on motorcars more than a century ago, it has now done away with them entirely. The new S-Class doesn’t have a single electric bulb. Instead it has LEDs all around – headlamps, tail lamps, even the interior. In profile, it has more seamless muscular flanks in place of the bulbous wheel arches of the current car.
The shoulder line now drops a bit at the rear along with the roof, rather than moving upwards as it does in the current car. The new design looks more seamless and adds a bit of grandeur, which is both, old-school and modern. That explains why it is not outright radical.
But that’s not to say the S-Class is conventional. Because apart from design, everything else on this car is radical. Despite the increase in overall size and the addition of a whole range of gizmos (more on those later), the weight of the car is actually down by more than 100 kilograms. A lot of this weight reduction came from the chassis, which now has more aluminium than the S-Class ever did. Of course, as a safety measure, the passenger shell is still high-tensile steel, but almost all of the car’s sheet metal, including the roof bits and bonnet, are aluminium, resulting in massive weight reduction. And despite that, torsional rigidity is up almost 50 per cent.
When it gets launched in India, the S-Class will be available in two variants – S350 and S500. These will essentially have the same engines as the current model but now with uprated power and torque figures. Not to mention, better performance and efficiency. Speaking of which, there are also plans to launch at a later stage a diesel-electric hybrid with claimed fuel efficiency figures of just over 25kpl (as per European testing cycle), which should encourage those with a green heart.
For those with a stronger heart and a tendency to get behind the wheel, we must say the S behaves in a way befitting royalty. When needed, the S-Class can be all poise and grace, which it is what it does best. The acceleration is seamless. The seven-speed automatic transmission is definitive and precise, if not the quickest in the business, and swiftly gets power going from the engine to the rear wheels.
In S350 guise, the car is capable of leaping to 100kph from standstill in 6.8s, while the S500 can beat that time by a full two seconds. Obviously, the timings are better than the outgoing models’ thanks to a combination of increased power, lower weight and better aerodynamics.
Around corners, the S-Class almost belies the fact that it’s a rear-wheel drive. There’s only a hint of understeer but you don’t really feel the weight of the big car – just the sense that you’re driving a nimble set of wheels with enough power to light up a small mansion. The engine note is a powerful grunt but never obtrusive, just something hammering away in the distance.
The air suspension comes with adaptive damping, which makes sure passengers don’t feel minor potholes and road joints. In most cases, they won’t hear them, either. Make no mistake, the S-Class can be driven on the limit and its engineers have made sure it’s not just a comfortable limo. For example, when speed crosses 120kph, the car lowers by around 20mm for a more planted feel.
Driving the S500, if you’re worried about missing an odd speed bump at that speed, well, there’s good news and bad. The car is additionally equipped with Magic Body Control. This uses a combination of a stereo camera and multi-frequency radar units to scan the road surface ahead and prepare the AIRMATIC suspension in real time to handle any dips or bumps.
The result is that the car maintains its composure as if it were going on a flat patch of road. Particularly helpful if the rear passenger’s drink is up to the brim. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the frequencies set into the S cannot be used for civilian purposes in India, yet. Hopefully, that’ll change soon. Of course, the system has its limitations. For example, if the camera fails to detect road variations because of similar surface colours, or because of the angle of ambient light, the magic may not happen. But when it does, prepare to be amazed.
More than a decade ago, the S was one of the first cars to get PreSAFE technologies for a safer drive. Mercedes-Benz engineers have kept improving on that, and the new car has even more helpful bits added to the existing Driver Assist systems – among other things, it can automatically keep the car in its lane or virtually ‘latch’ on to a vehicle ahead and slow down or accelerate automatically, which should reduce driving stress.
The passengers can lounge in ventilated seats with inbuilt massagers. The rear seat has the option of being either a fixed bench or two individual recliners. Even with the latter, in top-of-the-line spec, the seats recline up to 43.4 degrees. That’s more than the 37 degrees that they do otherwise.
The rear passengers get individual screens, plus the option of airplane-style trays that fold into the centre console. The S-Class also takes the business of interior safety rather seriously, with seat belts that don’t just tighten when they sense an impact, they also inflate for added safety.
Most carmakers will talk about being focused on safety and comfort. As does Mercedes-Benz, across its product range. But when it comes to the S-Class, you know it’ll be a no-holds-barred barrage of engineering that borders on magical, in a car that still announces that its owner has arrived. The new S delivers nicely on both counts.
4,663cc, V8, twin-turbo, 455bhp, 700Nm, 7A, RWD, 5.6kpl (estimated), 0-100kph 4.8s, top speed 250kph, Rs 1.4 crore (estimated, on-road)
With added gizmos and oodles of comfort, the new S-Class has upped the stakes in the luxury limo game.