NEW S : "the most refined, best-handling limousine in the world"

http://motoring.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/main.jhtml?xml=/motoring/2005/10/08/mfsclas08.xml
Mercedes-Benz thinks its new S-class should be treated not just with
respect, but with deference. Andrew English tests an imposing box of tricks
"John will pick you up off the Detroit flight in the S-class. You're lunching with the Guatemalans in Milan and dining with the Americans in St Moritz. John will drive so you can re-jig the interim financing forecasts en route..." Front Nice and big: the forthcoming S-class is better-looking than the current model, but very similar to drive
That's the sort of language you expect from Mercedes-Benz S-class users, though lately their talk has been more of poor quality, executive sackings and, most recently, rumoured job losses at what was once described as a Stuttgart bank that also makes cars and trucks.
The S-class is nevertheless inviolate in the minds of its maker. Since the original launch in 1972, it has been the pinnacle of the three-pointed star's range. Work began on this new model five years ago, with early designs and discussions about the technology to be deployed in what Mercedes likes us to call the best car in the world.
I flew in from Detroit not to meet Guatemalans, but to take the new S-class on a 250-mile return journey from Milan to St Moritz. Sometimes I like to imagine I'm an international financier, although most of the time I prefer to think I've gained the power of flight and am Brad Pitt, which is much more fun. Financiers don't chase Angelina Jolie through the clouds, they fly the Atlantic and feel jet-lagged and grumpy, just like I did.
After a period in the 1990s when the flagship S-class, the W140, looked like a packing case, the outgoing W220 model (designed by Briton Steve Mattin) was a great beauty. The new W221 isn't, but then it's no packing case either.
The bonnet is beaky to pass pedestrian-impact regulations, the aggressive wheel arches look as though they have been chiselled from a Mazda RX-8 and the rear roofline is reminiscent of a Rover 75. The imposing shape grows on you, however, and at least this is one new car that looks just right in metallic silver.
It was designed by Hans-Dieter Futschik, who had a hand in the previous model as well. He wasn't at the launch, but the head of passenger-car strategic project management, Dr Hermann-Joseph Storp, explained the purpose of S-class styling - something I have long suspected.
Interior
"Everyone must know it is an S-class," he said. "Other cars must get out of the way when they see it coming, it's all about strength and status." As my friend Lee remarked: "Strange they don't call it the Panzer, really."
Inside, the new Merc is a vast improvement in appearance, but a retrograde step in ease of use. Instead of covering the facia in buttons, Mercedes has adopted a beautiful, sweeping dashboard, with tasteful wooden inserts, concealed lighting and a curved switch panel that looks like a Wurlitzer cinema organ.
On the downside, it has adopted the son of BMW's iDrive, a push-and-pull rotary control to adjust the fine settings for audio, navigation, heating and so on. The knurled-aluminium control wheel has all the quality of an apprentice's first exercise on the lathe and, while many functions can be reached a damn sight quicker than with the dreadful iDrive, the Merc system is still fiendishly tricky.
If I started listing the S-class's technical innovations, you would wave goodbye to the rest of the Motoring section, Weekend, Sport and most of Gardening as well. Project manager Frank Steinacher is most proud of the intelligent cruise control that links with the Brake and Park Assist systems and enables the S-class to slow down on its own to avoid collisions and to maintain its following distance.
Most car makers are toying with this sort of technology, as well as lane-guidance systems. Apart from the safety benefits, such programs also have congestion-reducing potential. One study suggests that just 25 per cent of cars fitted with intelligent speed control could double traffic flow on busy roads.
Mercedes-Benz has addressed such things with a welcome return to its traditional technical zeal and engineering overkill. The 1,840 optional Distronic Plus uses long-range radar to keep its distance. Brake Assist uses a second, short-wave radar to detect impending impacts, warning the driver and (when encouraged) slamming on the anchors and preparing for a crash.
The other bit of technology worth a mention is the infra-red, night-vision system (a 1,330 option), which, like the radar-based cruise control, required a five-year argument with the EU before Mercedes was given permission to use the appropriate wavebands.
