The new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, a leader in luxury
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Mercedes-Benz has refreshed its flagship sedan, the S-Class, with new design details, new engines and next-step updates to its automated Intelligent Drive system.
But all the progress still has to ensure the S-Class remains the benchmark for luxury motoring. Driven traveled to Switzerland to see how the manufacturer is getting on. (Hint: it's quite good at this sort of thing).
With Driven reporting in from the official Mercedes-Benz X-Class ute unveiling in South Africa as well as the S-Class media launch in Switzerland, this week illustrates as never before, the diversification the German carmaker has gone through over the past few years.
But there are subtle "business as usual" symmetries here, despite the new metal.
Although the ute is a natural extension of the manufacturer's light commercial vehicle arm (with a bit of help from the Renault Nissan alliance), the updated S-Class furthers Mercedes-Benz's peerless approach to doing what it does so well; building luxurious large cars.
Marketers and analysts will argue that, whether a company is updating the biggest or smallest car in its range, all the details still have to be right. That's true of course; no one wants a dud, regardless of the sticker price. But there is something about each successive update of flagship S-Class -- the traditional technological test bed not only for Mercedes, but inadvertently so many of its rivals -- that raises the stakes. And then some.
More than 4 million S-Classes have been sold since it debuted in 1972. And the model has legs; it was the biggest-selling luxury sedan globally last year, proving more popular than its rivals even during a run-out year.
No one's resting on laurels around at Mercedes, however. The updated S-Class features 6500 new components, including three entirely new engines; new in-line six-cylinder petrol and diesel power arrives under the S-Class' broad bonnet, along with a new twin-turbo petrol V8.
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For our market, the turbo-diesel six offers up 210kW peak power, which is around 10 per cent more oomph than the previous engine offered, but with less in the way of emissions. We won't see the petrol six-cylinder in New Zealand initially, although in its home market it comes in two states of tune; 270kW and 320kW.
The twin-turbo V8 boasts 345kW and 700Nm of torque, and features cylinder shut-off when cruising to help keep fuel economy and emissions in check.
The Mercedes-AMG S 63 ups the ante with 450kW of power and a massive torque slab of 900Nm available from its twin-turbo V8.
The less shouty S-Class variants all receive a 9G-TRONIC auto gearbox, the big boy is fitted with a nine-speed AMG Speedshift MCT box, helping tap into growling aggression.
While Mercedes-Benz remains gun-shy about using "autonomous" phraseology, the desire to incrementally add more of this sort of automated tech remains paramount.
Big news for this iteration of S, Mercedes' Intelligent Drive suite of technologies goes further, with the Distronic adaptive cruise control system and Active Steering Assist now using more map and navigation data to prep the vehicle (and driver) for changes in topography and road conditions ahead.
So, whereas the brand's automated technologies already allow for lane changes and adaptive distance and steering assistance, the system will also anticipate safe cornering distances and speeds through the windy stuff, and when approaching intersections and roundabouts.
Inside the S-Class cabin, there are no prizes for guessing that comfort is the order of the day. The detailing all revolves around ensuring the smoothest, most comfortable ride.
The majestic sweeping mountain highways of northern Switzerland we piloted the S 560 and AMG S 63 across during a day behind the wheel hardly gave the cars a State Highway 2 coarse-chip-style drubbing. But the efforts engineers have gone to in ensuring the S-Class' onboard ambience remains serene is impressive.
Energising Comfort Control is a new suite of pamperific technologies designed to cosset, allowing occupants to adjust cabin ambience to set different moods. The centrepiece is the ability to control colour mood lighting throughout the car's interior. Mercedes is serious about this stuff. There are 64 colours available, pre-set colour "worlds" and three lighting zones (in the footwells, throughout various trim elements and the instrument display).
It's all about "wellness", with massaging seats and ionised multi-zone air conditioning helping ensure relaxed travel.
