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Mercedes-Benz S-Guard 2014 Review

9 September 2014
 by 
, CarsGuide

Joshua Dowling drives the bombproof car used by world leaders at the G20 Summit in Brisbane in November. 
 
Whatever you do -- no matter how angry you are or what cause you're protesting for or against -- do not stand in front of an armoured car.
 
Apart from the fact that this big black beast weighs almost four-and-a-half tonnes -- twice as much as standard -- the windscreen is so thick it's like looking through a pair of milk bottles. Chances are the driver won't see you.
 
From some angles, the view through the windscreen is so distorted it looks like you're driving through an impressionist painting.
 
Welcome to the lush green hills on the outskirts of Stuttgart in Germany where we are one of just 15 international journalists to be let inside this secret world.
 
Mercedes-Benz has never rolled up the shutters on its armoured car facility before, and may never again after all the questions they, politely, could not answer.
 
"It's classified," was the routine answer. "We'd love to tell you but it's not allowed -- by every government in the world we deal with."
 
And there are about 100 of them, from Israel to Pakistan, to China and Malta. And, as of the middle of November, Australia, where 16 cars are being rented out for the G20 Summit of world leaders in Brisbane.
 
Contrary to perception, armoured cars are apparently not bought by Russian gangsters, the Italian mafia or Mexican drug lords. Most buyers are governments, and selected big businesses.
 
We can't tell you how many armoured cars are made each year, because that's classified as well.
 
But I was able to figure out it's approximately 500 cars per year. Using my investigative journalism skills I happened to notice the, er, massive numbers taped to the doors of each car on the production line. Oops.
 
We also can't show you what it looks like inside the factory where each car is built from the inside out with armour plating, because our phones and cameras had to be surrendered during the tour.
 
Every worker in the factory has a security background check, and they're not allowed to tell their mates what they do at work all day. That must make for pretty boring bar talk.
 
German mate: "What did you do today, Gerhard?" 

German armoured car builder: "Oh nothing, swept the floor again."
 
But back to the road ahead and the mayhem I could be leaving behind if I miscalculate a turn.
 
As luck would have it, there are a lot of roadworks in Germany during the summer. At this rate, I'm not just going to take out the road dividers but I reckon we could tear a corner off a bulldozer with this thing.
 
The windscreen is extra thick because it's designed to withstand bullets, bombs and a missile attack. Faced between a choice of using more concentration than usual, or ending up dead, I'll go with the former option.
 
This windscreen weighs 130kg while a standard windscreen weighs about 12kg. Each door weighs almost 150kg. It's so heavy you have to lean back as if you're doing a yoga stretch to yank it open. No wonder they have beefcake security guards. They use most of those muscles just to open the damn doors.
 
The underbelly of the car is completely flat with armour plating to cope with a bomb going off underneath it. Unfortunately, as the driver of the limousine for US President Barrack Obama found out in Ireland in 2011, they're quite low and can get their belly caught on steep driveways.
 
If someone firebombs the car, the onboard extinguisher system activates automatically. But you can activate it manually in an emergency.
 
It's one of the reasons we were warned not to touch any buttons in the car. So you can only imagine, then, how tempted we all were to find it.
 
There is also an onboard oxygen system, which I thought would come in handy on a smoggy day. But it turns out that's in case there is a chemical weapon attack.
 
"How long does the oxygen last?" we ask, naturally. "It's classified," again came the routine answer. "We'd love to tell you but it's not allowed. By every government in the world."
 
Other cool gadgets: the reclining back seats have their own cooling and heating systems. There are two TV screens and a DVD player. There is a giant esky between the backseats. And lots of room for top secret stuff like radios and other communications equipment for the various dignitaries.
 
In addition to the cameras with night vision technology, the bombproof Benz has microphones in the side mirrors to eavesdrop on what's being said outside, and a loudspeaker in the front fenders in case you want to, er, send a message to the outside world.
 