Unlike the Cadillac night-vision system, this uses a nearer-to-visible infrared frequency, with IR lamps illuminating the road for 300 yards, and a camera behind the rear-view mirror displaying the picture on a screen in the instrument binnacle.
While there are issues about when and how much drivers will be looking at the display, we tried the system out with yours truly walking in a dark suit on a dark road and the S-class coming from behind with dipped headlamps. The screen showed me about 75 yards before I could be seen with the naked eye.
We can't leave the technical stuff without mentioning the Harman Kardon stereo system (985), which is mind-blowingly good. The seats are great, too. They pulsate, pummel, cool and vibrate the driver and (optionally) passengers. Having said that, their instructions ("Firm, Slow and Gentle, Slow and Vigorous, Fast and Gentle, or Fast and Vigorous") seem to belong in a different class of establishment altogether.
Which leaves me hardly any room to describe what the new S-class is like to drive. Perhaps just as well, because it's very similar to its predecessor: big, heavy and indecently wieldy. The big, twin-turbo V12 is much more of a hot rod than the old six-litre, naturally aspirated V12 ever was, but with 517bhp it's much, much faster.
The engine moans and growls from under the bonnet in a way the old one never would. The V12 is only available with the long wheelbase and it has a five-speed transmission, although there's so much torque that it scarcely needs so many gears.
The 272bhp 3.5-litre V6 is perhaps not the car you'd choose to tackle an Alpine pass in, but it's fast enough to get the chairman to the City. We will soon get a three-litre V6 turbodiesel, which will be cheaper to run, and an AMG performance version, which won't.
The seven-speed automatic is smooth, positive and seldom dithers. The brakes are massively powerful and on the whole the handling is neutral, but push too hard into a tight corner and the S-class drives straight on through anything - the S600 weighs 2.2 tonnes.
The air suspension has most of the answers when it comes to keeping passengers asleep in the back, but it is still troubled by some mid-corner bumps, which cause the front wheels to flap about disconcertingly.
Speaking as one who did grab 40 winks, I should say that the long wheelbase is the only version to have. The short models might handle a bit better, but the rear passenger space is only just generous enough to unfurl a copy of The Daily Telegraph and keep your knees out of the driver's back.
That's honestly all you really need to know about this car. You could summarise the new Mercedes-Benz S-class just as Peter Dron did when the W140 model was introduced at Turin Airport in 1991. In response to Jeremy Clarkson's inquiry, he said: "It's big and nice, or if you want to put it another way, Jeremy, it's nice and big."
Mercedes-Benz S-class
Price/availability: from 54,975 for the standard wheelbase S320 turbodiesel, which will occupy some 66 per cent of UK sales, to 98,000 for the long-wheelbase-only S600. On sale in March 2006 with AMG models arriving in the summer.
Engines/transmissions: V12 5,514cc, twin-turbocharged petrol, SOHC with three valves per cylinder; 510bhp at 5,000rpm, 612lb ft of torque at 1,900rpm. V8: 5,461cc, petrol, DOHC with four valves per cylinder, 383bhp at 6,500rpm, 391lb ft at 2,800rpm. V6: 3,498cc, petrol, DOHC with four valves per cylinder, 268bhp at 6,000rpm, 258lb ft at 2,400rpm. V6 turbodiesel: 2,987cc turbodiesel, DOHC with four valves per cylinder, 232bhp at 3,800rpm, 398lb ft at 1,600rpm. Seven-speed automatic transmission (five-speed on S600 models) with steering-wheel gear hold-down buttons. Rear-wheel drive.
Performance: V12 top speed limited to 155mph, 0-62mph 4.6sec, EU Urban fuel consumption N/A (Combined, 19.8mpg), CO2 emissions N/A. V8: 155mph, 5.4sec, EU Urban fuel consumption 16.2mpg (Combined, 23.7mpg), 203g/km. N/A. V6: 155mph, 7.3sec, EU Urban fuel consumption 19.5mpg (Combined, 27.9mpg), 242g/km. V6 turbodiesel: 155mph, 7.5sec, EU Urban fuel consumption N/A (Combined 34.4mpg), CO2 N/A.
