Driven: Is S-Class best car on earth?
By: Denis Droppa in Toronto, Canada
Is a completely autonomous car possible? One where you can simply set your destination in the satnav, and then sit back and read your newspaper while the car drives you there?
Just about, and it’s more about getting regulatory approval for such cars in a world that’s still understandably nervous about drivers who pay no attention to the road (although it could cynically be argued that this is often already the case).
In the meantime, the new-generation Mercedes-Benz S-Class is as close as a production car has come to having full autopilot, the stuff of science fiction dreams. It’s able to brake, accelerate, steer, keep a safe following distance, park, and even avoid collisions all without the help of the driver, as part of Intelligent Drive (see below).
Along with rear seatbelts that have built-in airbags, this is also the world’s first car to do away completely with light bulbs and all the exterior and interior lighting is by LEDs.
ULTIMATE IN LUXURY
But the most technologically advanced Mercedes to date is more than a head-spinning array of gadgets that would get even Star Trek’s Mr Spock excited.
Benz’s flagship sedan has always been about uber luxury, refinement and safety, and these are still at the core of a conveyance that the company boldly proclaims to be the best car in the world.
Is it? Quite possibly, even if it doesn’t quite match the exotic cachet of a Rolls-Royce or a Bentley. By any objective measure the new S-Class is difficult to fault.
It wafts along in regal silence, delivers a soothingly plush ride, and pampers its occupants with oodles of space in seats that give massages.
What’s more unexpected is the way it drives. Although it’s a little larger than its predecessor the new S-Class seems smaller both in design and driving feel. It’s lost any barge-like nature, and feels more fleet-footed and agile than such a big car has any right to.
Despite the car’s size increase there’s no additional weight thanks to increased use of aluminium in the body. An additional 50 percent torsional rigidity, paired with air suspension, gives the big car impeccable road manners which will appeal to any racy chauffeur.
As before, Airmatic suspension with adaptive damping provides a magic-carpet ride but a new optional feature (available on the V8 models) called Magic Body Control scans the road ahead for bumps and pre-adjusts the suspension accordingly.
It’s the world’s first suspension with “eyes” and what I had suspected to be a gimmick impressed me greatly when I drove the S-Class at its international launch in Toronto.
The system’s remarkably effective at ironing out speed humps and you can see it in operation here.
Merc’s new limo is launched in short- and long-wheelbase versions, in a choice of diesel, petrol or hybrid powerplants.
All are rear-wheel drive with 7G-Tronic Plus automatic transmission, and all have 250km/h top speed capability.
The entry version is the S350 Bluetec, powered by a 3-litre turbodiesel V6 with 190kW and 620Nm on call, and claiming a 6.8 second 0-100km/h sprint along with a fuel-sipping consumption of 5.9 litres per 100km.
Next up is the S400 hybrid, combining a 20kW/250Nm electric motor with a 3.5-litre petrol V6 wielding 225kW and 370Nm. The 0-100 and consumption figures are both quoted as 6.8.
The current flagship, until the S63 AMG is launched at September’s Frankfurt Motor Show, is the S500. Its twin-turbo 4.7-litre petrol V8 delivers a muscular 335kW and 700Nm, good enough to propel it to 100km/h in a claimed 4.8 seconds.
Inside the S-Class, the sumptuous cabin blends high-tech with luxury. Gone are analogue clocks; in their place is a pair of large TFT screens – one with digital approximations of speedo and rev counter; and the other a multimedia interface.
Opulent finishes combine Nappa leather with chrome and wood to create the appropriate cabin grandeur.
At 5 116mm in length the short wheelbase S-Class has no shortage of interior space, but for the chauffeur-driven contingent the long wheelbase adds an extra 13cm from nose to tail.
This creates enough room in the back for two lazyboy-style seats that allow you to put your feet up and tilt the backrest up to 43.5 degrees. The front and rear seats are ventilated and offer a choice of six massage programmes, two of them with a “hot-stone” warming function, and you can optionally order heated armrests.
The local launch of the S-Class will take place at the Johannesburg International Motor Show in September, and standard and long-wheelbase models will be offered in the following versions, with prices to be announced closer to the time:
MODELS FOR SOUTH AFRICA
S350 BlueTec diesel swb (3-litre V6)
S400 Hybrid swb (3.5 V6)
S400 Hybrid lwb (3.5 V6)
S500 swb (4.7 V8)
S500 lwb (4.7 V8)
S63 AMG swb (international launch in September)
HOW MERC INTELLIGENT DRIVE WORKS:
Intelligent Drive is the umbrella term for a suite of high-tech safety systems offered by Mercedes-Benz in the new S-Class. Employing cameras and sensors that provide a 360 degree view around the car, it’s able to prevent accidents as well as make life easier for the driver.
Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus
This enables the high beams to stay on permanently without blinding other traffic.
When sensors detect oncoming vehicles or vehicles in front, the light beam “bends” around them to avoid dazzling their drivers
Night View Assist Plus
This “sees” further in the dark than the human eye is able to by means of an infra-red camera that beams the view on to an instrument panel display.
It alerts drivers to pedestrians and animals in the dark, and if there’s a person on the side of the road in the so-called warning zone he/she is flashed at several times by a spotlight in the car’s front headlamps.
The system’s clever enough to discern humans from animals, and won’t flash at animals as their reaction would be too unpredictable.
Distronic Plus with Steering Assist and Stop&Go Pilot
It automatically keeps a safe following distance and also guides the electric steering to keep the vehicle in its lane. In congested traffic the S-Class follows the vehicle in front even if there aren’t any road markings.
This is as close as any car gets to having full autopilot, although as a safety precaution the driver must keep both hands on the steering wheel. If not, the system gives audible and visible warnings before deactivating the Stop&Go Pilot.
Active Lane Keeping Assist
Wander across a lane without using the indicators and the car warns you by means of a steering wheel vibration, and then applies the brakes on one side to steer the car back into its lane.
BAS Plus with Cross-Traffic Assist
This helps prevent head-on and side-traffic collisions. Sensors scan the road ahead and to the side, and if a metal-crunching moment is detected the driver’s given visual and audible prompts to start emergency braking. The car adjusts the brake pressure up to full emergency braking if necessary.
Pre-Safe Brake with Pedestrian Detection
It detects stationary or slow-moving vehicles in front and also pedestrians, warning the driver through audible and visible prompts and automatically applying the brakes if necessary.
Active Parking Assist
It steers and brakes the car automatically into parallel and end-on parking spaces. All the driver has to do is lightly press the accelerator or release the brake.