The new Mercedes S-Class is the most important new car release this year. Known to set a benchmark for decades, the S-Class always comes packed with innovations and new systems that stir up the entire industry. To see if the new S-Class lives up to the expectations we flew out to Toronto for two days behind the wheel of the new S500!
The term class leader applies to Mercedes-Benz and their S-Class models better than it does to any other car in the luxury saloon segment. With a history that stretches back almost 60 years and a reputation for comfort and refinement, most won’t even be able to look past the Mercedes-Benz hood ornament! Having recently unveiled the brand new W222 model in Hamburg, Germany, Mercedes-Benz is close to delivering its first new S-Classes to customers in Europe, followed by the rest of the world in the fourth quarter of this year.
The Mercedes-Benz S500 is the highest powered version to be offered from launch. As has now become usual with this model, the US and Canada will get a rebranded version named the Mercedes-Benz S550. Despite not having the same 5.5 litre V8 as the previous models, the branding has been maintained for reasons of brand equity.
Those that have followed the evolution of the S-Class will note that the S500 received its new 4.7 litre V8 unit towards the end of its previous production cycle. It retains the same engine with a slight 21hp power boost up to 449hp and an identical torque figure of 700Nm. Compared to the launch edition of the previous generation, the 2005 W221 S-Class (which carried the 5.5 litre V8 powerplant) the new 4.7 litre unit is substantially increased by 47hp and 170Nm of torque.
Coupled to the engine is a seven-speed automatic gearbox, whilst certain markets will also get a four-wheel drive system. The electro-mechanical steering feels nice and direct. It is sensitive to the speed of travel, meaning that the faster you go, the more resistant it is to the feel. Behind the wheel you will find a set of flappy pedals to overrule the automatic gearbox for a short time or drive for a longer duration in manual mode. Next year Mercedes will also introduce a new 9-speed gearbox for selected S-Class models.
We are driving the long wheelbase version which sheds a modest 50kg off of its predecessors 2,075kg bulk. This might not sound impressive but you really do have to read this after you’ve taken into account the amount of technology and comfort Mercedes-Benz have shoehorned into this car! Another interesting fact is that Mercedes started the design process for the new S-Class for the first time with the long wheelbase version. This has to do with the shift of demand for the new S-Class from primarily self-drive markets in Europe and North America to the more chauffeur-biased markets in Asia.
Technology. That’s what the new S-Class is really about! Historically, the S-Class has been the industry’s biggest innovator. Previous generations have pioneered the seatbelt pretensioner, ABS, the airbag, parking sensors and even ESP! The latest S-Class follows suit with more safety features than TÜV can find tests for. It permeates every aspect of the S500.
Among the plethora of innovations for this latest generation is the Magic Body Control feature, Stop&Go Pilot system, new rear belt bag, night vision Intelligent Light System and radar cruise control with an automatic braking function – all of which are optional. The Intelligent Light System shields oncoming drivers from being dazzled by your lights whilst providing what is essentially high beam light. The W222 Mercedes S-Class is also the first car to use LED lightning in the complete car only.
Magic Body Control
One of the more impressive optional features is the Magic Body Control. The suspension system itself includes a four-link setup at the front with a multi-link rear system at the rear. The Magic Body Control – available only as an optional extra with the S500 – features a stereo camera fitted behind the windscreen which scans the road contours for up to 15 metres ahead. It then adapts the air suspension settings to produce the desired ride.
This however is the technical explanation of the feature that might have a bigger impact on the future of driving than you might imagine. Magic Body Control automatically sets up the suspension to cope with large and small bumps in the road. Coincidentally we found the perfect location to test this when we were out in Toronto with our photographer to shoot the S500.
After we took some moving shots of the new Mercedes flagship in downtown Toronto we exited the highway to find a coffee shop for a break. It was here somewhere on the outskirts of downtown Toronto that I found the ultimate proving ground for Mercedes-Benz’s latest innovation. A road, or actually a complete area, full of speed bumps. Street after street of residential area was littered with bumps. To truly experience the system I first turned the system off by switching the suspension setting from Comfort to Sport.
The initial run in this 30 km/h street showed the severity of the bumps, for every single one of them I had to brake down to 15 km/h to go over the speed bumps without slamming the front bonnet in the tarmac and hitting my teeth on the steering wheel. After a lap around the block and a nerve wracking 15 speed bumps I returned to where I started and switched the suspension back to comfort, engaging Magic Body Control in the process. Again I set off at 30 km/h and braked down to 15 km/h for the bumps. But then, nothing. The car stayed perfectly flat, your brain struggles to process what happened. It really feels as if the speed bump isn’t even there. We slowly upped the pace but even at 30 km/h+ the S-Class goes over the speed bumps as if you are on a magic carpet. Extraordinary!
