S Is For Safety: Mercedes plays the safety card, but goes all out with
styling on new S-Class
Published Date: 6/13/05
Mercedes-Benz seeks to reestablish its reputation as the world's
finest luxury car builder with the launch of the new S-Class. Codenamed
W221, the car is revealed here ahead of a planned world debut at the
Frankfurt motor show in September.
Together with a bold exterior design, a heavily revamped interior and a
range of powerful new gasoline engines, the sedan will trumpet several
new safety features officials claim will make the S-Class the world's
most advanced passenger car.
You don't have to look hard to recognize the new Mercedes flagship.
Clothed in a larger and more upright body, the new S-Class looks more
imposing than the car it replaces. Key styling cues include a
reinterpretation of the classic Mercedes grille, large angular
headlamps, a prominent line running along the sides, large wheel arches
and a coupe-like rounded roofline.
Yet while the front is refreshingly sleek, the new S-Class tail bears
an altogether different appearance, with a so-called separate fender
treatment and free-standing trunklid similar to that adorning the BMW 7
Series. There is such disparity in the car's appearance front to
rear, it is as though the two ends were styled by separate teams and
joined in the middle.
The new S-Class is bigger in every dimension. Our unofficial tape
measure reveals length extended by 1.5 inches, width by 0.35 inch and
height by 1.1 inches. The car rides a wheelbase up by 2.75 inches over
today's model, resulting in increases in interior accommodation and
Complementing the new look will be a host of electronically controlled
driving aids combining to make the W221 a technological tour de
force-assuming everything works as advertised. These features include
Brake Assist Plus, a system that automatically activates a brake
booster when a series of low-frequency radar sensors mounted within the
front-bumper assembly predict a critical braking situation is about to
Using information from the sensors that monitor the road ahead, new
software then determines the distance to cars ahead and both warns the
driver via an LED readout when they are too close, and provides added
braking power if it appears a collision is imminent.
In-house simulator tests found the accident rate was reduced from 44
percent to 11 percent with the new technology. Mercedes says it will
eventually be made available to other carmakers after an undisclosed
period of exclusivity. Statistically, every fifth car accident involves
a front-to-rear-end impact, according to Mercedes. In its ultimate form
Brake Assist Plus can brake the car automatically without the driver
hitting the brakes.
In further developments Mercedes refined its Pre-Safe system. As well
as pretensioning the seatbelts and returning the passenger seat to
its optimal position in critical situations, Pre-Safe automatically
closes the side windows and inflates cushions in the front seats to
optimize the effectiveness of the side airbag system.
The S-Class introduces night vision. Different from the thermal imaging
process used by Cadillac on the STS, the optional system is based
around a new infrared sensor that is claimed to identify objects more
quickly and deliver sharper images.
Inside Mercedes plans to raise the already impressive safety
credentials of the S-Class with a newly developed knee airbag, together
with improved versions of today's front, side and curtain airbags
that are said to react faster and be more adaptable, inflating to suit
the size of the occupants with greater reliability.
The decision to focus on safety comes after concerns the S-Class, which
pioneered such important technologies as ABS, airbags and ESP, was
losing its reputation as a safety leader. "Nearly every car can
achieve five stars in the Euro NCAP [crash] test these days," said a
high-ranking insider, adding, "but Mercedes-Benz is the only carmaker
to offer a fully integrated safety system."
Yet while the focus is on safety, the S-Class also promises added
performance with the new four-valve-per-cylinder V6 and V8 engines.
These supplant the three-valve-per-cylinder engines Mercedes thinks
have reached the end of their development as far as future emissions
regulations are concerned.
S350, with a 4.6-liter 330-hp V8 in the S450 and a 5.5-liter 388-hp V8
in the S550 likely. The 5.5-liter 500-hp twin-turbo V12 used in the
current S600 will likely be brought over to the new model with little
change. Later a 6.3-liter 504-hp naturally aspirated V8 will replace
the 5.4-liter 476-hp supercharged V8 used in the S55 AMG. Topping the
line will be an even more powerful version of the 6.0-liter twin-turbo
V12 from the S65 AMG.
Mercedes makes no secret it is working toward introducing a hybrid
version of the car. Speaking about the plans, Mercedes' head of
development Thomas Weber said, "It will take less than five years and
will be a typical Mercedes-Benz premium vehicle."
Two different hybrid drivelines are under development: a
gasoline-electric system for markets such as the United States and
Japan, as well as a diesel-electric system for Europe. The gas system
uses Mercedes' 3.5-liter 272-hp V6 in combination with two electric
motors, while the diesel variant is based around the new 3.0-liter
224-hp V6 common-rail turbodiesel.
All engines will come mated to the 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic
transmission. The gearbox is reworked for the new model with the shift
lever mounted on the steering column and operating by a new
shift-by-wire arrangement, as on the 7 Series. The setup was first seen
on the M-Class earlier this year and appeared on the R-Class, which
uses the room freed up between the driver and front seat passenger for
additional stowage space.
Standard models will again get rear-wheel drive, though Mercedes will
push its four-wheel-drive system more aggressively with the new
S-Class, extending its reach to a greater number of models and offering
4Matic in additional markets.
After the problems and expensive recalls with the electrohydraulic
Sensotronic Brake Control system, Mercedes retains traditional
hydraulic stoppers for the new S-Class, which, like the CL, will be
upgraded to simulate Sensotronic's many functions. Mated to the new
brakes will be a more advanced electronic stability program and ABS,
the latter reworked so the pulsating effect felt through the pedal
under emergency stops is reduced.
Steel construction is retained, but more aluminum, including
space-frame-style doors, ensures the new car's weight does not creep
up too much on the 3825 pounds of today's S350. Holding true to
tradition, there will be standard and long-wheelbase S-Classes from the
outset of North American sales early next year.
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