The trick is to make something ageless and then make it priceless. That is exactly what the S-Class, the flagship sedan in the Mercedes-Benz stable, has always been -- ageless and priceless! It's not easy making a car that stands the test of time, which even years later looks amazing, desirable and intriguing. The new S-Class, if you recall, was launched in India early in 2014. Three years later it still turns heads and churns latent desire. The priceless is a two-fanged thing; as a collector's item the S-Class is highly valued but as one of those pinnacles of almost everything in the car market, it also makes the S-Class a fairly expensive car to own. But keep aside the pricelessness, and let's focus on it being the pinnacle of motoring as generations know it. It is the herald of advancements in both technology and design, with several innovations enveloped in a single car. It drives and inspires the entire industry to scale greater heights. Ever heard any of the other four of the big five Germans automakers ever being this celebrated? I doubt it.
The subtle and not so noticeable change in the new S-Class is the front grille which now gets twin slats, a remodelled front bumper and three LED strips inside the headlamps
So the S-Class, when it was unveiled globally some five years ago, was that pinnacle of most things motoring. But everything at the top can't just stay there indefinitely, and eventually the task at hand boils down to staying at the top. Now just a week ago I came back from Spain. Audi had just unveiled their flagship, the A8, there. In it, they harbour the hope of taking autonomous driving to a whole new level, level 3 to be specific. At this level, the car requires no intervention from the driver as it makes its way through traffic on its way to its destination. It's the biggest thing that's happened to the automotive industry in a very long time. The A8 has all the makings of displacing the Mercedes-Benz S-Class from its pinnacle. So how does Mercedes-Benz respond? They updated the S-Class and this is what it now has and does.
The dashboard layout has changed considerably and an IWC Schaffhausen clock adds some flavour
6,500 components within the new S-Class have been revamped! That number sounds ridiculous but that is exactly how many components have been improved. You'd think there were so many things wrong with the S-Class, but the fact of the matter is that in the last four years Mercedes-Benz's engineers have been extremely busy refining all that for the next level. These changes range from the smallest details such as the design of the front grille to more complex ones like the new engines, hybrid power trains, right up to the level-2 autonomous driving ability.
On the styling front, there really isn't a great deal that identifies the S-Class as significantly new. If this were the presidential wagon, Trump would simply walk past and then be redirected back to it, "Oh that's it, is it?" finger shooting off the car! The subtle and not so noticeable change is the front grille which now gets twin slats, a remodelled front bumper and three LED strips inside the headlamps. The three strips now have become genealogy indicators of the Mercedes-Benz sedan line-up. One strip for the C-Class, two for the E-Class and three for the S-Class. Hmm there's new tail lamps too. Interior revisions are more prominent -- there's a new steering wheel, the dashboard layout has changed considerably and an IWC Schaffhausen clock adds some flavour. The rest stays true to the original form, including those brilliantly sculpted seats.
What's added to heighten the comfort level are a few new features, predominantly the massage functions for all four passengers depending on the level of trim in the S-Class. The feature can be selected as a pure massage function, or mixed up with mood lighting, music, climate control settings and seat heaters it bills itself as Energizing comfort control. I can easily vouch that these seats are the best in the business by far, and that massage function, it's the happy ending in this story!
The brilliantly sculpted seats stay true to the original form
I did mention that the S-Class gets new engines, three of them precisely. Two in-line 6-cylinders with both petrol and diesel feeds are offered with varying power ratings each. And then there is the flagship 4.0-litre V8 bi-turbo in the S63 AMG! It's a beast of a car. With 612 horses on tap and 900Nm, the S63 AMG can reach a 100kmph in 3.4 seconds, that's supercar territory being breached by a luxury barge weighing in upwards of a not so supercar-ish 2 tonnes!
But we aren't too concerned with that spec because Mercedes might only get that car to India sometime in 2019, that's still nearly 15-18 months away. The engine that holds sway in the S-Class in India is the 350d. This inline 6-cylinder 3.0-litre turbocharged engine delivers a modest 286 horses but has 600Nm of max torque to make any driving effort mundane. This engine is mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission that's offered with every engine spec in the S-Class range, and before you could ask, there is no manual transmission.
Did we drive the 350d? No, but what we did experience is the S 400d 4Matic, which has the same 6-cylinder configuration but in a higher state of tune. In fact, it's the most powerful series production diesel Mercedes-Benz has ever built for a car. Power output is rated at 340 horses with 700Nm of torque. The all-wheel drivetrain brings a more confident dynamic character into play, but that's not to say the rear-wheel-drive configuration that's offered in our market is worse. It offers a different character to those who know to exercise it, though for the larger part, the S-Class will always be used in a more dignified manner! The other big difference is performance -- the rear-wheel-drive configuration is two-tenths of a second slower than its all-wheel-drive counterpart. The India-spec 320d will do a 100kmph in 6 seconds with top speed restricted to 250kmph. But will that performance drop as it has in the past with all India-spec cars that were detuned to manage the lower quality fuels? I'm not certain if there should be any more concerns given we are now supposed to have cleaner and high-grade fuel available pan India.
