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The Mercedes-Benz S400 is as rev­o­lu­tion­ary as its pre­de­ces­sors

As i charge across europe in the lat­est S- Class sedan from Mercedes-benz, I’m rather con­fi­dent the mar­que has achieved the daunt­ing goal it sets it­self for each new gen­er­a­tion of its lux­ury flag­ship—to build the best car in the world. With the S400 Hy­brid’s cruise con­trol en­gaged, the “in­tel­li­gent drive” sys­tem’s sen­sors read the lane lines and track ve­hi­cles and other ob­jects ahead. Should a car pull out in front of me, the brakes come on. Should I take my hands off the wheel ap­proach­ing a cor­ner, the car will steer it­self and sound a warn­ing after five seconds.

Us­ing CO­MAND, the “cock­pit man­age­ment and data sys­tem,” you can scroll though scores of op­tions to change the set­tings, mood and en­ter­tain­ment inside the car.

One of my favourites is the “dy­namic” seat set­ting, which causes the sides of the as­tound­ing leather arm­chairs to hug you as you go around cor­ners. That’s just the tip of this very com­fort­able ice­berg, for you can also spec­ify a range of mas­sage treat­ments. A hot stone mas­sage? The Merc can de­liver a nice ap­prox­i­ma­tion. Scroll fur­ther and you can per­fume the in­te­rior with a range of air fresh­en­ers. Lavender seems apt. Cue some whale mu­sic on the 24-speaker Burmester sur­round sound sys­tem and you’ve got your­self a mo­bile spa.

Since the first gen­er­a­tion of the flag­ship S- Class ap­peared in 1972, each new one has been a com­plete revo­lu­tion—ev­ery­thing new, inside and out—that climbs sev­eral rungs on the evo­lu­tion­ary lad­der. The S- Class has fa­mously ush­ered in many world firsts, in­clud­ing anti-lock brakes, satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion and airbags, all of which have be­come stan­dard across ev­ery seg­ment. How soon will we see steer­ing as­sis­tance and dy­namic seats on the A- Class? Not long, is my wa­ger. And Mercedes’ lat­est master­piece, its sixth it­er­a­tion of the S- Class, has so much more.

The S400 is the first car to ditch light bulbs com­pletely. It uses 56 LEDS in the head­lights, 35 in the tail lights and 300 in the in­te­rior, the nat­ti­est of which run un­der the dash­board and rear bulk­head as strips of am­bi­ent light that can be switched be­tween six colours. I chose pur­ple in my sil­ver S400, which com­bined with the black leather and po­plar wood fas­cia to turn the car into what looked like a night­club after dark.

The long wheel­base model gives the VIPS in the back enough room to stretch out almost fully, thanks to rear seats that re­cline 43.5 de­grees. The head­rest is as com­fort­able as Kim Kar­dashian’s cleav­age. If you can stay awake, there’s a video screen for each pas­sen­ger set into the back of the seats in front, with func­tions for en­ter­tain­ment and web brows­ing. Head­phones al­low the back­seat driv­ers to watch dif­fer­ent movies.

The lat­est S- Class is a lit­tle wider and longer than the fifth gen­er­a­tion and dis­guises its bulk with a swoop­ing roofline and two strong con­verg­ing character lines that cut into the flanks, cre­at­ing the il­lu­sion that it’s been to the gym. The slicker shape, com­bined with thicker glass and door seals, helps to keep road noise to near im­per­cep­ti­ble lev­els. It’s not as quiet as the Rolls-royce Phan­tom, MERCE DES-BENZ S400 HY­BRID body Steel and alu­minium four-door sa­loon en­gine 3.5-litre petrol V6 (with elec­tric mo­tor) power 255kw (306bhp) torque 500Nm (370lb/ft) trans­mis­sion Seven-speed au­to­matic ac­cel­er­a­tion 0-100km/h 6.8 seconds top speed 250km/h (limited) price HK$1.684 mil­lion

but it’s equal to the Bent­ley Fly­ing Spur and a step up on BMW and Audi. The use of alu­minium has pared the S- Class to less than its pre­de­ces­sor’s weight, too.