We like: If this isn't the most refined, best-handling limousine in the world, we'd like to know what is - stop whimpering at the back, Audi and BMW. The ride is sublime, the interior gorgeous, you can sleep in it and if you are having popularity problems, those nice people at Mercedes-Benz will make you a bulletproof one.
We don't like: It's a big, heavy car and doesn't like being hustled down tight roads, the air suspension still worries over mid-corner bumps and the S-class still has associations with fat plutocrats and banana-republic dictators.
Alternatives: Audi A8 6.0 quattro 73,580. Bentley Flying Spur 115,000. BMW 760i 80,800. Lexus LS 57,175. Volkswagen Phaeton 6.0 W12 68,960.
.
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McBrue, do you have one on order yet?
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Still he hasn't seen it in person yet either.
Marty
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On 12 Oct 2005 07:55:53 -0700,
had to open a new box of zerones to say:

1972...? Then what the hell was I driving back in 1968...?
<! -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- > zenit
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I have not seen it yet. It sounds like it might be big again, with full size seats. But it seems to have an awfull lot of automatic junk on it that could interfere with my driving! Of course them boyz in tha bak seat shore culd use them ole nite vision thingy fer huntin deer at nite! Not sure how sneaky it will be in tha woods, but we kin try it! One big question is if there will be an engine between the 5.3 L V8 and the little mini V6. I don't really like the idea of too big an 8 with gas shortages coming ... On the other hand, perhaps the Diesel might be good, esp if we can use all the old stale deep fat frying oil for the kar fuel ! And does anybody know what it will cost in real money, not just those funny heavy pieces of money them English uses?
mcbrue eagerlywaitingly under the bridge in the trailer down by the river
96 S420
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ha! you're always refreshing!
cp

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mcbrue wrote:

I am glad Josh asked what I was wondering!
.
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McBrue wrote:

I poked around on the mbusa web site - looks like you can start off at a base of around $80K (the LWB is quite a bit more). Perhaps you have some Confederate War Bonds siting around that you can use?
:-)
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hmm ... pokin thru ole hole in tha floor ta see bout them war bonds! Sure do hope them dad ratted yankee carpet baggers will cash them War of Northern Agression Bonds. I do wonder if they will have the trunk and door closers with that nice little trunk handle that comes out to close it with. And is it possible that at last there will be a standard CD player? Esp if they are trying to sell a short version for full price, they are likely to loose a lot of us disgruntled customers to the Kudzu Kar which does not break down every time it goes by a dealer. I know that down ta tha petunia klub here, them ole boyz duzn't drive many MBs, but the ole parkin lot is raight full of Rexus Karz wif kudzu on em. Sum of em even has them new kinda engines whut runs on elektricity an gas!
mcbrue cashingbondsly under the bridge in the trailer down by the river
96 S420
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Maybe by the time I get fed up with my CLK the used-car price will be 'reasonable'. It'll be some time, but that's ok, as I am not anywhere near cabrio-fatigue yet.
DAS
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greek snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com says...

[SNIP]
The look of the "new" S is a bit of a sore spot with some - me in particular. Though it took a while for the current S to grow on me (as I rather liked the earlier boxier design), the "spy photos" that I saw of the '07 US S were not something that I wanted. I urged my wife to go with the '06 S, and not wait for the new one. From what I saw, it looked too much like some of the Maybach designs, and less like a mainstream MB. This might be considered a + in some circles, but I was not in them.
Regardless of MY sense of aesthetic, thanks for the info.
Hunt
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Maybe it looks too much like a BMW 7?
http://driving.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,22750-1825977,00.html
Driving
Times Online October 16, 2005
Is this the future: cars made to look identical by safety rules?
Mercedes has been accused of copying BMW's 7-series with its new S-class, pictured here
Ever noticed it's getting harder to tell cars apart? You're not alone. Britain's top car designer has warned they'll soon be indistinguishable. It's not that designers lack imagination but safety and environmental rules have imposed a straitjacket which is forcing designs to converge. Ian Callum, the man behind the Aston Martin DB7, Volvo C70, Ford Puma and now the Jaguar XK coup, said the creative process was being swamped.
