2014 MERCEDES-BENZ S500 Long Review


2014 MERCEDES-BENZ S500 Long - Page - 1
It’s not nice to mention the fact that Mercedes-Benz killed off Maybach in the very first phrase of this test drive. Then again, resurrecting a brand only to put it back to sleep after a decade of questionable management wasn’t exactly a smooth move either. Regardless of this, when Mercedes sent the ex-Zeppelin producer away in late 2012, we all wanted to see the useful genes live on in the new S-Class.

Now that the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is out, the car comes to promise us... well, the entire world. What’s more, the automaker has started quoting certain people about the S-Class being “the best car in the world”, so our expectations for the fresh generation reached a sky-high level.

It’s only natural to expect wonders when presented with a new Mercedes S-Class - just think about the sales. The annual figures of its competitors have always been some sort of stand up comedy show for the German.

This was possible thanks to both the hyper-engineering of the vehicle, as well as to its name. Mercedes’ S-Class is one of those vehicles that’s building its icon status as it’s evolving. They’ve assigned the 19th letter of the alphabet to the model in the early 70s, but its history actually dates back to the 1954 W180 Ponton model.

Returning to the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, this also wants to place itself at the lead of what’s probably the sharpest tool in the automotive shed right nowadays. Yes, autonomous driving, this is the new S-Class’ fetish. We wanted to see how close this Mercedes came to rendering our job useless and thus we went to test drive one.

America only gets the V220 long wheelbase model, so this was our choice, despite driving the European version. We tested the 2014 Mercedes S500 Long. However, feel free to see this as a 2014 Mercedes S550 if you like, since the two are basically the same car.

As you get closer to the Mercedes S-Class, the resemblance between its silhouette and that of a model smoothened by hand becomes stronger and stronger. It’s like they took a block of metal and sculpted it by caressing it over and over again.

The surfaces flow into each other delicately, as the S-Class never wants to draw too much attention. It’s in the character. And all this gentle visual moves have also brought the drag coefficient to 0.24. A pretty neat trick the S-Class has pulled here - the most aerodynamic car in the world, the Mercedes CLA, comes with a 0.22 cD.

You can tell that the designers used the V222 long wheelbase model as a starting point. The difference between this and the W222 normal wheelbase model seems more difficult to spot than before.

The front end won’t go unnoticed. The front grille is now larger and the headlights have an artificial intelligence look. Nevertheless, you won’t spend too much time gazing at them, as the fluent shapes take your eyes across the car. All the curves and angles of the Mercedes S-Class are now better integrated into the overall shape.

From the side, the 2014 Mercedes S-Class prides itself with a long bonnet, an announcement more than anything else. There’s also a domed roof line that serves both form and function.

We were going to mention the rear end now, but, visually, there really isn’t much to talk about. The styling is bland, as if the car is trying to give its owner privacy by erasing your memory of seeing it. As expected, the technology is well hidden beneath - even the LEDs are special, since they come with three intensity levels. The rear lights adjust themselves according to the light outside and the state of the vehicle.

The only thing that gave away the hours and hours of workout our test car had performed when it was just a prototype in its mother’s testing belly were those massive ventilated, cross-drilled brakes. Apart from that, there was nothing there to let you know that you’ve got enough firepower to rival a frigate.

While we’re not big fans of the way in which the conservative and modern chemicals mixed when they penned the new S-Class, we can’t deny that the proportions are as good as they get for a sedan.

We certainly weren’t the first to step inside the new Mercedes S-Class. They must’ve convinced a group of Shaolin monks to get in the cabin and use their candle punch move to shape the four individual zones found here. The result is an astoundingly spacious cabin that somehow manages to give a sense of intimacy to each of its occupants.

When the car was launched, some were wondering why the generation change also brought a slight increase in height. Well, the old S-Class had enough headroom for any type of occupants, while this one adds something extra for the sheer visual comfort. Even the doors open to a considerable angle, so your jacket doesn’t get wrinkled during the day.