Oh, and there are special S-Class cushions in the back, too. But it's an S-Class, so you probably anticipated that.
Speaking of light, Mercedes-Benz does love an LED bulb. Depending on the equipment level, there are up to 84 LEDs in each of the S-Class's redesigned headlights, and 35 LEDs per light in the rear clusters. Inside, there are around 300 LEDs in the interior ambient lighting system.
Back inside the cabin, the S-Class now features the large twin high-resolution display set-up, as seen in the E-Class. Each screen runs to a full 12.3-inches diagonally and are designed to seamlessly provide a widescreen cockpit for the driver.
The set-up was impressive when it arrived with the E-Class and remains so here.
Naturally you could spend hours configuring each screen to show a mix of the vehicle, GPS and infortainment data you require for your commute to the office.
Gone is the separate stalk for Distronic and cruise control functions; replaced with buttons on the steering wheel that work a bit like a smartphone screen. On paper, this sounds like it could be fiddly, but in practice you get used to it after a few kilometres. The steering wheel somehow pulls off the trick of being utterly festooned with features, but remains tastefully simple -- almost retro -- all at the same time.
Not that you need to use buttons if you don't want to; the S-Class's Linguatronic voice-control system now obeys more than 450 commands.
New Zealand pricing won't be available until closer to the model's official on-sale date in December, but then with the S-Class, if you have to ask ...
Right now, you'll need to pony up a couple of hundred thousand to get on the S-Class ladder; a scenario that's unlikely to change much with the updated model.
From launch we'll get a "standard" S 350d turbo diesel and an S 560 featuring the new petrol V8. In 2018, early-adopters will also be able to pair the S 560 with plug-in hybrid technology, although the resultant S 560e will be available only in long-wheelbase configuration, as will the big Mercedes-AMG S 63.
Models with the "L" designation up their length from a shade more than five metres to just over 5.2m.
If sir/madam wishes to inquire about the Mercedes-Maybach S 650, sir/madam is welcome to have a private chat with a Mercedes-Benz representative. This uber-spesh S is being built in right-hand drive, so is available to the market.
We do miss out on 4Matic (all-wheel drive) versions of the S-Class however; while the S 350d and S 560 are available as either all- or rear-wheel drive cars in Europe, 4Matic versions of Mercedes' flagship are left-hand drive-only, with no plan to change this.
The previous S 400 and V12-engined S 600 models will disappear from the New Zealand market, too.
Traditionally, V8 sales have commanded 70 per cent of the S-Class audience in New Zealand, with 20 per cent opting for turbo diesel power and 10 per cent heading straight to the top-of-the-line AMG. The rarefied air of the AMG version aside, after sampling it in Europe this week, the S 560 promises big things for large sedan fans here.
Things are heating up in the luxury segment. The forthcoming Audi A8 promises even higher levels of semi-autonomous driving ability, which may or may not translate to the New Zealand highway, and BMW doubles down on its top model, with a 7-Series-based X7 SUV promised for late next year. Range Rover is adding to its portfolio with the Velar and, although the Genesis G70 remains something of a luxo-upstart for now, look how quickly the Korean parent brand has enmeshed itself within the mainstream scene. Only a fool would disregard it outright.
Despite all this, you can still appreciate Mercedes-Benz's confident calm upon the arrival of the updated S-Class.
Mercedes-Benz exterior designer Achim-Dietrich Badstubner suggested to media that: "The idea behind the S-Class is actually very simple; it is designed to be the best car in the world. The S-Class is our soul. It is the market benchmark."
Bold statements there. But the S-Class has always been a bold car.
ENGINES:3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder turbo diesel (210kW / 600Nm), 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 (345kW / 700Nm), 4.0-litre twin turbo V8 (450kW / 900Nm)
PRICES:To be confirmed
PROS: Bar-setting luxury and refinement, automated technologies, AMG's ability to meld luxury and performance
CONS: Large luxury SUVs increasingly doing the job of large luxury sedans