Germany's best car is coming up for a big birthday. It's nearly time for a total renewal of Mercedes-Benz's headliner, the S-Class, with testing of final prototypes underway in the frozen north of Europe.
Scandinavian scoop pictures reveal a new S-Class that is surprisingly elegant, without the brutal front end or origami creases of many of the brand's recent arrivals.
The new S looks more like an oversized C-Class compact than some of its limousine predecessors, including the bloated 1980s flagship that was christened ‘Swine Class’ and killed the careers of several top-ranking executives.
The new S goes public later this year and the first cars should land in Australia before the end of 2013. It's facing tougher competition than ever before, with everyone from Maserati to Bently, BMW and Audi promising to lift their cars and their competitiveness in the upper end of the luxury car business.
But Benz is not retreating from its entrenched position on the S-Class. "They don't have the star. We invented the motor car, and anything that follows is merely a copy," barks David McCarthy, spokesman for Mercedes-Benz Australia.
He refuses to discuss technical detail or the all-important pricing - currently starting at a hefty $213,428 for an S350 - but says the brief for the new flagship was simple. "For six decades, the S-Class has been the leader. We will not be surrendering that leadership to any Johnny-come-lately.
"Of course there are competitors, but there is only one S-Class. When people think of luxury and prestige, they think of the S-Class. "Anyone who is success in their chosen field of endeavour - heads of state, businessmen, entertainers - ultimately wants an S-Class."
Some of the technology developed for the S-Class, particularly on the safety side, is already about to be previewed in the latest mid-sized E-Class. Carsguide will have a drive report from Europe this month on a car which is only slightly changed on the outside but is massively different beneath the skin.
"We're calling the E-Class the most significant car in the company's history. It's basically a new car," says McCarthy. The arrival of the new S-Class also signals a change of direction from the flawed-and-failed Maybach limousine, which was crushed by the Rolls-Royce Phantom as Benz owners clamoured for a continuation of the long-wheelbased S-Class Pullman.
No-one is confirming it, but the 2014 lineup will include a Pullman as well as an S-Class hybrid and the inevitable go-faster AMG cars. For now, though, McCarthy says all the work on the S-Class is reflected in the lightly-disguised prototypes undergoing their final checks.
"For six decades, the S-Class has been the leader. In technology, in safety, in comfort, in prestige. We’re still the leader. "In the case of the S-Class, it's leadership across every facet of its being. It's the flagship of our brand. That says it all."