While there’s noth­ing retro about the ex­te­rior, there’s a blend of past and fu­ture inside. Along with the broad swathe of po­plar that could have been lifted off a Riva yacht, the two-spoke steer­ing wheel is a flash­back to the 1950s, evok­ing the Pon­ton and Fin­tail lux­ury saloons that were the pre­de­ces­sors of the S- Class. Pulling you back into 2014 are two 31cm LCD screens—one for the speedo, rev counter, trip counter and nightvi­sion dis­play (yes, you read that right), the other for sat-nav and info-en­ter­tain­ment. As you’d ex­pect, the S400 comes with plenty of safety kit, in­clud­ing eight airbags, a traf­fic sign recog­ni­tion cam­era, a driver drowsi­ness mon­i­tor, blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing, and a sta­bil­ity con­trol sys­tem that in­cor­po­rates “curve dy­namic as­sist” and “cross­wind as­sist.”

Night vi­sion, once the pre­serve of spe­cial op­er­a­tions com­man­dos and Paris Hil­ton’s boudoir, al­lows you to pick up things the LED head­lights don’t. There’s also a clever sys­tem that as­sesses the like­li­hood of an ac­ci­dent—it closes the win­dows and tight­ens the seat­belts if it an­tic­i­pates an im­pact—and another safety sys­tem that au­to­mat­i­cally ap­plies the

brakes if it senses a low-speed col­li­sion with a car or pedes­trian is im­mi­nent.

The S400’s clev­er­ness con­tin­ues un­der the bon­net, where a 27bhp elec­tric mo­tor aids ac­cel­er­a­tion and boosts fuel econ­omy. Its bat­tery is charged with en­ergy har­vested from brak­ing. When op­er­at­ing un­der elec­tric power alone, which the S400 can do for sev­eral kilo­me­tres, the car is silent. The petrol V6 usu­ally kicks in at about 20km/h and the two power sources com­bine seam­lessly most of the time. This gives the hy­brid ex­cel­lent fuel con­sump­tion of 44.8mpg (5.25 litres per 100km) for com­bined city/coun­try driv­ing, and 42.8mpg (5.5L/100km) in ur­ban ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to Mercedes.

Of course, if you have a lead foot like mine, the fig­ures won’t be so good, but they’re still im­pres­sive. In my first 24 hours with the car, I drove 820km from London to nearly the cen­tre of France on a sin­gle tank. In the week I had the car, with 2,400km driven across a mix of ur­ban roads, high­ways and a bit of B-road bombing in Sport mode, I av­er­aged 30.7mpg (7.6L/100km), which is mighty good, given the car’s un­laden weight of 2,050kg.

The ride be­fits the best-sell­ing lux­ury car in the world. It isn’t quite the magic car­pet


of the Rolls-royce Phan­tom, but the S400’s broader re­mit re­quires a bit more sporti­ness. Had my car been fit­ted with the op­tional “magic body con­trol” sys­tem, only avail­able on V8 de­riv­a­tives, maybe it would have beaten the Rolls. The sys­tem uses a pair of cam­eras atop the wind­screen to read the road ahead for un­du­la­tions, pot­holes and speed bumps, pro­gram­ming the sus­pen­sion and damp­ing to iron them out—amaz­ing.

At high speed, the S400 en­joys im­mense di­rec­tional sta­bil­ity. Faced with a twist­ing course beg­ging for sporty han­dling, though, the Mercedes has lit­tle feed­back through the steer­ing. The chas­sis is ut­terly com­posed but doesn’t egg you on. The Jaguar XJ and Maserati Qu­at­tro­porte are more re­ward­ing to drive, but nei­ther cruise any­where near as well. Is the S400 the best car in the world? Prob­a­bly. It sets a new bench­mark, for sure, and it’s the clever­est car I’ve ever driven.

en­ergy ef­fi­cient The S400’s elec­tric mo­tor aids ac­cel­er­a­tion and boosts fuel econ­omy, while its bat­tery is charged with en­ergy har­vested from brak­ing

ba ck to the fu­ture The S400 melds el­e­ments of the past and fu­ture; fea­tures such as LCD in­stru­ment pan­els and sen­sors that read the road ahead com­bine with a po­plar fas­cia and two-spoke steer­ing wheel evoca­tive of the 1950s

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