New Merc S-Class confounds critics, rivals and customers but it should not be a surprise.
Every time Daimler-Benz launches a new version of its most prestigious S-Class, it would be fair for Iain Robertson to state that its technological mandate is not merely exceeded but that it sets fresh standards for the rest of the motor industry to follow.
As the world’s oldest carmaker, Daimler-Benz has seldom disappointed with its market-leading developments for over 130 years. The latest S-Class replaces the previous generation and will be almost certain to continue its status as the best-selling luxury car in the world (since its 1972 introduction). However, it is a model line that is more like a mobile laboratory, with a co-ordinated team of white-coated, spectacles-wearing ‘nerds’ preparing technological concoctions that will assuredly pop the eyeballs consistently from the crania of critics, rival manufacturers and expectant customers.
The new version exceeds on all prior expectations and unashamedly lists a raft of innovation (mostly electronic) that is as long as my arm, which, to be frank, is pretty lengthy. Apart from an innovative automatic side-impact mitigation system that raises the car by 8cm to reduce potential occupant damage (in the event of a crash), the suspension uses a complex mix of cameras and sensors to read the road ahead (in conjunction with AI learning algorithms and smart sat-nav), adjusting the springing and damper rates of the air system up to 1,000 times a second. While our market will not get it immediately, four-wheel steering that reduces the turning circle by a massive 1.9m and active suspension provides not just positive roll (S-Class leans into bends) but also counteracts pitch and roll automatically for a phenomenal advancement in vehicle stability.
Bear in mind that the UK demand for S-Class is small, when compared with several other countries, which is a factor that denies us a plethora of the latest developments. While the new car hosts the first application of Mahle’s latest and most effective cabin air filtration system, it is the use of camera technology both inside and outside the new S-Class that is not merely innovative but is sure to impact on future technological advancements across the entire motor industry. While digital touchscreens are not new, Merc employs no less than five (only three in UK-spec models) in its new luxury car, some with OLED technology.
At the touch of a solitary button, a new 3D driver display employs spatial perception by using eye-tracking technology for the first time in a vehicle. This feeds into the enlarged head-up display to provide additional information that can be projected in 3D virtual reality form onto the actual road surface ahead, using the car’s multi-mirrored (millions of micro-mirrors) headlamp digital light array (it works in conjunction with the HUD). Changing speed restrictions are an ideal example of flagging-up issues that will affect driver responses.
Tiny cameras mounted in the overhead control panel interpret eye, head, hand and even body movements using more AI algorithmic, tracking technology and linking them to corresponding vehicle functions. As an example, should the driver turn slightly to take an over-shoulder view, if ‘closed’, the appropriate sunblind (left, or right) will open automatically to clarify the view.
While Tesla introduced us to large-scale touchscreens that, to be frank, can be a nightmare to navigate, especially on-the-move, Merc has expanded its MBUX infotainment facility, with a new 12.8-inch screen and a portrait-style touchscreen (OLED). Fortunately, it keeps a digital but more conventional instrument panel, located ahead of the driver. However, most of the switchgear has been relegated to the touchscreen, or to voice control, which is now so intelligent that it can even handle some UK regional accents and has a self-learning capability for those it cannot recognise immediately, which will surely satisfy Aberdonians, Burnleyites and residents of Belfast.
There is no confirmation of the Burmester, 31-speaker, 4D surround-sound, hi-fi system being fitted to UK-spec models but, if it were, you can be sure that it would provide the best darned sound system you have ever heard, in a car, or not. Under normal circumstances, I would never simply cut-and-paste manufacturer supplied information, yet, forgive me on this one occasion for listing some of the fascinating features noted in the 73pp press kit:
- Comfort on the front passenger seat is assisted by up to 19 motors (8 for adjustments, 4 for massage and 5 for ventilation, one for the lumbar support and one to move the monitor on the reverse of the seat).
- 10 different massage programmes are available in the new S-Class.
- The plug-in hybrid version of the S-Class will have an electric range of up to 62-miles.
- The display area of the augmented reality head-up display corresponds to a monitor with a diagonal of 77 inches.
- The boot capacity has increased by 20-litres to up to 550-litres, compared with the previous model.
- With a Cdfigure from 0.22, the S-Class is one of the world’s most aerodynamic cars. Its drag coefficient is therefore lower than before, despite a larger frontal area of 200sq cm.
- The computing power of MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) has increased by 50% over the previous model. The memory bandwidth is 41,790MB/s.
- 17 step motors control the temperature and air distribution in the Thermotronic system. The 4-zone climate control ‘Thermotronic Rear’ even has 20 step motors. These electric motors operate the air flaps.
- In the Active Ambient Lighting system, there is an LED in an optical fibre every 1.6cm. There are around 250 in all.
Two diesels (350d and 400d 4×4) and one petrol (500, also 4WD) will be the first versions available, with deliveries commencing in December this year, to be followed by electrified models. Boasting the highest customer retention of any car sold worldwide, the new S-Class serves to underscore Merc’s constant search for both physical and sensual safety advances; things that make a difference in terms of driver/occupant satisfaction and interactivity with the vehicle. Prices are said to start at around £78,000, which seems entirely reasonable, when you contemplate what is available.
Conclusion: Immense effort is expended by Merc on its S-Class, which is a pinnacle model in all respects, so that it can contain the very latest but also the worthiest equipment and features.