THE NEW GENERATION OF MERCEDES-BENZ’S FLAGSHIP S- CLASS IS AS REVOLUTIONARY AS ITS PREDECESSORS, WRITES Adam Hay-nicholls, AND LITERALLY DRIVES ITSELF WHILE GIVING YOU A BACK MASSAGE
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
WHILE THERE’S NOTHING RETRO ABOUT THE EXTERIOR, THERE’S A BLEND OF PAST AND FUTURE INSIDE
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