Legislation in Europe and the United States places limits on the dimensions of cars, adding height and bulk to protect occupants and dictating the position of headlamps, wheelarches, bumpers and the angle of windscreens.
Gone are the days when designers could let their imaginations flow from pen to paper. The giant tailfins that define American classics of the 1960s and 1970s would never make it past the drawing board today - far too sharp - and the Rolls-Royce flying lady is now viewed as a potential death trap.
It took three weeks to design the first Jaguar XK in 1948. The latest XK took three years. Even then, some critics complained that it looked too much like the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Callum's reaction is that designing a 21st-century car can sometimes seem like little more than "joining the dots" between one set of legal requirements and another.
"In many ways it's naive to say the profile of the XK is similar to an Aston Martin coup," he says. "If you take where the bonnet needs to be in terms of safety regulations, where the windscreen needs to be to get the right sight lines, where the roof line and tail need to be for package requirements, where the rear roof line has to be for aerodynamic reasons, you end up with pretty much the same silhouette. Because both cars have the same set of rules to adhere to."
And it's not just the Aston and the Jag that are similar. Callum says there is only a half millimetre difference in height between the line of the header (which joins the two A-pillars alongside the windscreen at the front of the car) in the new Mercedes SL and the XK.
"The rules are particularly restrictive for a sports car," he says. "Because with a sports car you are attempting to shrink wrap the body as tightly as possible over its requirements - be they mechanical, safety, whatever."
But the problem is not confined to coups. The recently launched Mercedes S-class could be a twin to BMW's 7-series. Germany's Bild newspaper accused Mercedes of copying its Munich-based rival and published pictures of the two cars' interiors, tails and side profiles, asking readers to spot the difference.
"It's no longer the case that you start out with a pencil and a blank piece of paper," says Nigel Wonnacott of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. "You start with the regulations, which govern everything from the position of the fuel tank to the shape of the wings. It's all laudable legislation, but it places limits on how different cars can look.
"Basically cars are having to become smoother and wider as they are required to absorb more of the impact in a crash. The (crash) tests have become increasingly demanding and none of the cars which passed back in 1986 would make it onto the road today."
The year 1986 marked the beginning of a new era of increasingly regulated car design, with the first Europe-wide construction and use regulations.
They governed, among other things, the position and strength of seatbelt anchorages and the inclusion of head restraints, and put an end to sharp protrusions on the bonnet.
Mandatory crash tests were introduced in 1998 and include a head-on impact at 35mph and a side-on impact at 30mph. Administered in the UK by the Vehicle Certification Agency and known as "type approval" tests they place strict limits on how far the front and side panels can collapse or deform in a collision.
New pedestrian protection legislation is adding more restrictions, requiring manufacturers to introduce a larger gap between the bonnet and the engine or use some form of deployable bonnet - as in the XK - that pops up to provide a cushion above the hard engine block.
For the United States a whole new set of safety criteria must be adhered to. Callum is particularly frustrated by US laws to protect unbelted occupants, which he says forced him to raise the XK's header by about 1in more than he had intended.
Then there are the independent Euro NCAP tests, which have become increasingly important to manufacturers as many customers now expect at least a three star rating (out of a maximum of five). The Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre, based in Thatcham, Berkshire, which represents insurers and carries out assessments on behalf of Euro NCAP, is developing tests that could be used to judge the impact of crashes between different types of vehicles. Recent statistics revealed a growing number of fatalities as a result of collisions between small cars and 4x4s.
Dale Harlow is head of automotive design at the Royal College of Art, which includes Callum among its alumni. He says it is up to designers to respond to the challenges and come up with innovative designs. "When Chuck Jordan (former chief designer at General Motors) started putting bumpers on cars in the 1960s and 1970s many people thought there would never be another good-looking car again," he says.
Callum agrees and points to the increasing importance placed on details such as grilles and lights to add distinctive character. "Of course you get frustrated," he says. "But you just have to accept the restrictions. Design can be an anguish as you try to create something artistic in a real world which is very unforgiving."
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