Mercedes-Benz S-Class (S500). FIRST DRIVE

The new Mercedes-Benz S-Class is here. For a glimpse into the automotive future, look no further.

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The new S-class is smart. Really smart. As has always been the case, the flagship Mercedes is a showcase of the latest and greatest in new wizardry that will eventually trickles down to lesser models after it debuts on the big S, and that isn’t any different here as the list of new tech is a mind-blowingly long one. Using a network of cameras, sensors, and radar units to see the road and its surroundings, the Mercedes S-Class can steer, brake, correct lane drifting, prevent a head-on or cross-traffic collision, identify people and wildlife at day or night, parallel park, and cook you dinner. OK, I made the last one up, but you get the picture. Sure, other cars have similar features, but no other vehicle has such an extensive suite of technology that works so well.

I especially like the Mercedes S-Class’s new headlights, each sporting 56 separate LEDs (In total, the car has 486 LEDs and not a single light bulb) that give the new face a sleeker demeanour. The overall visual impact is a prettier, cleaner car than its predecessor, but as a result one that is also less imposing and lacking in road presence. The fact that the styling cues are reminiscent of a stretched new Mercedes E-Class might also have something to do with that.

Pull the chunky door open and the new interior features two giant 12.3-inch screens serving as the instrument cluster and navigation/infotainment system displays. This high-tech dash contrasts nicely with the traditional materials in the rest of the cabin: wood trim, supple leather, chrome air vents, and knurled metal window switches.

Meanwhile the new S-class has put an even greater emphasis than usual on the rear of the car, with buyers able to choose a three-person bench or two individual seats (the executive seating package). The latter offers a right-hand seat with greater recline range and a seat cushion-mounted airbag that prevents reclining passengers from submarining in a crash. There are also extendable footrests and rear passenger control of the front passenger seat. Tray tables that fold out of the centre console are available, as are a remote to operate the multifunction screens and wireless headphones for the Burmester stereo. The set-up in the rear wouldn’t feel out of place in a Maybach, which is exactly what was intended now that the unloved luxo-barge is no longer in production. Oh, and let’s not forget about the S-Class’s most ridiculous new option: the $350 Air Balance Package, which places a perfume container in the glove box, atomising the liquid at random intervals and wafting in Mercedes scents with catchy names like Sport, Nightlife and Downtown. Gimmicky options aside, the net result is an elegant blend of modernity and old-school and is one of the best interiors of any car on sale today.

Under the hood of our S500 lies a twin-turbocharged 4.6-litre V8 that comes paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission, just like in the old model. But according to Mercedes, the new engine gives at least 20 percent better fuel economy. This is partially thanks to the S-Class’s greater use of aluminium in its underlying structure – 50 percent more than before – and high-strength steel, which combined account for almost 90kg of weight loss and 50 percent stiffer torsional rigidity.

So what’s it like to drive? You won’t be surprised to hear that the new S-Class has been designed to waft rather than mount an all-out assault on a back road. And, even by the high standards of comfort established by its predecessors, the new S raises the bar by a fair margin. The cabin is incredibly quiet at speed thanks to a full-length acoustic undershield and a super-slippery 0.22 drag coefficient. At rapid highway cruising speeds the cockpit stays eerily quiet – you often find that you hear more noise from other cars than you do from the S-Class itself.

The engine may be familiar from the previous generation, and also the SL, but that’s no bad thing as it combines proper punch with lag-free responses and a crisp soundtrack that gets more sonorous when you work it hard. It’s no great revver – the redline is set at 6200rpm – but its 449bhp enjoy being worked hard.

While the S500 is undeniably comfort orientated, that doesn’t mean it embarrasses itself when you throw some corners at it. On the contrary, it hides its bulk and girth reasonably well. It steers well, stops well and shrugs off most direction changes with casual ease. It’s only if you attack especially hard that it begins to come unstuck. That said, it’s far from an exciting steer as you are always too isolated from what’s going on beneath and around you to ever feel particularly involved in the actual driving experience.

For a car brimming with technology, the S-Class feature that amazed most was its (optional) predictive suspension system, snappily named Magic Body Control. Using the onboard cameras, the car reads the road ahead and can adjust the suspension damping, making split-second chassis adjustments to mitigate bumps or potholes. As silly as the name sounds and as sceptical as I was, when the car swallowed a large speed bump whole at 40kph, I was left with one thought: this really is magic. Available only when the car is in comfort mode, the system is fully operational up to 100kph. Past that, performance reduces to about 50 percent, and the system completely cuts off above 130kph.

While Mercedes was keen to talk about the gadgets, the important news is that behind and underneath them the S-class is still brilliantly engineered and for that reason it’s hard not to see it continuing to utterly dominate its segment. While it is not a car that tugs at your heartstrings in any way, even the most blasé of observers would have to agree that it is a deeply impressive showcase of luxury, engineering and technology, which is exactly what we’ve all come to expect from a brand new Mercedes S-class.

Mercedes-Benz S500
Engine: V8, 4663ccm twin-turbo
Power: 449bhp @ 5250-5500rpm
Torque: 516lb ft @ 1800-3500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Front suspension: Four-link, air springs, dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension: Multilink, air springs, dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes: Vented discs front and rear
Wheels: 18-inch, front and rear
Tyres: 255/50 R18 W front and rear
Weight (kerb) 2015kg
0-100kph: 4.8sec
Top speed: 250kph

Categories: Car Review,Road


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