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From flagship to cruise liner

S. Muralidhar | Updated on: Mar 15, 2018
Striking change Turn indicators and brake lights in the tail-lamps adjust according to light conditions and vehicle speed. - S MURALIDHAR

Striking change Turn indicators and brake lights in the tail-lamps adjust according to light conditions and vehicle speed. - S MURALIDHAR

Going hi-tech The digital display with its split view of all key driving information and the multi-function steering wheel in nappa leather seperates the S from its younger sibling

Going hi-tech The digital display with its split view of all key driving information and the multi-function steering wheel in nappa leather seperates the S from its younger sibling

Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class gets a facelift, a whole lot of new semi-self-driving tech and a plusher cabin

How can you better the ‘Best’? Mercedes-Benz’s engineers must have faced this peculiar problem with the S-Class. But, the legendary luxury saloon’s envelope of possibilities needs to be pushed up constantly to stay at the top. This becomes more important because the average age of the Merc buyer is coming down; and at 37 years it is even lower in India than the global average. Given this nugget of information, Merc’s designers and engineers decided to load up the S-Class facelift with more tech, a bit more power and a lot of additional comfort — all music to the ears of young tycoons who will be considering adding the ‘S’ to their garage.

Design

The least obvious changes to the new S-Class are in its overall exterior body styling. Being a mid-cycle upgrade, the face-lifted flagship still looks nearly like the predecessor, though some changes such as the new bonnet grille and the faux dual exhaust pipes are welcome additions. The S-Class’ proportions were always spot on and the story continues in the new face-lifted version too. A classic long bonnet, a shortened, cascading rear and the long rear door ready to accept its VIP passengers gracefully — that is the non-aggressive, stately design of the S-Class, which has been its trademark for generations.

 

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The additions to the exterior that strike you are in the headlamps where the three stripe DRLs mark the S-Class’ top position in Merc’s model hierarchy. The headlamps now also feature multi-beam LEDs, which enable a precise throw of light exactly where it is needed on the road. A total of 84 individually controllable LEDs using four control units and sensors create light patterns on the road to optimise visibility for the driver and make milli-second calculations based on road and lighting conditions. It also includes the non-dazzle function for oncoming traffic. There is more tech even in the LED bulbs — the light intensity of the turn indicators and brake lights in the tail-lamps change according to light conditions and vehicle speed.

With its eye-catching new grille design and the new headlamps and their signature LED tubes, the S-Class’ size isn’t so evident from the front. Step to the side and the deception becomes apparent, as you get a view of its 17.5 feet length. The only weak feature when you view it from the side is the relatively small 18-inch alloys and the tall profile (245/50) tyres those 20-inchers in the brochure won’t make it here.

Cabin

 

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Going hi-tech The digital display with its split view of all key driving information and the multi-function steering wheel in nappa leather seperates the S from its younger sibling

 

The S-Class cabin has been a benchmark in the segment for its luxurious appointments and unparalleled rear seat comfort. The new S-Class builds on that tradition to offer more features for the rear passenger — the natural location for the owner of a S-Class, even though he or she may be tempted to take the wheel more often in this model than its predecessors. With big, sumptuous squabs wrapped in perforated leather, customisable to fit your backside like a glove, the S-Class seats are arguably the best that one can find in any car. All four seats (the fifth, in the middle at the rear is not so much a seat as it is a handrest) offer a bucket load of options — they are cooled, heated, offer massages and individual squabs can be adjusted for a better fit. It can become a bit difficult to peel yourself away from the rear left seat when it is reclined and stretched out with its foot rest on. It feels like a recliner at home, because even the remote control (of the optional rear entertainment package) is close at hand, as can be a beer or a flute of champagne in the armrest.

The driver and front passenger may not be able to reach for the bubbly, but there is enough in the cabin that they can drool over. The sinuous open pore wood panelling on the dashboard, the huge digital display with its split view of all key driving information and the new multi-function steering wheel in nappa leather and aluminium are all features that bear a certain classy air, separating the S from its smaller siblings. The dashboard and centre console with its simple line of controls at the bottom lip of the wood panel are not very different from the predecessor, but the steering wheel now hosts more controls that were on stalks behind it in the earlier editions.

There are more additions including a customisable ambient lighting package and a personal fragrance package. A few features that younger buyers will like are the wireless smartphone charging slot at the rear, the smartphone integration into the new telematics and display, and the 13-speaker Burmester surround sound system.

Performance

I test drove the face-lifted new S-Class earlier this week. The Merc flagship is now offered with two engines, one each of petrol and diesel. Both have been updated, with about 8-10 per cent more power, are remarkably more efficient and help meet the new BS-VI emission norms (will be with BS-VI fuel). I got time with the S 350d, which features the 2,925cc in-line six-cylinder diesel engine, which is paired with Merc’s 9G-Tronic transmission. There is a lot of new tech in the engine like the stepped-bowl combustion chamber, camtronic variable valve-lift control, Nanoslide coatings etc make it 6 per cent more fuel efficient though it gets more power. There is also the addition of the AdBlue ammonia injection tank for lowering emissions.

Said to be the most powerful passenger car diesel engine made by Merc, this mill delivers 286hp of power and 600Nm of peak torque. Inside the S-Class’ cabin, there is so much noise isolation that I can hardly hear the engine or feel its presence under the bonnet. Power and torque delivery also seems to be measured and too linear. The transmission is quicker in sports mode and even kick downs are immediate, but I don’t feel any of the ‘get thrown backwards’ kind of acceleration. I suppose that has to do with the S-Class’ positioning as a back bencher’s car. But, it is still quick for a car of its size and bulk with the 0-100 kmph run being done at a claimed six seconds, which is comparable to a similar spec BMW 7 Series. Also like I said there is so much isolation of the cabin, I don’t realise how fast the S 350d was going on the highways surrounding Hyderabad until I look at the high three-digit speed on the speedo.

The other engine option available is the 2,996cc V6 petrol, which is claimed to deliver 367hp of power and 500Nm of peak torque. The new S-Class’ suspension continues the tradition of being one of the best at isolating the cabin from the road. The pneumatic all-round self-levelling suspension manages to keep me unruffled on the rear seat even on really bad city roads, though a couple of huge speedbreakers did scrape the underbody. But then the suspension can be raised by 30mm to avoid these kinds of situations.

Bottom Line

The one important addition to the new S-Class that I haven’t mentioned yet is the whole lot of new Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) that have been incorporated that take the new model nearly upto Level 2 in Autonomous Driving. Many based on radar tech, it has got active distance assist, active steering assist, braking assist etc. A compliment of these features can be activated together to enable the car to stay in its lane and maintain active cruise control even without any steering input from the driver. However, every 15 seconds the driver will need to hold the wheel to confirm that he is alert. ADAS features have been seen in other cars particularly from Volvo, but it seems a bit odd in the Merc S-Class, if one was to only count the convenience of the steering assist. But, the boost to safety with brake assist and the other related features is a big jump.

Ex-showroom prices for the new S-Class start at ₹1.33 crore.

Published on March 15, 2018

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