2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class : First Drive

For generations, Mercedes-Benz' S-Class has been the wheels of choice for not only heads of state but also for everyone who knows their cars and has the money to spend on luxury. But with the competition closing in, is the new 'S' still the best car in the world?



2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class front



It’s one thing to read through a brochure and go gaga over the endless list of features that the ‘best car in the world’ brings with it and it’s a completely different thing to actually lounge around in the superiorly comfortable rear seat that not only reclines you to a near sleep-inducing posture but also pampers you with a hot stone effect massage while you’re being chauffeur driven around the Canadian countryside. These are times when, as a motoring journalist, you simply sit back, relax and wonder what you’ve done right in your lifetime to have landed up with this job and then this particular assignment that many around the world would willingly give an arm and a leg to be chosen for. 


But things aren’t always that easy – especially after a flight from Pune across to the opposite end of the planet to land in Toronto twenty hours later, exhausted to say the least. Of course, this isn’t just any other car we had journeyed to drive – this is a phenomenon. It’s an event that occurs once every decade (roughly speaking) and when it does, the best of the best sit up and take notice. This is the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the question on everyone’s minds post the rather glamorous unveil of the car last month was ‘is this still the best car in the world?’



2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class drive



It’s a difficult thing to accomplish really – to stay ahead of competition that is rapidly catching up and come up with new technology and innovations that will keep the S-Class the choice of all those VVIPs that really matter. It’s not just that class of royalty that the S-Class appeals to though – entrepreneurs, bigwigs and everyone who can afford to spend ridiculous amounts of money on an automobile, aspire to bring it to their garage. The question egging me though, was whether it was really possible to make the W221 better? 


The previous generation of the S-Class had it all – it looked elegantly mean, had more gadgets and gizmos in it than a space shuttle and used exotic materials in its construction, both on the outside and within its cabin’s confines. But then again, phone cameras are now 41 Megapixels, 128GB of data fits in the size of my thumb and robots can actually make your morning cuppa for you. Technology hasn’t stagnated, and there’s no reason why the S-Class should either. 


2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class action



The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class or the W222 as die-hard fans of the three-pointed star would like to call it while simultaneously boasting their knowledge of the marquee on the world, isn’t just an upgrade to the previous generation – it’s a revolution and when I say that about a car that has already been so awesome ever since it was launched in 2005, you know that everything about this new car is really extraordinary.


At the core of the new S-Class is a philosophy that is governed more by electronic circuitry than by crude spanners and wrenches – a design that is born from the digital world  than from a sketch pad with pens and French curves. Integrating technology into a visual design that has to be a complete refresh, yet has to pay homage to generations gone by isn’t as simple a task as it seems. And that’s why the 2014 S-Class looks like a continuation in form from the now-defunct model, yet it brings along with it stupendous amounts of technology from front to back. 



2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class driver display



Hidden out of plain sight all around the body of the new S are an array of sensors, radars and stereo cameras that transform the process previously termed as driving into truly experiencing – when the engineers at Mercedes say that the S-Class is an extension of the driver, they aren’t kidding! But even before you get to understanding the full effect of all that technological hardware, you end up staring at every details of the new S’ visual styling. The sleek profile runs in almost one smooth curve from front to back imparting a coefficient of drag of just 0.24 making it the most aerodynamic luxury sedan on the planet. 


The lights themselves reflect the new design language at Mercedes in shape and form, but look beyond that clear lens and the brilliance of the LED array shines through. In fact, every bit of lighting on the car comes in the form of Light Emitting Diodes that draw lesser power from the car while giving better illumination at the same time. 


2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class action



Even the tail lamps have an array of LEDs that you can’t mistake for the units on any other car or even generation of the S-Class itself. And then there’s the front grille – a seamless amalgamation of tradition and technology for while it retains its classic horizontally slatted configuration, it also hides within its vanes a bunch of radars and sensors. But what really makes all the difference lies within the cabin – the place where owners will be spending all of their time in while the rest of the world looks on from the outside in absolute admiration.


The new S takes the term ‘wraparound dashboard’ to a completely new level and then takes it a level further with its two 12-inch TFT screen displays that replace any kind of conventional instrumentation that you can ever think of. While one of those screens forms the information console for the driver displaying digitized versions of the tachometer and speedometer, the second one beside it is the screen for COMAND online. 



2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class drive



Enveloping the screens is precision-stitched leather trim outlined by contrasting wooden panels – which of course can be customised to aluminum as per the owner’s tastes. Circular vents for the air conditioning lined with chrome flank an analog clock in the centre. The steering wheel itself is a combination of leather, wood and metal. 


