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Driven: All-new Mercedes S-Class rolls into Australia

Flagship: The new Mercedes-Benz S-Class has now arrived in Australia.

Benz aims to reclaim limo leadership with high-tech S-Class flagship from $215k


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29 Nov 2013

MERCEDES-BENZ might no longer use the S-Class limousine as its near-exclusive test bed for all new and futuristic technologies, but that hasn’t stopped it from launching the new-generation model with the not-so-humble label of “best car in the world”.

Launching now, the new 222-Series flagship of the Mercedes range arrives with the task of returning the brand to the top of Australia’s luxury limousine class, where it has been beaten in sales this year (by a handful of units) by the Porsche Panamera and BMW 7 Series.

The initial line-up consists of the S350 six-cylinder diesel, the S500 V8 petrol and the hardcore S63 AMG bi-turbo V8. A long-wheelbase version of the S500 remains, and, for the first time, a LWB version of the base S350 to boot.

Next year, arrivals include the twin-turbo S400 petrol, S350 hybrid and the special-order S600 V12, with a European plug-in hybrid version an outside chance at best, due largely to a projected price premium that would exceed what is tenable for the local market.

Kicking off at $215,000 plus on-road costs, the S350 is a touch more than $1500 pricier than the outgoing version. The first-time LWB option comes in at $222,500. Mercedes-Benz says it expects the base diesel to account for more sales than any other variant in the range.

Under the bonnet sits a 190kW/620Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission that consumes a remarkable 6.0 litres per 100km.

Moving up the range, the S500 costs $285,000, about $11,500 less than the outgoing model’s list price, or $310,000 for the stretched-wheelbase S500 L.

The new 4.7-litre bi-turbo V8 under the nose pumps out 335kW and 700Nm, but consumes only 9.2L/100km.

The final member of the inaugural triumvirate is the S63 AMG, now costing $385,000, or $7400 less than its successor. The superseded S65 AMG V12 has been axed and will not be replaced in Australia.

This appears to be small loss, since the 63’s twin-turbo 5.5-litre V8 engine produces 430kW and a staggering 900Nm of torque. All S-Class variants including the AMG are rear-wheel-drive, since the AWD option is a left-hand-drive only proposition.

Over decades, Benz has established a tradition of premiering the fruits of its research and development labours on the S-Class, before sprinkling it down among lowlier models over time.

Features including air suspension, power steering, soft-touch interior cladding, anti-skid (ABS) brakes, twin airbags, stability control, brake assist, high-tensile body steel and radar-guided adaptive cruise control all appeared on various generations of Mercedes flagship limos before reaching any other Benz model and – in many cases – any other model on the road, period.

But with developments in active safety and connectivity in the modern age moving faster than new model generational changes, the Stuttgart marque has recently had to premiere various nifty connectivity and active safety developments on models such as the E-Class (current Intelligent Drive) and even the A-Class (Apple Siri integration).

Nevertheless, this new-generation offers world-firsts such as full LED lighting: there is not a single traditional bulb anywhere on, or in, the car.

Benz says this system is more energy efficient, and thus saves 0.05L/100km of fuel.

Also, a new system called Magic Body Control can ‘read’ the road ahead with radars and cameras, and adjust the suspension accordingly. It is standard on the S63 and optional on the rest.

And the S-Class will also provide a “hot stone massage” through a seat function that pairs an optional seat masseuse with the standard seat heating system.

Other notable changes between S-Class generations include the new 95kg lighter bodyshell – courtesy of more aluminium and ultra high-tensile steel – that counters the added weight of additional equipment. Indeed, Mercedes says the kerb weight of the S-Class hasn’t changed in three generations since 1998), despite each iteration being larger, better-equipped and safer than its predecessor.

To be exact, 50 per cent of the body is aluminium, with steel only in the sides. Torsional rigidity is up 50 per cent. Mercedes has also added traditional firewall insulation into the A-pillars to deaden noise via injection moulding.

NVH levels also improve on the back of “extensive” aluminium and higher-strength materials in the steering rack, and electrically adjustable engine mounts that adjusts automatically depending on engine load, thereby creating larger volume for vibrations to dissipateFrom the outside, a new grille is 30 per cent taller than before, giving a requisite road presence. The great slab is more than one-metre wide. Side scallops are more prominent, with a ‘dropping’ side line that gives the impression of forward thrust, apparently, and a host of minor tweaks to the aero that brings the Cd rating down the 0.24.

Inside, the cabin has a pair of enormous ‘floating’ TFT screens with background lighting that can change colour from red to blue to white (and several others) at the spin of a dial. There’s also a retro two-spoke steering wheel and a much cleaner central fascia.

Novel features include rear vents that first suck out hot air to cool the cabin, then reverse and pump out cold air, plus a Night View Assist thermal and infra-red system that scans the road in the dark, and projects night-vision footage of pedestrians, cyclists or animals on the instrumentation.

Standard on all versions are a panoramic sunroof, park assist with a 360-degree camera, LED lights with a headlight assist system that blocks out high beam for the car ahead but encases it and surroundings with full light, a Burmester sound system with a new-generation COMAND infotainment system, rear seat WLAN and Wi-Fi hot spot (a Mercedes Australia-first), ambient cabin lighting in seven colours and a split-view screen for sat-nav and television screens simultaneously.

The front-central TFT infotainment and navigation screen is 31.4cm, and comes with a 250g hard drive (10g for music only). Mercedes says the telematics alone requires 30 million lines of code, more than some passenger jets and all linked by high-speed fibre optic cables.

And the wiring system has up to 734 harnesses, 5km of wires and 2400 wires, many made of aluminium. An optional 1.5kW sound system has 3D sound containing mid-range speakers and roof tweeters that move 360-degrees and in and out.

The S500 and above get two rear-seat 25.4cm screens with two USB inputs and two wireless headphones, with additional aux sockets for consoles. The screens adjust by themselves to counter forward seat movement.

Other lesser-known features include solar sensors that adjust air flow coming through vents on either side depending on where heat is coming from. GPS data helps determine suns location. There is also a coconut shell charcoal-filter system to help asthmatics and an air-ioniser to kill bacteria.

Standard safety equipment includes an updated version of the new E-Class’s suite of gear, including blind-spot assist, lane-keeping assist, radar-guided cruise, Cross Wind assist (from the humble Sprinter van), autonomous brakes with pedestrian recognition and a Pre-Safe system that pulls the front seatbelts away from a frontal impact and releases the occupant into the deflating airbags.

Rear seatbelts with airbags are optional.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class pricing*
S 350 BT 3.0d (a)$215,000
S 350 BT L 3.0d (a)$222,500
S 500 4.7L (a)$285,000
S 500 L 4.7L (a)$310,000
S 63 AMG 5.5L (a)$385,000
*Excludes on-road costs.

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