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Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2013 Review

EXPERT RATING
9
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I've just driven over a large speed hump at 40km/h and would not even have known it was there. Instead of braking a little, as normal, then allowing the suspension to rise as the front wheels hit to minimise the jolt, I just kept the speed steady and did not feel a thing. The car erased that hump from the roadscape. It did not exist.

The car is the new Mercedes S-Class, the brand's flagship limousine, and Magic Body Control is its signature techno trick. Moments earlier I had driven over the hump with the feature turned off, and the difference is amazing. It immediately brought to mind how different I would feel about some of Sydney's roads that have become almost unusable. The S-Class snubs its nose at car-hating councils.

It works using two cameras mounted high on the windscreen, which scan the road up to 15m ahead, then set a strategy for the suspension on each wheel. It functions up to 130km/h and the effect on the ride is dramatic. Perhaps it should be called Magic Carpet Control.

It's an extension of a system called Adaptive Body Control, which is designed to reduce body roll and pitch and has been available on large Mercedes for some time. As usual, the three-pointed star has saved something special for its definitive statement of luxury. And, as usual, it claims to have made the best car in the world.

DESIGN

In this class, unlike most others, it still has the edge on its rivals: BMW's 7 Series and Audi's A8. The previous generation, which debuted eight years ago, sold half a million. And you thought the large sedan was going out of fashion.

Well of course it is, in most markets. But not the one that's expected to devour at least half the new version: China. It, and to a lesser extent the US and the Middle East, are the last redoubts of the large sedan. And this time it has meant a profound change of strategy for Mercedes.

To begin with, I've never heard Mercedes talk so much about the back seat. Chinese buyers at this level, unlike in most other markets, prefer to be chauffeured. Their priorities involve a combination of lounge, office and first-class airline seating.

The result is an S-Class developed from the back seat. In a reverse of the usual strategy, the long-wheelbase version came first. There are no fewer than five seat configurations, including one with a captain's chair that reclines generously and a massage menu that would put Bangkok to shame. Most of the car's functions can be controlled from the rear screens, so there's no doubt who's in charge, and of course you can send emails and do most of the other things you might do in an office.

There's a big lift in interior ambience all round. All the seats are splendid, the materials first rate and the design more flowing and organic. Two large screens face the driver, one for the virtual dials and upgraded night-vision system. The other accesses audio, climate, internet and car set-up. It's a welcoming interior that does not overwhelm.

There's a familiar logic to the control system even though it has been jazzed up a little, with mildly animated but classy graphics. As you delve, it's clear the whole experience is richer. One function, novel to me, is the ability to heat the arm rests in the doors. First class, then, and now free from turbulence.

The S will also offer more body styles than before, with a coupe (now called CL), a convertible and several models pitched higher to replace the short-lived Maybach, which was supposedly a challenger to Rolls-Royce.

Mercedes has a better chance this time although straddling Western and Eastern tastes has its challenges. Some of the interior fittings, particularly the aluminium grilles for the Burmester top-end audio, looked out of place to these Western eyes and the roundel vents are a copy of ones you find in a Bentley.

FEATURES

Normally, the headline features in a new S-Class are about safety rather than comfort. There are some advances here but Mercedes has already fitted them to its revised E-Class.

Chief among them is Intelligent Drive, which uses the same cameras mentioned above plus an impressive array of radar, infra-red and sonar sensors to edge us closer to cars that can drive themselves. The E-Class showed that, for a few seconds at least, it could handle freeway traffic.

The S-Class revealed the system can also follow a car in front at low speeds for much longer periods. In effect, a straight-line path through a city with slow-moving traffic requires little driver intervention at all. It can cope with stop-start conditions and also recognise imminent pedestrian or vehicle collisions and emergency brake. When it goes beyond its hazard parameters it alerts the driver to get back on the job. All the hardware is in place for self-driving vehicles; software and a lot of legislation are the remaining hurdles.

ENGINES

The variants available were just a small sample of what will be offered eventually. The 3.0-litre diesel in the S350 and 4.7-litre V8 petrol in the S500 are familiar units and deliver assured, fuss-free progress. The diesel is likely to dominate among Australian buyers although there are fewer reasons to shun the V8 with fuel economy of 8.6 litres per 100km. These cars arrive in the last quarter.

The S will also offer a turbocharged petrol V6 in the S400 and more powerful turbocharged V8 in the S63 AMG. Intriguingly, it will cover all the bases on hybrids, too, with one petrol-electric, one plug-in petrol-electric and one diesel-electric. The last, briefly sampled, combines a 2.1-litre diesel with an electric motor.

DRIVING

We tested the S-Class over the roads north of Toronto -- which were dry, almost corner-free and heavily policed with $C10,000 fines. It was possible to get glimpses of the car's handling balance and reserves of dynamic ability, which defy the physics of a 5.2m length and 2 tonne weight. But what stood out was the impeccable quietness of the cabin. Tyre, wind and even engine noise are almost absent. Aerodynamic drag has been reduced and that has a pay-off beyond efficiency; it turns the cabin into a cone of silence. You can make those business calls in peace.

There was also one surprising lapse in the detail: the door-lock buttons now disappear with a clunk, the same clunk you find on lesser Mercedes. On previous S-Class they were sucked slowly and silently into the doors. Parts commonality for the S-Class? Come on, Mercedes, did you think we wouldn't notice?

Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Price: TBA Australia
On sale: Fourth quarter (S350, S500), second quarter 2014 (S300 Hybrid)
Engines: 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel plus electric motor (S300 Hybrid); 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 diesel (S350); 4.7-litre turbocharged V8 petrol (S500)
Outputs: 150kW at 4200rpm and 500Nm at 1600rpm (S300 Hybrid); 190kW at 3600rpm and 620Nm at 1600rpm (S350); 335kW at 5250rpm and 700Nm at 1800rpm (S500)
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Fuel: from 4.4 (S300 Hybrid) to 8.6 (S500) litres per 100km average

Pricing guides

$110,715
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$66,000
Highest Price
$155,430

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
S500 4.7L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $80,410 – 92,400 2013 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2013 S500 Pricing and Specs
S63 AMG 5.5L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $106,370 – 122,320 2013 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2013 S63 AMG Pricing and Specs
S350 CDI 3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $78,980 – 90,750 2013 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2013 S350 CDI Pricing and Specs
S350 CDI Bluetech 3.0L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $84,370 – 97,020 2013 Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2013 S350 CDI Bluetech Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
9
Pricing Guide

$64,990

Lowest price, based on 4 car listings in the last 6 months

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