The new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, launched in South Africa this week, brings us the three-pointed star right at the top of its game, pushing the boundaries of technology on three fronts - ‘Intelligent Drive’, ‘Efficient Technology’ and ‘Essence of Luxury’.
Whether it is “the best car in the world”, as Mercedes-Benz claims, is for potential customers to decide, but it's worth remembering that railway engineer Henry Royce coined the phrase in 1903 after spending a lot of money on a French DFV car and being so disgusted by its poor quality that he decided to build his own.
It is that standpoint, the stated principle that only the best will do, that informs every detail of Stuttgart's new flagship, its comfort and safety systems merging their functions to form what the maker is calling 'Intelligent Drive'.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Denis Droppa, editor of our sister publication Star Motoring, drove the S-Class at its world launch in Canada in July.
“By any objective measure the new S-Class is difficult to fault,” he wrote then.
“It wafts along in regal silence, delivers a soothingly plush ride, and pampers its occupants with oodles of space in seats that give massages.”
With a consistently painstaking approach to engine and drive-train efficiency, weight reduction and a remarkably low 0.24 drag coefficient (despite bolder, more upright and more deeply sculpted front styling - now that's an achievement!), the new S-Class “lowers the bar” in terms of fuel consumption.
But 'Efficient Technology' goes further than that, with almost 500 LED's replacing lighting up the road, the interior and the boot - there's not a single light bulb in the whole car.
“What's more unexpected is the way it drives,” Droppa noted. “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.”
HOW 'INTELLIGENT DRIVE' WORKS:
Intelligent Drive is the umbrella term for the high-tech safety systems in the new S-Class. With cameras and sensors providing 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 lets the high beams 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 ‘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,” Droppa explains.
Distronic Plus with Steering Assist and Stop&Go Pilot 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.
Wander across a lane without using the indicators and Active Lane Keeping Assist will warn you by vibrating the steering wheel, and then apply the brakes on that side to steer the car back into its lane.
BAS Plus with Cross-Traffic Assist 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 detects stationary or slow-moving vehicles (and pedestrians!) in front, warning the driver with audible and visible prompts and automatically applying the brakes if necessary.
Active Parking Assist 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.
CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON
The new S-Class lands in South Africa with a choice of one hybrid version, one petrol model and a diesel - as well as the megalomaniac S63 AMG - each limited to 250km/h.
The oil-burner is the S350 BlueTec, a 2987cc turbo V6 for which Mercedes-Benz quotes 190kW at 3600rpm and 620Nm at 1600-2400rpm, sufficIent to reach 100km/h in an unruffled 6.8 seconds, at a rated cost of 5.5 litres per 100km.
The S400 Hybrid combines a 225kW, 3.5-litre petrol V6 with a 20kW electric motor for immense mid-range punch - the electric motor kicks out 250Nm from practically zero revs while the big V6 chimes in with 370Nm from 3500-5250rpm - yet its 0-100 time is the same as the diesel's and combined fuel-consumption marginally higher at 6.3 litres per 100km.
The S500 BlueEfficiency's 4.7-litre biturbo V8 is good for a rated 335kW at 5250rpm and 700Nm from 1800-3500rpm, gets it to 100km/h in less than five seconds and slurps a combined 8.6 litres per 100km.
The hand-built 5.5-litre, twin-turbo AMG direct-injection V8 in the S63 AMG delivers 430kW at 5500rpm and a sledgehammer 900Nm from 2250-3750rpm, launching the two-ton S63 from 0-100 in 4.4 seconds, all for the price of 10.1 litres per 100km in NEC testing (and if you can match that, your self-control surpasseth all understanding).
The S400 hybrid and S500 are also available in a plutocratic long-wheelbase version - in fact the 'stretched' architecture was designed first, rather than the other way around, with the eye on developing markets where executive sedans such as the S-Class are, more often than not, chauffeur-driven.
MAGIC BODY CONTROL
The new S-Class is also the world's first car able to detect bumps on the road ahead, using a stereo camera, and instantly adapt the suspension to deal with the new situation. 'Magic Body Control' is available as a option on the S500 and standard issue on the S63, where it's also tuneable to either 'Comfort' or 'Sport' mode.
TRAVEL FIRST CLASS
On the flight deck, two 310mm colour displays in 8:3 format replace the traditional instrument cluster and centre stack; the right- screen displays engine and driving information, the left-hand display controls infotainment and comfort functions - including a touch-sensitive telephone keypad and an extended favourites function with twelve freely selectable memory places.
The master control is the rotary pushbutton, with the usual direct-access keys in the centre console for the most important functions and a toolbar for driving assistance.
A speech dialogue system allows you to enter a complete address in one go, and can also read out your text messages.
The new 'Air-Balance' climate control system not only perfumes and ionises the air inside the new S-Class, but two new control zones at the rear (and new, heatable, rear-seat armrests) ensure that VIP guests are suitably cosseted.
Passengers in the rear are also seated in first class, with a business-centre console (for plugging in of smartphones and storing the occasional tiara) incorporating thermo-cupholders that use Peltier technology to cool or warm drinks over a longer period of time.
There is a choice of five different rear-seat layouts, including an Executive seat with a backrest angle adjustable by up to 43.5 degrees, allowing occupants in the rear to concentrate on work or relax in comfort.
The massage function - available for both front and rear seats - is based on the hot-stone principle, using 14 individually activated ait-cushions in a choice of six massage programmes, two of them with an integrated warming function.
Programmed 'reversing fans' suck cool air from the cabin through the perforated upholstery for the first four minutes to cool overheated aristocratic behinds as quickly as possible, then reverse direction automatically to prevent drafts.
S350 BlueTec - R1 214 000
S400 Hybrid - R1 227 100
S400 Hybrid LWB - R1 248 200
S500 BlueEfficiency - R1 564 100
S500 BlueEfficiency LWB - R1 766 100
S63 AMG - R2 174 000
These prices include a six-year or 100 000km maintenance plan; a number of 'top-up' options are available to stretch that to eight years and up to 180 000km.