Getting into the driver’s seat of the jet-black S-Class, we sink into the soft leather seat as the automated dashboard fires up to put the vehicle into comfort mode. On the highway, the V8 engine of the S550 (branded as an S500 for the Europeans coming through the launch) accelerates from near zero to 60 mph in a swift 4.8 seconds: fast and uncompromising for a luxury sedan.
One of the most intuitive new features in the S-Class is the climate control system, which, aside from the basics, offers various levels of ionization and filtration to suit your personal air quality preferences, particularly important with the saloon’s perfuming system that is part of the optional Air-Balance package. Customers can also opt for an empty canister to use with their own eau de toilette to go. And yes, we tested out the new hot stone massage feature, which, as far as car massages go, is good.
The 2014 S-Class has one of the most remarkable safety systems, in the Intelligent Drive feature, we have ever seen on a production sedan: an array of stereo cameras and multistage radar systems built into the vehicle. The stereo cameras fix onto the lane markings along the road, as well as a car ahead of you if within 200 meters of the vehicle’s long-range sensor.The Distronic Plus system—our personal favorite—allows the car to track and follow the car in front during stop-and-go traffic semiautonomously, no steering or active gas required. If your lead car goes astray, the S-Class will recognize that it has gone over the lines and steer you back to safety. Another great innovation is Night View, which uses a thermal imaging camera to highlight humans or animals in front of you.
In addition to this, the Pre-Safe system can detect pedestrians or objects in front of the car’s path at up to 50 km/h and brake the S-Class to a full stop if the driver doesn’t react to a series of alarms. This system can also minimize the risk of injury in an imminent crash by proactively pulling passengers away from the source of the crash by the seat belts. A great rear hazard light feature on European models will flash at the car behind you if a crash is becoming more likely; however, this feature is currently banned by U.S. legislation that also affects certain active headlight features, something that should be addressed in the coming years.
The 2014 S-Class has the distinction of being the first vehicle without an actual light bulb. Instead, the vehicle contains 56 LEDs for each headlamp, 35 each in the taillights and over 300 within the cabin that control the retro interior lighting options (check out the gallery above for an example). The adaptive high beam system in the front headlamps allows for permanent high beam functionality: the stereo cameras detect other drivers and shut off lights that may distract them as they pass by.
One of the signature features of the S-Class is its ability to detect bumps on the road using the stereo cameras’ Road Surface Scan. Upon activating the system outside the sports mode, Magic Body Control will immediately adjust the car’s suspension to compensate for changes in the terrain.
An exceptional piece of luxury in the S-Class is the Burmester 3D Surround System; at 24 speakers it’s down a couple from the 2014Range Rover Autobiography’s 30, but considering the difference in size, we’re pretty sure Benz takes the cake with the size-to-speaker ratio. The impressive First-Class rear suite that allows those in the back to relax in one of five seating configurations, catch up on work using the onboard Wi-Fi, watch television on the rear seat panels controlled by their smart phone or go horizontal on the airplane-style fold-out back seat that connects with an empty front passenger seat.
Not to be forgotten, the exterior design of the S-Class is a bold update. The shape is sculpted and refined, particularly in the integration of the bold, streamlined edge that runs the length of the vehicle. The front fascia also exudes a sense of power, particularly in the lower body work and dual side air intakes. It’s a gorgeous vehicle and stands out even among the work Benz designers have been putting out over the past year or so.
Available this fall, the S550 will retail for approximately €104,601 (American pricing TBD). For more information visit www.mbusa.com