First drive: Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Merc's flagship saloon car has undergone a generation change. How much of a step up is it?
There is little doubt that the S-Class is one of the most revered luxury cars in the world. The flagship of the three-pointed star marquee has now gone for a full-blooded change with the new model getting an array of safety features, creature comforts, lots of power, efficiency and oomph value.
The new car comes to India, not before January 2014. Mercedes-Benz continues to sell the outgoing model in India although technically there may not be cars to sell as all its inventory is booked. The new car looks leaner than the current model. The bulbous wheel arches are gone. Instead you get a seamless design of convex/concave surfaces with a coupe-style roof at the rear. The front grille is bigger now and is sandwiched between all-LED headlamps. Yes, this car has done away with light bulbs of any kind. It has over 500 LEDs adorning it inside and out.
The car is scheduled for a launch in Europe first and typically, will have a short wheelbase version too. Of course, India will get only the long wheelbase version. The latter is being launched with four engine options. At the bottom is the S350 BlueTEC, which is a 3-litre common-rail diesel with 258bhp of peak power and 620Nm of torque. This is the same engine as in the current model but with an additional 48bhp and 30Nm, which is enough to now take this ‘base’ S-Class from 0-100kph in 6.8 seconds. That’s 0.4s of an improvement over the current car. The claimed fuel efficiency as per the European cycle is a bit unreal to even mention. But Merc claims that a lot of effort has gone in improving fuel efficiency starting with an aerodynamic design. The new car has a drag coefficient of just 0.24 to reduce wind resistance. The updated engine also runs smoother. We estimate the car capable of returning a figure close to 8kpl. Considering it’s a diesel, most would-be owners won’t be bothered by this number being in single digits.
The S-Class has always been a benchmark when it comes to new technologies and the same has gone into this car. In a first, the car makes judicious use of a stereo camera and multi-frequency radar to help many functions in the car designed to keep occupants in comfort. For example, the Magic Body Control system, which scans the road in real time to prepare Merc’s patented AIRMATIC suspension for a bump or dip in the road. And having experienced it first hand, we can confirm that it works. Of course, it has some limitations – if the road surface variation is of the same colour then the camera may not be able to pick the difference and make corrections. There is also an updated Drive Assist System that can even modulate the steering wheel on its own if it detects that the driver isn’t taking corrective steering action to stay in his lane or change lanes with a car approaching from behind. There is even an advanced system of pedestrian safety where the car can come to a complete stop on its own when it detects a pedestrian on the road or feels the driver isn’t applying enough braking pressure.
It’s all very clever. So are the interiors with quality leather, plastic, wood veneer and pearl-finish metallic switches. The rear seat comes with as many as five different optional layouts starting with a fixed bench to top-of-the-line individual seats that can recline to as much as 43.5 degrees. All seats come with individual controls for heating, cooling and six different massaging options. All this can be controlled by a remote.
On the road, the S-Class rides near faultless. The steering is nicely weighted with just the rind kind of assistance. Pick-up is seamless and you can feel the exhilarating performance complimented with a distant but distinct grunt. The car drives with little fuss over all kinds of road surfaces and seems unaffected even when thrown into corners in a hurry. Of course, drive it without a care only when the rear passenger isn’t enjoying his/her wine. But in a straight line, you can have fun with just the acceleration. The engine is mated to a seven-speed automatic, same as in the current model. During its European launch, the S variants will also include the top-of-the-line petrol S500 and an S400 Hybrid which makes clever use of a 20kW electric motor to the engine.
In its latest avatar, the S-Class continues to be the torchbearer of flagship luxury that it has always been. The new car doesn’t look as uber-cool as some of the other new designs from Merc, but it makes up for it with a lot of substance that is designed to pamper its occupants and take them places in style, and in quick time. This simple philosophy means that the S-Class remains at the top of its game.