( they seem to like it )
Forbes.com First Drive: 2007 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Honda's ASIMO, a walking humanoid robot, will start work this year as a
receptionist at an office near Tokyo.
In the 1950s and '60s, pop culture offerings such as TV's The Jetsons
made daydreams about the future mainstream; since then, people have
been anticipating robots that will wait on them. In 2006, The Jetsons
is becoming reality, considering that Honda's (nyse: HMC - news -
people ) robot secretary will become a commodity along with another
long-awaited tool of the future: the car that drives itself.
The car is DaimlerChrysler's (nyse: DCX - news - people ) 2007
Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the ninth generation of Mercedes' flagship
sedan, which Forbes.com tested last week at the car's media
introduction in Phoenix. The new vehicle will go on sale in the U.S. in
mid-February for a base price of $86,175, and in stop-and-go traffic,
its drivers won't need to use the gas or brake pedals.
Click here for the slide show
That's because the S-Class' adaptive cruise control system comes with a
short-range radar. While many other cars on the market can
automatically follow a lead car, the lack of short-range radar means
you can't activate the laser cruise until you're going 20 mph; in the
new S-Class, adaptive cruise control can start at zero mph.
This means that if you're stopped at a traffic light, and a car is in
front of you, all you have to do is pull a lever and the S-Class will
hold down the brakes for you, then accelerate when the lead car starts
moving. Then it will brake when necessary. You could drive the length
of Fifth Avenue with your feet on the dashboard; all you have to do is
This is one reason why the new S-Class is the perfect car for
executives, whether they prefer to drive or be driven. In fact, it
probably makes more sense for that audience than BMW's similarly priced
M5 sedan, which has 500 hp and feels like an exotic sports car (we have
heard at least one Wall Street type say she plans to blow next year's
bonus on the $82,000 M5). A reader describes the issue aptly:
"BMWs are a hoot on the race track. But if you are a high-powered
executive, you will probably be stuck in heavy traffic in New York or
Chicago or Atlanta. The [M5's] sequential manual transmission is not
happy in a less-than-perfect world, where upshifts happen around 2,300
rpm and not above 6,000 rpm."
We adore the M5, but its power does indeed peak at 7,750 rpm, and its
torque at 6,100 rpm. This high-revving beast might get depressed in
stop-and-go traffic, where the S-Class excels. The 382-hp V-8 of the
S550 we tested has its power peak at 6,000 rpm (lower than the M5 but
still high), but its torque peaks anywhere from 2,800 rpm to 4,000 rpm,
and 75% of the torque is available at 1,000 rpm. This gives the S550
the pulling power of a diesel truck, and makes you feel like you're
commanding something monstrous, even in the morning rush hour.
Mercedes pulled out all the stops in making this S-Class the most
luxurious, sophisticated and exciting version ever. It is far more sexy
and rich on the inside than its venerable predecessor.
At the media introduction, Daimler vice president Hans Multhaupt, who
is responsible for the new S-Class, declined to comment on the
development cost of the new car, but said Mercedes underspent its
This fiscal restraint translates into a bargain for consumers. With the
number of amazing new features on the S-Class, we would not have been
surprised had Mercedes increased its base price by $10,000 or more. But
the new, entry-level S-Class, the S550, costs $650 less than the car it
is replacing, the S500.
Mercedes says the price decrease is due to three factors:
-- A faster and more efficient development process.
-- The fact that higher-tech items, such as adaptive cruise control,
are not standard on the new car.
-- The plan, as always, is to make the new S-Class the company's
technological flagship, and its features will trickle down into
lower-end models. Mercedes can spread the cost of certain technologies
across more cars than just the S-Class.
A fully loaded S550 will cost about $9,000 more than the base price.
When the V-12-powered S600 arrives in early April, it will start at
$140,675. Mercedes has yet to determine pricing for the 612-hp S65 AMG,
which will go on sale this summer, but expect it to be in line with
normal AMG pricing. A four-wheel drive S-Class will be available this
fall, and a diesel variant may follow at some point.
For a closer look at the new S-Class, including our driving
impressions, please follow the link below. As you will see, we have
almost nothing to complain about. In fact, the most nagging issue about
the new Mercedes is one that applies to all of the company's cars:
Consumer Reports assigns "predicted reliability" ratings of "poor," the
lowest on its scale, to new Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class, E-Class and
SL-Class models--and to the outgoing S-Class, which should give
potential S-Class buyers pause. After all, a car tends to be less
reliable when it is new, as the manufacturer irons out its problems.
But the S-Class has been on the market for many years.
Increasing the model's amount of electronic wizardry increases the
number of things that can go wrong. But as the 16,000 American buyers
of the S-Class in 2005 seem to indicate, the risk of problems is worth
taking. This is, after all, about as good as cars get. And now that the
S-Class can drive itself, we know that the future as imagined at the
height of space-age curiosity is truly here.
Click here for the slide show