While all that may seem pretty normal and expected from a luxury sedan of this stature, the attention to detail is simply mind-boggling. Take for example, the knobs to control the air flow from the vents themselves – little metallic cylinders that stay flush with the dash until you pop them out. Even the stalks for the door locks are so exquisitely finished that they’d find pride of place in any design museum around the world. The S-Class isn’t just about luxury for the body – it encompasses luxury of a mental level as well with such fine aesthetics that the car itself soothes you from every corner.


2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class rear passenger entertainment



And if that wasn’t enough, there’s the electronics involved that not only keeps you connected constantly with the outside world, but also with fellow occupants. Hidden under a fold-away panel is a keypad that operates your connected smartphone and the keys can even be pre-programmed to access other functions of the car. The COMAND online system can be accessed through a dial in the centre console and is by far one of the easiest navigations I have ever come across – as long as it’s in English! Then there are the individual screens for the rear passengers as well that can be customised to access menus or entertainment of each passenger’s personal choice. 


The back benchers also get exclusive headphones for individual programming and if regular buttons aren’t enough to suit your fancy, all of the entertainment functions in the S-Class can be controlled through an iPhone app as well. Mood lighting comes pre-installed and there’s the Air Balance package which performs the multiple tasks of ionising and filtering the air as well as spreading one of five fragrances that can be chosen as an optional extra too. 


Mercedes-Benz S-Class seat adjustment controls


But what really got our pulses racing was the superb Burmester surround sound system – never have I heard music so crystal clear in any kind of automobile ever! Needless to say, with all of this adding even more luxury for the senses, your body is well-pampered too by the electrically adjustable seats all round. The ones at the rear on the long wheelbase version of the S-Class also let you recline to a 43.5 degree angle while you bask in the glory of any one of the six massage settings including two hot stone functions.


One thing that Mercedes-Benz takes extremely seriously is safety – both passive and active. Apart from the normal dose of countless airbags that could more or less convert the S-Class’ cabin into a big bouncy castle on the inside in the event of a collision, it also comes replete with the Pre-Safe package including illuminated seat belt buckles. I’m not even going to talk about the conventional stuff anymore because there’s way more technology in the 2014 S-Class than can be fitted in these pages.


2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class power window controls



The real cool stuff has more to do with a topic that has been discussed at length in these past few months – driver assist systems and technology that will eventually amount to outright automated driving. The 360 degree camera function gives an aerial view of the entire car thanks to an array of cameras on all four sides. 


This not only helps to tell you what’s behind you but also what’s immediately beside and in front of you – things that you would generally not notice otherwise. Then there’s the Night View Assist that includes a spotlight function and recognizes people in the darkness. What this gizmo does is, it selectively flashes detected people with four short light pulses to warn both driver and pedestrian, thus eliminating the risk of an accident in the dark. 



Mercedes-Benz S-Class in car entertainment screen



But probably the coolest thing on the new S is Magic Body Control suspension. Employing its stereo camera mounted behind the inside rear view mirror, the car scans the road surface ahead along with its 9 sensors and prepares the suspension to handle it accordingly – keeping the car as stable as possible and giving occupants what could probably be the best ride quality available in an automobile.


Then there are the various lane assist and adaptive cruise control systems as well which are well thought of not only for their own functioning but also in terms of predicting how drivers will react in certain situations. Sadly, when the S-Class does come to India sometime in 2014, there is still a big question about whether Mercedes-Benz will be able to offer all of this technology to its customers at all. 


The question isn’t about price – it is about the frequency that the car’s radar sensors use to calibrate the systems thanks to Indian regulatory restrictions and that would actually be a shame, considering the really useful technology that the car brings with it which will definitely go a long way in making our roads safer – at least for people driving the S!



2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class engine



In its current guise the S-Class comes with two engine options – a 3-litre V6 diesel and a 4663cc petrol V8. While the gasoline powered S500 is going to be the choice of those who want that extra muscle under their hood, the S350 BlueTEC oil burner will turn out to be the preferred choice – not only in India, but all over the world. Both engines come mated to a 7G-Tronic Plus transmission and the combinations end up being extremely fuel efficient for a car of its size as well.


There will also be a hybrid variant for the S-Class come September which will be displayed first at the Frankfurt Motor Show and that will change the game further in the luxury sedan category. As fabulous as the engines on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class may be, the true appeal of the car is in all the technology that it carries with it – not only making it safer but also increasing its luxury levels beyond imagination.



Mercedes-Benz S-Class in car perfume



This is a car that will not only appeal to your visual tastes or your technical mentality – it is a car that will appeal to every one of your senses and while doing so, it will also imbibe a sense of pride every time you step in or out of one. The S-Class has always been the best car in the world after all, and it remains so!

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