Mercedes-Benz S 450 on test: it's all about ones and zeroes
Search Driven for Mercedes-Benz for sale
Mercedes-Benz S 450 4Matic
- The world's most high-tech luxury car
- Complex in theory, but so easy to use
- Incredibly cosseting and refined
- Still reliant on petrol power
- Tries too hard to be sporty in some respects
- Not exactly a radical styling departure
It’s a given that any new Mercedes-Benz S-Class will pioneer, or at least perfect, a major new safety/driver-assistance feature.
For the 1976 W116 it was a padded steering wheel, the ’78 W126 had anti-lock braking, the ’91 W140 introduced Electronic Stability Program (and later Brake Assist), the ’98 W220 cruised with adaptive Distronic, the 2002 W221 looked ahead with Pre Safe and the 2013 W222 boasted cameras that scanned the road ahead to help with suspension performance.
If you want something for the master list from the new W223 S-class, we can give it to you: rear-seat frontal airbags, standard on the long-wheelbase model and an option on the standard-length sedan you see here.
That’s a worthy and appropriate addition to what’s essentially a limousine. But in terms of a big headline for its time, probably less significant than previous generations.
And that’s okay. We live in a fragmented, digital age. The true advance in the new S-class comes not from one groundbreaking feature but from millions of ones and zeroes: networked digital features that make this the most sophisticated car in the world. I was going to say “arguably”, but honestly can’t think of another car that gets close.
So no, you can’t highlight just one feature… but the W223 is still probably the greatest leap forward in the history of the S-class.
The second generation of the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) multimedia system pervades every corner of the car. Individual profiles are available to 10 users, with biometric recognition.
The 12.3-inch instrument panel has a 3D display that tracks the driver’s face to maintain the right depth effect. It’s also linked to the Attention Assist system.
Want to adjust the exterior mirrors? You don’t have to select left or right: MBUX knows which one you’re looking at and will react accordingly. Look back over your shoulder and the rear sunblind will automatically lower. And so on.
The centre-console OLED 12.8-inch portrait screen (a first for M-B) is the portal to a staggering series of sub-menus. Wireless phone projection is standard, but this is one car where you might not want to use it: the built-in navigation features M-B’s augmented reality function that will overlay real-time directions onto a camera image in the main screen. Not a new feature for the brand, but the platform for the technology provided by the S-Class’s imposing new cabin takes it to the next level.
Sensors and cameras around the car supply an incredibly perceptive view of the immediate environment to the driver and occupants. The main instrument display will show you not only the car in front, but the one in front of that. It recognises not just lanes, but also whether the roadside is flat or bordered by a fence.
The forward-facing camera sees when you’re at traffic lights and presents a different view on the main MBUX screen so you can easily see when they go green. Like other M-B models, the adaptive cruise control is linked to GPS and will automatically slow for corners, or even stop when it’s time to turn across an intersection.
It’s a given that the Level 2 automatic driver-assist features are outstanding. But this is also clearly a car that’s future-proofed for Level 3 (properly autonomous) driving and beyond.
It’s not all virtual; the S-class is still about exquisite engineering, including 60 per cent aluminium construction.
It remains a model line with the internal combustion engine at its heart; a sister model called EQS will bring pure-electric power to this segment in NZ before the end of the year, but that’s a whole other thing.
The core $215,000 S 450 gets a straight-six petrol engine with mild hybrid technology. All-wheel drive is standard. Suspension is an Airmatic adaptive system. Rear-wheel steer is an option that can give the S-class a smaller turning circle than the A-class hatchback.
The cliché is that cars like the S-class are to be driven in, rather than for the driver. But that doesn’t necessarily apply to New Zealand and this new model clearly has some aspirations for dynamic excellence, if the sporty, thick-rimmed steering wheel is anything to go by.
The S 450 is enormously refined, with a slippery body shape (those flush-fitting door handles help) and minimal road noise, thanks partly to acoustic foam in key parts of the car’s structure.
It can also handle a corner or two. There are four drive modes, right up Sport Plus, with a further Individual setting to mix and match powertrain, steering and suspension. All are selectable via an unnecessarily large but undeniably impressive graphic on the main screen.
It stands to reason that Comfort should be your default: it’s supremely comfortable (funny that) but the car is still assured on backroads.
As has often been the case with big Benzes on air suspension, the less aggressive drive modes give a much better balance of ride quality and dynamic prowess, which is still considerable in this new car. The loss of compliance in Sport mode isn’t adequately balanced by the increase in handling ability. You can see the point of the S-modes for 200km/h-plus Autobahn travel or faultlessly smooth mountain passes, but for Kiwi driving stick with Comfort and be done.
Who really still wants cars like these? Many people. Half a million globally, since the launch of the W222 in 2013.
China is now the largest market for the S-class (one-third of production), with an average buyer age of 40. For 15 per cent of these customers, it’s their first car!
Contemplating the continued development of super-luxury machines like these really does broaden your horizons.
Our S 450 test car is just the opening for the NZ range. There’s a long-wheelbase model (an extra 110mm) with the same engine for $235,900, and the S 580 L with a 4.0-litre V8 is on the way for $291,700.
If you must have the very best there’s also the $492,800 Mercedes-Maybach S 680, with a 6.0-litre V12 and another 180mm in length over the “standard” long-wheelbase S-class. The mind boggles a bit more than it already has.
MERCEDES-BENZ S 450
ENGINE: 3.0-litre inline petrol six with EQ Boost 48-volt mild hybrid system
GEARBOX: 9-speed automatic, AWD