Green lim­ou­sines

The tech in the $200K flag­ships will fil­ter down rapidly to the main­stream

Herald Sun - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - STU­ART MARTIN stu­art.martin@news.com.au

WHAT re­ally makes life safer be­hind the wheel?

The au­thor­i­ties’ road toll re­duc­tion mea­sures? Or the car com­pa­nies’ ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy, which have done plenty to keep us alive, as well as com­fort­able and en­ter­tained?

The tech­nol­ogy that rolls out in lux­ury li­mos is ap­pear­ing on main­stream cars faster than ever be­fore.

Stronger, lighter con­struc­tion off­sets the in­clu­sion of the lux­ury and safety fea­tures and the still­heavy (but get­ting lighter) hy­brid driv­e­trains, with the over­all ef­fect of us­ing less fuel.

TRICKLE-DOWN EF­FECT

Long syn­ony­mous with safety, Mercedes-Benz brought in airbags, anti-lock brakes and sta­bil­ity con­trol among other fea­tures. The S-Class in­tro­duced ABS in late 1978 (it be­came stan­dard on pas­sen­ger cars six years later).

Now it takes half that time for lower-cost mod­els to in­clude new tech.

With safety now a key sell­ing point, Benz spokesman David McCarthy says the in­dus­try is work­ing hard to im­ple­ment ac­tive safety fea­tures.

“It goes beyond a (crash test) re­sult — the re­al­ity is that where you will make the gains is the abil­ity to avoid an ac­ci­dent,” he says. “Sta­bil­ity con­trol can bring about a 30 per cent re­duc­tion in ac­ci­dents.”

ALL AHEAD FULL

We’re test­ing three vari­a­tions on a green theme — two V8s (Audi’s twin-turbo diesel and Lexus’s hy­brid combo) and the diesel-elec­tric Benz.

The S-Class’s pow­er­train is the most re­cent of the three, with the four-cylin­der — sadly at odds with the re­gally serene am­bi­ence of the rest of the car — let­ting you know it’s a diesel. The noise apart, tran­si­tions be­tween elec­tric-only and as­sisted diesel are seam­less.

In the S300, the GPS and satnav cal­cu­late the ap­proach­ing to­pog­ra­phy and tai­lor the charg­ing pat­terns to get the best fuel econ­omy.

Lexus owns the lux­ury hy­brid ground but its LS flag­ship is less about fuel econ­omy and more about per­for­mance — hence the F‒Sport badges.

It’s all-wheel drive and there’s no short­age of go.

The con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion (dou­bling as a gen­er­a­tor) makes life for oc­cu­pants smooth and re­fined, while still boost­ing the bat­tery.

The Audi has the most con­ven­tional driv­e­train here, the mon­ster out­puts of the V8 turn­ing all four wheels via an eight-speed au­to­matic. It’s a bet­ter ex­am­ple of a quiet, mod­ern and fru­gal diesel, us­ing two vari­able-ge­om­e­try tur­bos to shove the two-tonne car to 100km/h in un­der 5 seconds.

MAKE IT SO

Among the rolling test beds for new con­struc­tion meth­ods, the Lexus shows its age. It uses some alu­minium but more than half its body is high-ten­sile steel, which isn’t a bad thing un­til you hit the scales, as it’s the heav­i­est here.

Ef­forts to make the flag­ships lighter and stronger have paid div­i­dends for Benz and Audi.

The lat­ter uses a struc­ture with 13 grades of alu­minium that weighs just 231kg or, Audi says, 40 per cent lighter than a cor­re­spond­ing steel body. It’s all held to­gether by 1847 punch riv­ets, 632 self-tap­ping screws and 202 weld points, as well as a “struc­tural ad­he­sive” — glue to you and me — at the bolted con­nec­tions of the door pil­lars, which in­ci­den­tally are hotrolled steel.

In the Benz’s hy­brid body struc­ture, more than half of the shell is made from lighter- weight al­loy; the pas­sen­ger cell is high-strength steel.

SAFE AS HOUSES

Don’t ex­pect ANCAP crash rank­ings — the test­ing bud­gets only go so far — but as you’d ex­pect, there are airbags galore, adap­tive sus­pen­sion and sta­bil­ity con­trol.

Th­ese cars are the fron­trun­ners on the ac­ci­dent preven­tion path. In each, the ac­tive cruise con­trol uses radar and/or cam­eras to mon­i­tor traf­fic and ob­sta­cles ahead, ei­ther brak­ing to avoid or brac­ing to lessen the im­pact if the driver fails to act.

The Ger­man ma­chines de­tect pedes­tri­ans or large an­i­mals — day or night. The in­creased range of vi­sion would be a wel­come ad­di­tion to any coun­try driver’s night-time arse­nal.

The trio’s LED head­lights mask or dim in­di­vid­ual LEDs as an an­ti­daz­zle mea­sure if other traf­fic is de­tected.

Audi’s head­lights team up with the op­tional in­fra-red night vi­sion — a pedes­trian is high­lighted for the driver and the LEDs also blink quickly three times to fur­ther warn the driver and the pedes­trian.

Lane de­par­ture and blind spot warn­ing have long pro­gressed from th­ese flag­ships to the sub-$50,000 seg­ment. The Benz’s driver as­sis­tance ac­tively steers the car to keep it in the lane (even to the ex­tent of fight­ing cross­winds), beep­ing at the driver to re­fo­cus at­ten­tion.

JUST DRIVE

This is where the fat-cats re­ally get the best bits — and tak­ing it all in from the back seat isn’t the best point of view as the driver is spoilt for in­for­ma­tion and ca­pa­bil­ity.

The S-Class is a magic car­pet ride in Com­fort mode, waft­ing along bro­ken bi­tu­men with re­gal in­dif­fer­ence; Sport mode tight­ens up the haunches but not to the detri­ment of ride qual­ity.

The Lexus feels hefty but the ad­di­tion of ac­tive anti-roll bars im­proves ride qual­ity and body con­trol. The big V8 hy­brid now hunts along a wind­ing back road with greater com­po­sure. Nei­ther hy­brid’s road man­ners are as im­pec­ca­ble as the Audi.

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