Forbes looks at the new S

( they seem to like it ) First Drive: 2007 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Dan Lienert
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 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 steer.
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 budget.
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: projected reliability.
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.
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