2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class: First Drive Review
Most luxury cars have impressive technology, but the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class isn't just a luxury car. Where rivals offer wide arrays of comfort and safety features, this new generation of the company's flagship model blurs the line between the two.
Take the assisted steering. It can help out if the driver starts to wander from one lane to another, but it can also lessen the effort to drive around the city. Similarly, the Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control excels on the highway at keeping a safe distance from the car in front, yet it is sufficiently quick-witted to work in town. And if an inattentive pedestrian should step into the road, the S-Class can come to a complete stop by either adding to the driver's braking effort or handling the whole operation itself.
These things sound more like safety than comfort features, but knowing the car is always keeping track of its surroundings -- and can aid the driver if necessary -- makes traveling in the S-Class less stressful than most other vehicles.
Sound and Vision
The apparatus that makes it so aware includes infrared sensors, cameras, radar and ultrasonic equipment -- the equivalent of eyes and ears. These components feed information into a central "brain," which processes that input to make moment-by-moment decisions on how each of the car's more than 20 systems should work and interact.
The car can tell the difference between animals and humans -- at night. A feature called Magic Body Control reads the road surface and adjusts the suspension; it virtually flattens out speed bumps. And it's the same "eyes and ears" that means the car can parallel or perpendicular park, asking the driver only to select forward and reverse gears and add the occasional dash of throttle.
It isn't just comfort and safety for S-Class owners or unwitting pedestrians. Intelligent headlights dip their beams automatically when another vehicle approaches. Yes, other cars do that too, but the S-Class is the first that does away with bulbs completely. It uses LED light sources that require less energy, last longer and give off a beam that's closer to daylight -- so they really are easier on the eye.
Exterior styling performs a balancing act of retaining the presence for which the S-Class is renowned, looking modern without being faddish. This is, after all, the car that embodies the company's lofty values, rich heritage and upper-class image.
Although a full-size sedan, the new S-Class doesn't seem that big. Presumably Mercedes-Benz researched it and felt it didn't need to offer an inch of shoulder room or rear legroom more than necessary. The new model is in fact 1.1 inches wider than its predecessor. The trunk, at 18 cu ft, is large enough for a few suitcases. That's better than the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series, yet it doesn't look out of proportion with the rest of the car.
All versions sold in the U.S. will have the long wheelbase.
The mostly hand-built interior blends function with elegance. There are no fake materials: What looks like leather really is leather, and what looks like metal really is metal.
For one lucky rear occupant, the front passenger seat can fold far forward for optimum legroom behind. Rear passengers will appreciate the aircraft-style folding tables as well.
As an option, everyone gets to enjoy reclining seats that give "hot stone" massages. Little heated areas in the seat back work away at tense muscles. Aromatherapy makes an appearance too -- a choice of scents can waft their way through the ventilation system on ionized air.
In every aspect of the new S-Class -- from crash avoidance and protection to extreme cosseting -- the attention to detail is breathtaking.
The Business of Driving
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a pleasure to drive and be driven around in. The S550 rides silently, sweetly and comfortably on an adjustable air suspension, and uses a twin-turbo 4.7-liter V8 to make a muscular 449 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. That output can motivate either the rear wheels or all four in the 4Matic version. The car is also incredibly aerodynamic, slipping through the air with more ease than a Toyota Prius. Fuel-consumption figures have yet to be released, but expect an improvement over the outgoing range.
The Business of Business
The rear-wheel-drive version goes on sale in September with a base price near the current model's $95,000. The 4Matic arrives in November, just in time for the bad weather. A typical buyer usually selects a few options that bring the final tally up to $112,000 or so. Mercedes-Benz plans to treat every buyer as far from typical, however, having announced it intends to "elevate the standards of the sales experience to complement the new S-Class."