What I was looking at more importantly is engine and tyre noise inside the cabin, and there isn't even the slightest murmur. It's still impressively silent. Performance is also impressive in the 400d, but the 60 additional horses and 100Nm of torque will shine over the 350d. More important though is the fact that these inline 6-cylinder engines are now six per cent more fuel-efficient than before.
These inline 6-cylinder engines are now six per cent more fuel-efficient than before
Moving on to ride comfort and handling, the new S-Class uses a hybrid exoskeleton made of aluminium, high-strength steel, plastics and high rigidity foam to keep weight in check without compromising safety and integrity. The suspension continues to sport the road surface scan feature with a stronger camera that is now capable of detecting bumps in the road ahead at speeds of up to 180kmph and a range of 15 metres.
The S-Class also has a curve inclination function that allows the body to tilt into a bend by up to 2.65 degrees thus reducing lateral force acting on the passengers. Curve inclination along with the road surface scan and active body control are the three primary components of the famous Magic Body Control, which is an optional feature and one not available for the Indian market. By the end of it, all there are just so many things we aren't getting in India that it seriously makes me question -- what is it that Indian consumers are getting exactly in the S-Class?
And then there's standard fitment adaptive suspension whose air dampers work individually and continuously at each wheel to maintain optimal ride height and comfort. You can even select how you want the dampers to function, in Comfort mode or with a stiffer action if you switch to Sport mode. In either case, the ride quality is fantastic, but I was most impressed with the S-Class in Sport mode -- you can feel the dampers working hard to keep the car in line while at the same there isn't any harshness. Now despite the acceleration performance levels the S-Class in its various trims is capable of, bear in mind it's over 5 meters long and nearly 2 meters wide, that's a massive footprint it occupies on the road. And all of that may not seem to turn in easily. Yet it's agile, sure-footed and precise. Though not in the sportscar throw, it accurately anywhere kind of way. Rest assured if you had to make this a getaway car, you'd getaway!
The updated S-Class will be available in India in the first quarter of 2018, expect it to be launched anytime around the launch of the Audi A8. So if you hear the A8 is coming, expect the S-Class to precede it by a month or so. It's just a good strategy. No, honestly. The S-Class continues to remain a fascinating sedan, though I do believe the car is now beginning to lean more towards the geeks with deep pockets rather than old-school money! That would probably explain the immensely long list of gadgets and features in this car. Things like the massage functions, the magic body ride, the new level-2 autonomous ability (see box) and so much more. There are, for instance, over 100 actuators in the S-Class that work to heighten comfort levels in this car, 14 pneumatic massage cells per seat, the 500-plus LEDs that are sources of illumination in this car, the voice controls that accept over 450 commands, the anti-allergy interiors and it can even park itself! The S-Class has never ever scaled these heights, where technology meets craftsmanship and luxury of an unparalleled order. But there's more to come. This is after all, as Mercedes claims, the road to a whole new dimension in motoring where a more powerful autonomous ability comes to play. So is it the best car in the world? Until we drive the all-new A8 and decide otherwise, the S-Class can safely hold on to that distinction!
In level-2 automation, the car cannot entirely drive itself, but it has the independence to take certain decisions. It still needs the driver to intervene in more complex situations but can adequately hold its own in certain conditions, especially highway motoring. In the new S-Class, level-2 autonomity brings in a whole range of driver assistance systems into play and some of them are really cool.
Active distance assist reduces speed when the vehicle detects either a bend in the road, roundabouts or toll junctions and then automatically speeds up after the situation has passed. On the highway, if you are in the slow lane, it will also decelerate if it detects your exit is coming up and can even work in conjunction with the navigation system to slow down if an intersection is being approached and the driver activates the indicators.
Active speed limit assist reads the prescribed speed limit posted anywhere along the route and will slow down to stay within that limit. Active lane changing assist assesses the roads in the lane next to the car in three zones, at the front, right next to it and behind. If it does not detect any other vehicle hampering the lane change, it will assist the driver in doing so.
Active braking assist will either make the driver aware of an impending collision with another car, object or person. If there is no response from the driver, the system can brake on its own and come to a complete stop.
Active lane keeping assist uses pulses or audible warning to alert the driver when the car starts drifting out of its lane at speeds between 60kmph to 200kmph. It can even pull the vehicle back into the lane by braking the outer wheel.
Remote parking assist and active parking assist, as the name suggests, allow you to park your car using an app from your cell phone. Active parking assist will support the driver by finding a suitable parking spot and entering or leaving a parking spot without the driver's intervention.
There are several more level-2 autonomous features as well in the new S-Class, all of them with a singular focus, to enhance the safety aspect while in motion. With these functions, Mercedes-Benz comes one step closer to level-3 automated driving, where driver intervention is kept to a bare minimum.