We’re used to overstatements and exaggerations from carmakers, especially when they launch a new model.
But when Mercedes bigwig Dr Joachim Schmidt said last week that the latest model in the brand’s line-up was “not just a technological spearhead for Mercedes-Benz, but for automotive development as a whole,” rather than dismiss this statement as sheer public relations hyperbole, we chose to believe him completely.
After all, the car in question is the new S-Class; a veritable trendsetter that has not only been intertwined with the brand’s image as a premium marque but also remained the undisputed industry benchmark ever since its launch.
And when such a fabled nameplate unveils its latest iteration with an openly stated aspiration of being “the best automobile in the world”, you expect nothing short of ground-breaking stuff.
You’d be excused then for being disillusioned with the way the car looks. Indeed, no trail has been blazed by the new S-Class in terms of styling and aesthetics. The design is evolutionary, but markedly more conservative and less striking to look at than the current W221 with its sporty wedge-shaped profile and sharp flared wheel arches. But that’s not to say the design is flavourless or uninspiring.
A closer inspection of the exterior that’s defined by the larger radiator grille and all-LED head- and taillights reveal some subtle styling flourishes like a steeply raked roofline and two sharp creases running along the sides. The best bit about the exterior though is that it camouflages the surfeit of technological wizardry and the decadent extravagance underneath quite successfully.
Inside, the W222 S-Class looks totally different from the model it replaces. The analogue gauges have been ditched in favour of a new 12.3in digital screen that incorporates the speedo, tacho, trip computer etc., while a similarly-sized second screen takes centre stage on the dashboard taking care of infotainment, climate control and sat-nav.
The cabin with its circular air vents and abundance of polished wood and leather is almost in Bentley and Rolls-Royce territory but the overall feel is much more high-tech and modern.
The plush new seats come with optional “energising” massage using 14 independent air cushions offering six different massage choices for both front and rear passengers. If that’s not pampering enough, there’s the “active perfuming system” that releases a choice of four different fragrances into the cabin to complete the spa-like experience.
However, the most revolutionary technologies are those that are hidden under the lightweight, aluminium hybrid bodyshell. The one that we thought is most remarkable is the Road Surface Scan, a camera-based damping system that detects bumps or ditches in the road ahead and adjusts the suspension accordingly. This comes as an optional extra over the standard air suspension with adaptive damping.
The new S-class is also the first vehicle in the world to come with full LED lighting as standard; no less than 56 LEDs make up each of headlights, 35 in the taillights and a staggering 300 of those in the cabin.
As expected, safety has been given paramount importance in the S-Class, with a host of new passive and active safety systems finding their way into the tristar’s largest saloon.
Mercedes-Benz takes airbag technology to its next level — rightly so as the S-Class was the first car to feature an airbag packed into the steering wheel in 1981-- by introducing the “beltbag” — an inflatable seat-belt strap that minimises the risk of injury to passengers by reducing the strain on their rib cage. And we have barely scratched the surface of the car’s technical capabilities which include driving itself in gridlock and detecting and mitigating rear-end collisions.
Mercedes has so far confirmed four powertrains; the entry-level S350 gets a 3.0-litre V6 diesel while the flagship S500 is powered by a 4.7-litre V8 petrol engine. There are two hybrids as well in the range -- the S400 Hybrid powered a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and the S300 Bluetec Hybrid with 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel under its bonnet.
More models, including an AMG-fettled one, are expected later, but one thing’s for sure, when it goes on sale later this year, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz S-class will be one of the most technologically advanced cars on the road, and once again set new standards for the others to follow.