No half measures

No half measures

Billed as incorporating 6 500 new parts following its recent makeover, Mercedes-Benz’s luxurious S-Class strives to represent nothing but the best – upholding its reputation for setting benchmarks in the super saloon stakes. Wynter Murdoch reports

When Mercedes-Benz sets out to develop a new S-Class, its designers and engineers face a daunting task – to make sure the car exceeds automotive benchmarks. No half measures. No modest ambitions. And, even when face-lifting the derivative, a similar brief holds.

So, the recently made-over model range incorporates a choice of new engines, a raft of new autonomous drive and connected car technologies, as well as updated exterior styling and interior appointments.

To say the selection of models in the line-up represents a wide choice is an understatement – apart from an array of six-cylinder diesel- and petrol-fuelled options, the ranks are swelled by V8 driven derivatives, V12 variants, as well as Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes-Maybach alternatives. Additionally, a hybrid model – said to offer an all-electric range of about 50km – is scheduled to debut.

New to the South African line-up is a S400d 4Matic which spokesmen for Mercedes-Benz claim is propelled by the most powerful passenger car diesel engine the brand has produced – a 3,0-litre, in-line, six-cylinder plant that delivers 250kW and 700Nm.

The unit – which features an aluminium block and steel pistons – is said to consume up to seven percent less fuel than its V6 configured predecessor and has been designed to comply with tough, upcoming, international emissions legislation.

A stepped-bowl combustion process, two-stage turbocharging and, for the first time, the use of Camtronic variable valve-lift control – coupled with multi-way exhaust-gas recirculation and near-engine exhaust-gas after treatment – purportedly help to make the unit one of the most efficient internal combustion engines on the road, with Mercedes spokesmen claiming a combined cycle consumption figure of 5,6 litres per 100km.

That’s exceptional considering that the car it propels is more than five metres long, two metres wide and weighs more than two tons – but which is said to be capable of a zero to 100km/h time of less than five seconds. No wonder the vehicle, which is heavily crafted from aluminium to help reduce weight, costs nigh-on R1,7-million.

A similarly configured powerplant is available in the S350d 4Matic – the range’s R1,62-million “entry-level” model – where it has been tuned to produce 210kW and 600Nm, with fuel consumption in the combined cycle measured at a measly 5,5 litres per 100km.

Comparatively, the derivative’s zero to 100km/h time is rated at 5,2 seconds – so it’s just 0,3 seconds slower to the mark than the S400d.

On the petrol-fuelled front the equivalently priced entry-level derivative – which wears a S450 badge – for the moment retains its predecessor’s 270kW V6. On this note, a refined, in-line, six-cylinder turbocharged plant of similar power has already replaced the old unit in some markets and is used, too, in the formerly V8-propelled S500, in which it develops 320kW and 520Nm.

New to the line-up is the S560 4Matic, which sells for about R2,04-million. Powered by a newly developed, bi-turbocharged V8 which produces 345kW and 700Nm, the model returns claimed fuel consumption figures of 8,5 litres per 100km in the combined cycle.

Mercedes spokesmen say the engine – which displaces 4,0 litres – is one of the most frugal V8s on the market, helped by technology that sees four cylinders shut down automatically when the unit is under partial load.

A similar engine is used in the AMG badged S63, where it produces considerably more power and torque – 450kW and 900Nm to be exact. In its sportier application the unit remains as much a thrilling performer as a fuel saver, said to propel the vehicle from zero to 100km/h in 3,5 seconds but capable of returning fuel consumption figures of 8,9 litres per 100km in the combined cycle.

The car is priced at R2,76-million – a little more expensive than the first of the V12 powered models in the S-Class line-up – the S600, which sells for R2,6-million. The big motor displaces 5 980cc and develops 390kW and 830Nm – enough to shift the vehicle from standstill to 100km/h in 4,6 seconds. Yet, in spite of the engine’s size and performance capability, fuel consumption remains reasonable, with brand spokesmen claiming 11,6 litres per 100km in the combined cycle.

