2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class review

3 Sep 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class review
Mercedes-Benz S-Class

2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

So advanced is the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class that not one traditional incandescent lightbulb can be found anywhere on it; not in its headlamps, its tail lamps, its mood-setting ambient lighting or its instrument cluster.

In fact, you could easily correlate one LED bulb for every time that Mercedes-Benz has referred to its redesigned flagship as not only the best S-Class it has ever built, but the best car ever built.

That#39;s not the kind of claim an automaker, even a German one, can make lightly (pun, regrettably, intended).

Then again, Mercedes-Benz should be boastful about the 2014 S-Class. Perhaps no car will face as diverse a buyer base as the S-Class – bankers in Frankfurt, oil rich sheiks in Saudi Arabia, real housewives in Orange County, hip hop moguls in Brooklyn, importers/exporters in the third world and, of course, the nouveau riche in China.

Not only is the S-Class designed to be the new luxury choice for high-worth buyers world-wide, it will also form the basis for a new ultra-extravagant sedan to replace the now-discontinued Maybach.

Given the phenomenal growth the Chinese luxury brand market has seen over the last decade, it#39;s that last group above that likely influenced the S-Class the most: From the palatial rear seating area to radar-guided technology that makes it the closest thing to an autonomous car you can buy, the S-Class makes a serious case for itself.

But the best car ever? To see about that, we traveled to Toronto to sample this big four-door for the first time.

Pampering and coddling

All-new inside and out, the new model is stylistically an evolution of the frumpy outgoing S. More swept-back than before, its look is vastly more evocative – even though we think the LED-lined dark-finish headlamps are rather sci-fi-alien in their execution. More impressive are the tails, which hint at Bentley without overtly copying.

Cartoonish two-spoke steering wheel aside, the S-Class#39; interior is, quite simply, as good as it gets. Americans will be offered only the long-wheelbase model that adds about 5 inches worth of stretch-out room in the rear to the Euro-style standard length. Though a three-place bench is on offer, we imagine a good number of S-Classes will be ordered with an executive-style rear seating arrangement that rivals an Emirates Airbus A380 for its poshness.

In addition to the expected reclining, heating, cooled and massaging thrones, each passenger has an iPad-sharp individual TFT display screen, a wireless AKG headset, a fold-out tray table, a pillow head rest and, at all four positions, heated center and door panel-mounted armrests.

Suffice to say that it makes any other luxury car feel like a tired Mercury Sable wagon. Mercedes points out that every material in the S-Class that looks like metal or leather is indeed the real McCoy, although the German definition of real metal stretches to include metal-plated plastic. Still, there#39;s not a surface that isn#39;t extraordinarily pleasing to touch or, for the first time ever, to smell.

A glovebox-mounted perfume is discretely atomized into the car#39;s cabin in one of four available scents to cover up the real world outside. In smog-choked China, this might be a major boon, but Toronto is a pretty clean place.

Of course, some buyers – most here in the United States but few in China – will wind up driving their S-Class instead of riding in it. To that end, drivers are greeted by a pair of nearly 12 inch-wide high-resolution screens mounted next to one another. Though this glass cockpit-style arrangement might sound inelegant, the execution is phenomenal.

The left-hand screen works like a conventional instrument cluster, displaying analog-style gauges and relevant driving information. The right screen, meanwhile, shows audio and navigation controls operated by a knob and a smattering of buttons located on the center console.

Naturally, the S-Class doesn#39;t just have an audio system – it has a Burmester High-End setup with more speakers than you can count hidden behind metal grilles emblazoned with landau bars. There are even speakers nestled into the roof.

Those screens also control access to a host of new safety and comfort tech made possible by a stereo camera setup integrated into the windshield just behind the rearview mirror. Acting like a pair eyes mated to a Stephen Hawking#39;s brain, the cameras scan the road ahead not just for potential obstructions like cars, humans and animals, but also for potholes and road markings. An integral part of the S-Class#39; step toward autonomous driving, the cameras are likely to be standard on American S550s (which haven#39;t been detailed yet) but will be optional in some other markets.

Lights, camera, action

Let#39;s talk first about the way S-Class#39; air suspension talks to the stereo cameras. Constantly detecting variations in the road surface ahead, they prepare the underpinnings for bumps and potholes as long as the suspension is set to Comfort mode. Though the system really only works with the front wheels pointed straight ahead, we were simply blown away with how the suspension prepared itself for a series of wide road humps Mercedes had prepared for us on a special course.

In Sport mode, the humps made their presence known, albeit in the kind of controlled fashion one would expect from a luxury car. With Comfort selected, they simply vanished – the suspension absorbed them without disturbing the cabin. Magic?

Well, Mercedes does call it Magic Ride Control. We#39;ll have to wait to sample the system more on rough real-world roads, but suffice to say that we#39;re highly intrigued by this magic carpet ride.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Even more likely to change the highways of the world as we know them is the S-Class#39; step toward autonomous driving, a verbose jumble of words: Distronic Plus with Steering Assist and StopGo Pilot.

Reading road stripes and markings, the cameras direct the electrically-assisted steering and brakes to stay within the lines on relatively straight stretches of highway. You can#39;t quite set cruise control and climb into the back seat for a nap as the system will bark at drivers if they take their hands off of the steering wheel for more than a couple of seconds. But this is a clear step in that direction.

More a boon for traffic jams (which are more epic in China than even Los Angeles), the system can, as its name indicates, allow the big four-door to safely putter around at lower speeds with virtually no driver intervention.

Given that the S-Class is as close to an autonomous car as we#39;ve ever seen, it#39;s not surprising that driving experience from behind the wheel is rather detached. Certainly an accurate handler with well-weighted steering and a ride quality above reproache, this big four-door nonetheless registers very low on the fun-to-drive scale despite its robust powertrain.

Just one engine will motivate S-Class sedans in the U.S. at least for now – a carried-over 4.6-liter twin-turbocharged V8 that debuted just last year. Sending power to the rear or, in 4Matic models, all four wheels via a seven-speed automatic gearbox, the big eight is a smooth and powerful operator.

But we#39;re anxious to sample the fire-breathing AMG and diesel-sipping BlueTEC variants that will make their way here after the S550 first hits the market in September.

If the 2014 S-Class is a glimpse into the future, we now know that it#39;s only a matter of time before we can plug ourselves into luxury pods to transport us from one place to another. Whether or not this detachment from driving is appealing to you will inevitably vary by how recently you#39;ve been stuck in a traffic jam.

Inarguably the most technologically advanced car ever built, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class presents something of an enigma as to how we define the best.

2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 base price, TBA.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz. Some photos courtesy Mercedes-Benz.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Mercedes-Benz S-Class

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