Another noteworthy feature on the new 2014 Mercedes S500 is the Distronic Plus system. In essence Distronic Plus is a smart and adaptive cruise control system that looks ahead with and for you. New with the Distronic Plus system is the incredible range of the various radars and the Stop&Go Pilot. Both combined make long journeys a lot more comfortable and safer. Set the Distronic Plus system to 130 km/h, enable lane assist and you get pretty close to autonomous driving.
On the Canadian highway 400 from Toronto heading north we had the opportunity to try this system and see how it stacks up to that of its main competitors, BMW, Audi, Range Rover and Lexus. One of the main disadvantages of these systems are often that they often lack human AI. When I see a car in front of me is moving out of the way there is no need to hit the brakes hard and re-accelerate back to the desired speed. Also when I attempt to overtake I don’t move out to the other lane first before picking up speed.
The above are just two examples which Mercedes also saw as the pitfalls of their own Distronic system. It has to be said that this lates system is the best we have seen so far. It allows you to drive for hundreds of kilometers without touching the pedals and with steering and lane assist on it also helps you to steer. It not only reacts to the car in front of you but also to traffic in the other lanes, including oncoming traffic. Move across the line that separates you from an oncoming car and it will brake the outer wheels to move you back in your lane and prevent a collision.
In traffic jams it comes into a league of its own. No system we tried makes driving in a traffic jam such a pleasure as this one. It will automatically follow the car in front, also when there are no markings on the road in sections with road works per example. Only at a full stop you have to slightly press the accelerator to reactivate the system again. Again a system you have to try for yourself and one that you cannot live without once you get used to it.
Additionally Mercedes-Benz offers a range of additional systems to increase safety. Including the Cross-Traffic Assist system which will aid braking when the car detects crossing traffic and pedestrians, the night vision assistant that marks pedestrians and animals in red on the center screen between the speedometer and the rev counter.
The design of the new 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class follows suit with most of the recent Mercedes-Benz product range. It gets a familiar headlight design, the radiator grille is now larger, upright and distinctly three-dimensional in design. Mercedes designers have styled a long bonnet, with a flowing, domed roof line and a gently slanting rear end. It looks less muscled than the outgoing model.
Inside, as you would expect, it is super comfortable. The materials feel superb, the seats are supportive and superbly cushioned. It is every bit the luxury sedan customers will be expecting. Whilst the raft of technological options and improved cabin space will undoubtedly be key to increasing the comfort over the outgoing model. What really makes the S-Class a class leader for passengers is the sound proofing. It shields the elements better than any other car on the market – Rolls-Royce Phantom excluded!
Noise suppression is absolutely perfect. Coupled with the supreme ability to handle bumps, the lack of external noise creates a feeling of tranquility behind the wheel and in the rear. Our test car comes with the optional, but highly recommended, First-Class seats in the rear. Add the airplane-styled tables and you have the feeling as if you were on a private jet. Besides, it is an excellent place for both working and relaxation.
Each seat gets a separate TFT monitor together with its own 200gb hard drive and processor. With the executive seat package, each passenger can recline by 43.5 degrees and watch their own individual choice of programming. To underline the feeling of luxury, a hot stone massage is available via 14 separate air cushions mounted inside the seat. We heard rumours of a Thai edition which comes with a happy ending!
The S-Class is the first car to make a complete switch from the standard light bulb to the LED. The interior has 300 LED’s in total while each headlamp cluster has 56 LED’s. The dashboard gets two high-resolution 12.3 inch TFT colour displays which each serve different purposes. The left-hand display performs the functions of the previous instrument cluster, providing the driver with all relevant information. Despite the new technology, it definitely still feels like a Mercedes of old. Plenty of leather, a smattering of wood grain and exquisite engineering felt with every touch.
Overall, the fantastic ride quality, the excellent sound deadening and the sheer opulence of the package make the Mercedes-Benz S500 the best option for those looking at luxury sedans. For sportier drivers; the S500 clearly wet our appetite for the upcoming S63 AMG (that is rumored to allow a sub-4 seconds 0-100km/h sprint). But in the end its the Magic Ride Control that really sets the cat among the pigeons here. It is unique to the S500 (for the moment) and really does add that extra element to the ride comfort. How long before we see this filter down the model range…