Unlike its smaller engined siblings, the S600 is equipped with a seven-speed, auto shifting G-tronic gearbox rather than a nine-speed equivalent. Not that any driver lucky enough to pilot the vehicles back to back is likely to notice – shifts in each of the models tend to take place imperceptibly whether going up or down the cogs, so knowing what gear has been selected requires confirmation from the digital display in the instrument cluster.

That brings me to another V12 powered model in the line-up, the AMG S65, which sells for around R3,4-million. In contrast to the S63, the derivative features a rear-wheel drivetrain rather than all-wheel propulsion and weighs about 180kg more than its sibling. It is said to complete the 0-100km/h dash in 4,6 seconds thanks to power and torque outputs of 463kW and 1 000Nm.

Interestingly, the vehicle features Mercedes’ much-vaunted Curve programme among its five selectable drive modes, whereby a front-mounted stereo camera recognises the trajectory and topography of the road ahead and automatically adjusts damper settings to compensate for cabin roll in corners.

While the programme certainly aids comfort for passengers, from a driver’s perspective it is less enticing, reducing feel for what the tyres are actually experiencing on the road’s surface and heightening sensations of disconnection between pilot and vehicle. Still, if you’re being chauffeured, you are likely to appreciate the clever way the system levels the ride.

On the subject of vehicles tailor made for chauffeurs, Mercedes-Maybach badged S-Classes are the ones to peruse. Their prices start at R2,45-million for the V8 powered S560, and R3,21-million for the V12 equipped S650.

The models are longer than their siblings – and heavier, too. Outwardly, their restyled rear ends and differently shaped back windows help to distinguish them from their stablemates while, on the inside, their cabin appointments set them apart.

Like the rest of the fleet, the Maybach’s front end incorporates the updated S-Class grille, restyled air inlets, multi-beam LED headlight clusters and three-bar running lights – but it also features distinctive chrome embellishments.

Under the long bonnet, the engine of the Maybach S650 delivers the same power and torque figures as that of the flagship S65 – 463kW and 1 000Nm – but, thanks to its increased mass, it is a tenth of a second slower from 0 to 100km/h (4,7 seconds) and heavier on petrol (12,7 litres per 100km in the combined cycle).

The V8 in the less powerful Maybach, like the stock S560, develops 345kW and 700Nm, and is said to be capable of propelling the car from zero to 100km/h in 4,9 seconds – about 0,2 seconds slower than the standard model. Fuel consumption also suffers slightly, rising from 8,5 litres/100km to 8,8 litres.

However, one of the big attractions of the derivatives is that they offer as standard equipment a Chauffeur Package – which means the front passenger seat can be moved forward electrically by up to 77mm to ensure even more relaxed travel for the person sitting behind it, while each of the rear seats can recline to allow a sleeping position akin to that in the first class cabin of an aircraft.

For most motor enthusiasts, though, the S-Class is likely to represent more than simply a means of sumptuously comfortable conveyance. The model incorporates a mix of eye-widening technology and amenity that sets it apart from the everyday.

In terms of benchmarks, it offers a range of features that are either standard equipment or options, depending on derivative. Among them are:

  • Driving assistance systems such as Active Distance Control Distronic – which, in addition to maintaining a safe following distance to a vehicle ahead, uses map and navigation data to adjust vehicle speed to help the car to safely negotiate bends or traffic circles in the road;
  • Magic Body Control which, like the Curve driving mode programme, recognises in advance imperfections in the road’s surface and activates suspension settings to increase ride comfort;
  • ECO Assist, which intelligently saves fuel by using navigation data, traffic signs and other information to optimise driving styles in accordance with traffic flow;
  • Energizing Comfort Control, which networks different systems – such as massage functions in seats, air-conditioner temperature, cabin fragrance, ambient lighting and  music selection – to allow specific wellness setups;
  • An infotainment system which wirelessly charges mobile phones and which offers increased texting and web-browsing options to rear-seat passengers via a hand held remote.

With more than 6 500 new components fitted to derivatives in the S-Class range, the vehicle’s makeover appears comprehensive. And, true to the brief, in my view the model continues to set many aspects of the automotive pace, effortlessly blending performance, comfort and safety with a masterful air of technological prowess.