Oliver Locher, the man responsible for co-ordinating development of the 2014 Mercedes S-Class, says it is "nothing less than the best car in the world."
Quite a claim, echoing one made earlier by Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the board of Daimler AG, who said aspirations for this car were "the best or nothing" in every respect.
Locher was addressing one of 15 waves of journalists from around the globe, brought to Ontario in July for the first opportunity to drive the new S-Class. More than 640 of us drove the new car from downtown Toronto to the Muskokas. Our intense look at the new Mercedes included time in a full-size simulator set up in the underground parking garage of a downtown hotel, to doing driving manoeuvres on an airport runway.
The new S-Class is dimensionally and mechanically similar to the outgoing model, but is 2 cm taller and 2.8 cm wider. It has the same drivetrain. But don't let the numbers mislead you – this is an entirely new car. Half of the new body is lightweight aluminum, cutting 100 kilograms from the weight, yet it is 50 per cent stiffer. The weight has been redistributed so only 52 per cent sits over the front wheels, resulting in a considerable improvement in driving dynamics.
The twin-turbo 4.7-litre V-8 has been tweaked and now produces 455 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, enabling the big luxury car to go 0-100 km/h in less than five seconds, putting it in with some exotic high-performance sports cars. But thanks to significant advances in aerodynamics and a start-stop system, the new S-Class consumes 20 per cent less fuel.
But it is what lies beneath the restyled skin and inside that defines the new S-Class. The company says luxury has been the strongest driver of innovation throughout the history of the automobile and once again proves it with an incredible array of technologies.
These include headlights that automatically blank out high beams in the vicinity of other vehicles, a suspension system that sees what lies ahead and adjusts itself accordingly, a self-parking system that also steers out of tight spots and an almost autonomous cruise control system that maintains position within lane markings and relative to the vehicle in front – without the driver touching the wheel.
Development of the 2014 Mercedes S-Class centred on the long-wheelbase version (known internally as V222), which is all that will be available when it arrives in November; the twin-turbo 4.7-litre V-8 paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission and 4Matic all-wheel-drive will be the only drivetrain – initially. They will be followed by a short-wheelbase model (W222) and diesel, hybrid (gas and diesel), V-6 and V-12 variants.
The exterior appearance is familiar, from the classic Mercedes grill to the rectangular exhaust outlets. But the balloon fenders are gone, replaced by a tapered swage line running the length of the vehicle. The result is a more balanced and even athletic look. Countless hours in the wind tunnel has reduced the coefficient of drag to 0.24 – incredible for such a big car. Not only has this aided in fuel efficiency, it has all but eliminated wind noise resulting in near silence while under way.
Flanking the grill are complex LED headlights, while at the other end are variable-intensity LED brake and tail lights. There is not a single old-fashioned light bulb anywhere on or in this vehicle.
The cabin is where you'll find the biggest changes. Premium materials, contrasting stitching and beautiful details abound, including a unique steering wheel. A number of different wood, colours and finishes are available. The instrument panel consists of a pair of giant 31-cm "floating" TFT displays. The one to the left is a reconfigurable gauge cluster, and the other, the infotainment centre and main display for a new generation of the Mercedes Command system. You can download an app that will allow you to control audio and seat functions from your cellphone as well as access a number of features.
The interior is nothing less than serene when under way – all but silent. Even the standard engine start-stop function sets new standards for going about its job without intrusion.
The new S-Class is more about enjoying being driven than driving. Mercedes has discontinued the Super Premium Maybach brand but lessons learned there have not gone to waste.
For example, four-passenger models with the Executive rear seat package have reclining hot-stone massaging seats. The one on the passenger-side also has a power footrest and ottoman. Both get their own airline-style tables that fold out of the giant, heated centre armrest, and separate DVD entertainment systems with wireless headphones and Internet access.
Other available premium features include an astounding 24-speaker Burmester surround-sound system, twin-element panoramic roof, heated/cooled cup holders and almost as many airbags as Ottawa. And how about an "Air Balance" package with ionizing and perfuming features?
This is a new Mercedes, so we can expect news on the safety front – and get it with everything from an updated blind spot assist system to 360-degree cameras. New rear seatbelts feature illuminated receptacles that move out to help you buckle up then back down as part of the Pre-Safe system, which prepares occupants for a crash. But these new belts include airbags that inflate on impact, jamming the belt in the latch, ensuring the lower portion remains tight while the upper part expands and is progressively released to reduce injury to the upper body.
The most impressive new features involve control of the suspension, head and tail lights. Magic Body Control utilizes a pair of cameras that monitor the road ahead and adapt the air suspension accordingly in milliseconds. A trial over a speed-bump-like rough section with and without the feature had us laughing and clapping our hands at the difference. It will not be available in Canada because it is not compatible with the all-wheel-drive system used on every S-class brought to this country.
A third-generation Night View assist can identify and separate humans and animals on the roadside, flashing individual LEDs directly at the humans while showing their presence on a screen warning both driver and pedestrian. It does not flash animals as their response is so unpredictable. It is not available here because of our badly outdated lighting regulations.
Even more frustrating is that those lighting regulations prevent Canadians from getting the Adaptive High Beam Assist, a shutter system on the high beams that literally blanks them out to oncoming traffic or when approaching vehicles from behind – eliminating the problem of being blinded by bright lights. The tail and brake lights used elsewhere in the world have reduced intensity at night and when sitting at rest to reduce glare and blinding other drivers.
The Mercedes S-Class has been one of the most successful luxury sedans in the world for decades. More than 500,000 of the current generation have been sold and Mercedes has more than 20,000 orders for the new version. Buyers will not be disappointed, especially since the Canadian price has dropped by $13,300.
2014 Mercedes-Benz S550
Base Price: $115,200 for long-wheelbase; $106,600 for short-wheelbase
Engine: 4.7-litre, DOHC, V-8
Horsepower/torque: 455 hp/517-lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Drive: Full-time all-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Not available
Alternatives: Lexus LS, BMW 7-Series, Audi A8, Jaguar XJ
Note: A photograph in Thursday's print Drive section was incorrectly labelled as a 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-class, when it was in fact an 2014 E-class. The photo above in this online story is an S-Class.