When my friends at Mercedes-Benz told me they were sending the 2014 S500 over for a review, the excitement was tantalising—the S-class is unofficially the ‘best car in the world’. But I admit I was a bit worried as well. I live in an apartment complex in East Delhi, and with the rapid rise in car ownership over the last few years, I was worried that I would spend hours parking such a luxury barge and then I would hate myself if I ended up scratching such a beauty. To my surprise, I was proved so wrong.
I do not envy the job of the team at Mercedes tasked with the development of the new flagship S-Class saloon. It is hard work to make the best even better, but one thing is for sure, they can take pride in knowing that they have played a major role in shaping the course of automotive history. Over the last few decades, the S-Class has become the launchpad for the latest safety and luxury features the auto world has to offer, technologies that have trickled down to the rest of the German carmaker’s range over successive generations, and then adopted by mass carmakers. You name it, from anti-lock brakes and seatbelt pretensioners, to electronic stability control, ventilated seats and even airbags, nearly all the features we take for granted today first were popularised by the S-Class. Their challenge is even more daunting, apart from retaining the crown from hungry and capable rivals, the new S-Class also has the burden to carry on the mantle from the Maybach series—Daimler AG’s erstwhile flagship range designed to rival Rolls-Royce and Bentley—which has been discontinued since 2012.
I shall be honest upfront, I drove the S500 across Delhi’s best and worst roads, and to me the S-Class felt more like a luxury yacht. There is little I can fault, the air suspension made the ride so superbly smooth that potholes and speed bumps felt like bouncing over waves out at sea. Then, the handling; for a saloon over five metres in length, the S-Class turned corners with remarkable ease and poise. Unfortunately, Mercedes does not offer the revolutionary ‘Magic Body Control’ in India, a technology launched with the new S-Class that uses cameras to read the road ahead and pre-adjust suspension and brakes. Contrary to my worst fears, parking supported by aids such as eight cameras and 12 sensors was also a breeze even in the tightest spots I found in my apartment complex.
The design of the 2014 S-Class has also matured over time, with proud shoulder lines, a more sharply sloping roof-line and a bigger grille, underlining the confident yet sporty character of the saloon. LEDs are now used throughout the car, from the headlamps and tail-lights to the ambient lighting inside. In the cabin, you will be pampered like never before as you fit snugly into the well-bolstered seats. There is enough technology to represent Mercedes’ over 125 years of auto legacy, but the discrete yet elegant design will make sure that it is never too overwhelming. Interior sophistication comes in the form of aluminium inlays, leather and wood that harmoniously give you a taste of what the upper echelons of society is all about. The steering wheel is also a two-spoke design, reminding one of the Mercedes of a few decades ago.
There are four LCD displays in the car, two reserved for driver’s instrument panel and multimedia screen, and the rest for the rear passengers’ entertainment. The two rear bucket seats—the S-Class can only seat two at the back—are basically like airline business class seats with multiple ways to modify them like reclining the back or pressing a button for the footrest to come up. There are also folded tables right in the middle partition for that glass of champagne you might look for after clinching the business deal of the century.
Embarrassingly, I come last to the engine. No, that is not because it ain’t any good, but because if it is power you are looking at, you should wait for Mercedes to launch the super-car rivalling 585 bhp S65 AMG range-topping model. The S500 comes with a much more tame yet adequate 453 bhp, 4.7-litre V8 petrol heart, mated to a 7-speed ‘7G-TRONIC Plus’ transmission that takes the car to a maximum of 250 kmph. There are three drive modes—Economy, Sport and Manual—and paddle-shifts for the more enthusiastic driver. The engine reflects the attitude of the car—it is calm in the cities when trailing traffic, but give it a bit of a nudge on an open road and the angry growl will remind you that the same carmaker is now leading Formula 1.
So many wonderful bits, but can there be anything not so good? Well, two. For a saloon so large, I found the trunk very small. Now, for regular office use that the S-Class will mostly find itself in, that isn’t a big deal, but for luxury hotels looking to renew their fleet, that might be a point to consider. Then there is also the fact that the partition between the rear seats means that there is no place for a third person at the back.
Most would say the new S-Class is designed as a chauffeur-driven limousine and it is true that such saloons are mostly bought by top-level executives who prefer to convert their vehicles into a mobile office. But despite the back seat comforts, I would say that the S-Class is best enjoyed when driven. Mercedes has designed the new S-Class as an extended wheelbase version from the start to cater to growth markets like China and India, but I feel that the true brilliance of the boys at Stuttgart can only be understood when at the wheel. Brilliance does not come cheap. At over R1.5 crore, the 2014 S500 sits almost at the top of the automotive food chain, and thus only financially-able may apply.
Roudra Bhattacharya | The Financial Express