There is also a panic alarm to end all panic alarms, as one unlucky armoured car handler found out the hard way.
 
Unless you disable the panic alarm with a special code, it will last as long as the battery lasts. In this case, six days.
 
The handler wanted to show off the panic alarm when he took the car home. The noise was so piercing he leapt out of the car, accidentally leaving the key inside. The car then locked itself, as it's supposed to, because it thought there was an attack.
 
The handler couldn't break into the vehicle -- it's an armoured car, every gap is welded tight -- or get the bonnet open.
 
So the alarm went for two days straight -- around the clock -- until Mercedes in Germany could airfreight the key to the handler who, apparently, has since moved house.
 
He may have died of embarrassment but, as far as Mercedes can recall, no-one has died in one of its armoured cars. And it's been making them since 1920.
 
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf came under attack in the early 2000s and wrote a letter to Mercedes thanking them for saving his life.
 
In the 1990s, the president of Georgia and former Russian foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, came under fire on three separate occasions. Each time he walked away unscathed. He also wrote a thank you letter.
 
"There is of course a chance you can get injured, but the main function is to make sure there is enough protection so that you don't die," says the Mercedes armoured car minder, whose name is classified.
 
With all of the above in mind I head out to the open road, hoping not to get mistaken for a dictator, world leader or oil baron.
 
Mercedes has done its best to disguise the fact that this is an armoured car. The only giveaways are the ‘milk bottle' windows, the over-sized puncture-proof tyres, and the massive front brakes designed to stop 4.5 tonnes travelling at 100km/h in just 39 metres.
 
To the untrained eye, it looks just like a regular Mercedes. If The Chaser boys ever get their hands on one, there could again be trouble.
 
The massive V12 engine is more willing than I was expecting, performance is not as blunted as I thought it would be. And the exhaust is tuned to be eerily quiet, so as not to drown out the sound of any discussions about world peace. Or complaints about the wifi charges at the five-star hotel.
 
In most situations the mega Mercedes feels pretty normal, it's just that the response of the throttle and the brakes are slightly delayed. Imagine an elephant trying to snatch a banana, versus a cat trying to swat a piece of string. That's the difference between this car's reflexes and a regular vehicle.
 
The brakes also do a better job than what I was expecting. In fact, as I was stopped at the lights, I started to forget I was in an armoured car. My initial nerves had died down.
 
So you can imagine I got the fright of my life when someone gave three loud thumps on the driver's window. I didn't see anyone approach because of the restricted peripheral vision.
 
Had our road test convoy been mistaken for a genuine government one? Was I going to have to press the buttons I was told I couldn't press? Was I going to have to drive over the concrete divider, through a field and then through someone's backyard and then rejoin suburban streets with their washing stuck to my windscreen, just like in the movies?
 
Before my brain could run wild with other ridiculous scenarios the voice said: "It's your turn to hand the car over to the next driver. Just pull over past the traffic lights," said the Mercedes armoured car minder whose name is classified.
 
And with that my test drive of the million-dollar Mercedes was over.

The million-dollar Mercedes
Name: Mercedes-Benz S-Guard
Price: $1 million
Engine: 6.0-litre V12 (390kW/830Nm)
Weight: 4.3 tonnes
Safety: Nine airbags, anti-skid control, four cameras, on-board oxygen system, bullet proof glass and doors, bombproof floor, puncture-proof tyres, night vision system.
Comfort: Reclining "business-class" style seats with heating, cooling and a mechanical massage function, an onboard TV and DVD system, four-zone air-conditioning (that will automatically cool one side of the car depending on the location of the sun, which is tracked by GPS).
Speed: The Mercedes-Benz S600 V12 on which the S-Guard is based can reach the speed limit in a Porsche-quick 4.6 seconds. But the added weight of the extra armour blunts performance to a still respectable 6.2 seconds.

Pricing & Specs

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