Did you have a schoolteacher like mine? "Pick up that pen, don't doodle on your exercise book, stop staring out of the window." It can be quite annoying to continually be picked on. If my primary schoolteacher had an alter ego, it could just be the new S-Class from Mercedes. "You are an inch over the white line, did you see that road sign, and don't you think you are a bit close to the car in front of you?"
Today we are cruising the roads of the Black Forest in Germany in the new S-Class, and I think its picking on me. The S-Class has always been a great car and the latest edition with a mild facelift is still a great vehicle. Actually to call this relaunch a facelift is actually a bit of a misnomer, it's more of a slight Botox treatment with a little liposuction. There are new light clusters front and rear and the addition of LED day time running lights to meet new regulations. The midline appears be more sculpted than previously, and it has a new sloped grille to adorn the front. Nothing drastic, nothing seriously different and most importantly nothing that will put off existing and very loyal S-Class customers.
However if you went into hospital for a facelift and came out looking like the S-Class, your friends would be justified in calling you the bionic man. I am a big fan of gadgets, I have an iPod, a solar recharger for my phone and I have just seen this great gadget that converts a car cigarette lighter to a British three pin plug. However, I worry that Mercedes may have gone a step too far. Here is a run through of some of the more advanced gadgetry of the S-Class:
Pre-Safe This one has been around a while, it will prepare the car to be as safe as possible in the event of an accident, including moving the passenger seat down and back, closing the windows and sunroof and pre-tensioning the seat belts. Distronic Plus This uses radar to keep your vehicle at a set distance from the car in front. It works in conjunction with the cruise control but surely this is something a half way competent driver should be able to do for themselves.
Lane Keeping Assist It informs you if you are crossing the white lane markers on the roads and alert you by three vibrations of the steering wheel. Speed Limit Assist Now this one I do like, when you pass a road side sign indicating speed limits the sign is read by an on-board camera and flashes up on the very modern digital dashboard. The dashboard also becomes a screen for the Night View Assist which highlights obstacles after dusk. There are also a myriad of other gadgets which can help you to park and tell you when you are getting drowsy.
Helpful gadgets the lot of them, clever without a doubt, and will certainly cut accident rates. However, it's only when you put all these together that a creeping feeling of unease sets it. I assume it's a similar feeling that telephone operators got when the boffins happily announced that they had invented a computer that would effectively connect calls without the need for the helpful lady to do it.
With all the gadgets on board, the S-Class knows how fast it should be travelling, how close the vehicle in front is and if the vehicle is wavering out of the lane. I wonder if, when the Attention Assist, that tells me I am feeling a little drowsy, kicks in, if the ultra charming S-Class would say: "Look, you, take it easy, pop into the back for a quick nap and I will handle the driving for a while."
However, enough about gadgets, what about the car that contains them? It is everything we have come to expect from this luxury vehicle: it's comfortable, it's powerful and it's safe. It's the car in which we see numerous heads of state, politicians and movie stars; however, fame is not a condition of ownership. Between 2005 and the last model launch, 270,000 S-Classes have been sold worldwide, and some 3.3 million since the Class was introduced way back in 1951.
The interior is very pleasant space to occupy, there are yards upon yards of supple beautiful leather, a small walnut tree arranged around the cabin, and head rests softer than a feather pillow. Although the car is built for and capable of great speed, the seats are designed to encourage you to drive in a manner in which you wouldn't disturb the passenger in the back seat. For my mind, if I were to sit up front I would much rather see more lateral support in the seats.
In the back, you shouldn't be disturbed from your morning newspaper and I doubt you will spill your coffee. You will be conveyed to your destination in comfort that will rival your lounge. When you have finished the morning paper you can also catch the latest film on the in-car entertainment system video screen through the privacy of your own set of headphones. Although we will receive several versions of the S-Class in the UAE around August, by far the most popular will be the S500 with the superb 5.5L V8 engine teamed with the seven-speed G-Tronic automatic transmission. This combination will leave most vehicles in your wake at the traffic lights as it propels the S-Class to 100kph in 5.4 seconds. The engine is powerful and scarily quiet; much of this is due to sound deadening, but the silence also owes much to the gear ratios that keep the engine revs down. Often, a glance down at the rev counter found it registered no more than 1,500 rpm while cruising. Of course, this will also aid the fuel economy.
The S-Class has a steering column-mounted gear selector, which was obviously placed there to free up space on the central console. Frankly, I find it antiquated and just one more thing to catch your hand on. Along with that are the now obligatory steering wheel paddle shifters for manual shifting, which are totally out of place in a vehicle like this and only seem to clutter the steering column. Gear changes made by the driver are occasionally listened to but sometimes ignored.
For the first time, we will see the S400 Hybrid version, which will be offered on our shores. This hi-tech option is ideal for those wishing to show off their green credentials as it incorporates an electric motor and lithium-ion batteries coupled with a petrol engine. It will gobble up 100km using under eight litres of fuel, while its S500 counterpart will require at least three litres more to cover the same distance.
Although no prices have yet been announced for the UAE, they are expected to be comparable with the current model, and the Hybrid should set you back only about Dh10,000 more. I think its time to hit the road and see how few of the gadgets you can get to engage in one trip and enjoy driving, because you, the driver, are still required. At least, for now.