The air of refinement is also enhanced through the ambient lighting and this is where the engineers were given a free hand. Set free from their boundaries, the Germans did nothing less that place 300 LEDs inside the S-Class. In fact, with this car, you’ll never be able to use the light bulb-changing excuse for being late - there isn’t any single one throughout the car, inside or out.

Many of the customers will order the vehicle with an all-black interior though. We had this on our S500 Long tester and all the space in the world can’t compensate for the rather gloomy feeling given by the sheer darkness of the thing.

As for the visibility, this is a relative thing when talking about a car like the Mercedes S-Class, especially in the long version. First of all, such a vehicle introduces the notion of interior visibility. There’s the front area, the rear one and all the space that’s somehow part of both. The outer one is OK, but you’ve always got the infinity of cameras and sensors to make up for any drawbacks.

Mercedes explains that while the Americans and Europeans mostly buy S-Class models to drive the cars themselves, about 30 percent of those in Asia prefer to sit in the back. Let’s start with this area then.

The long wheelbase is translated into an extra 130 mm (5.1 inches). Don’t worry, the standard model can handle your chauffeuring needs just fine, but you’ll need the elongated one to truly feel spoiled. The First Class Rear brings a massive console between the two rear passengers. This stows two foldable tables, so if you ever lose your restaurant reservation, all you need are some quality catering services.

Here you’ll also find the headphones for the rear seat entertainment system, which brings two tablet-like displays. These can be used for a wide variety of functions, from playing DVDs to browsing the Internet - you still need your smartphone though.

The feeling we got while sitting in the back made us say “Maybach”. This is a really nice place to be in, ladies and gentlemen. There is one complain though and this concerns the ergonomics. The controls for the climate are placed on the console and you have to lean forward considerably in order to reach them. Placing them on the center armrest, like in the Audi A8, would’ve solved this problem.

While we had a good time in the rear of the Mercedes S-Class, we’re not exactly Asian buyers, so it’s time to get behind the wheel now.

Once you climb up front, you’ll be drawn by the twin 12.3-inch displays. One is dedicated to the driver, while the other serves as an infotainment screen. The central display is a toy we’d want to see in any car. Especially when using the Google maps-enhanced navigation, this is the kind of gadget that makes other cars in the segment seem “average”.

When it comes to the display used for the dashboard instruments this reminds us of the first “3D” car racing games in the late 80s, things like “Lotus”. At 1440 x 540 pixels the resolution is just fine, but the layout itself simply doesn’t seem cool. It makes the whole car seem inert. In fact, during our drive, we got so bored by this that we forgot we even had a dashboard. The only thing we did was throw the needed occasional glances at the digital speedo in the center of the display. Oh and a Head-Up Display would’ve been nice too.

Long or not, the Mercedes S-Class offers 18.7 cubic feet (530 liters) of luggage capacity. While this is a respectable value, we wouldn’t have minded a bigger backpack for such a car that likes to describe itself as a collection of superlatives.

And while we’re writing down wishes on Santa’s list, we would’ve also liked the S-Class to reinvent the mediocre industry standard when it comes to the refrigerator. This offers 0.38 cubic feet (11 liters) of stowage capacity, but it takes up quite some space in the boot. A rather unfair trade.

The Mercedes S-Class’ interior is a real treat, even for those who like their cabins less conservative.

We’re waiting for that bothering traffic light to turn green and the only sign of sweating the Mercedes S500 shows is a bit of heat wave rising from the hood. In cars like this, the tech side is never allowed to show all the efforts it’s making. As we set off, the start stop system brings the V8 back to life, but you can barely tell this. A very nice implementation indeed.

In fact, the S-Class does a great job at drawing a line between that what is yours and the rest of the city. You are well isolated and you feel protected. However, the real treat is that you also get privacy when it comes to the attention. Yes, for its kind of car, the S-Class is a very discreet machine. Perhaps this is why bad boys appreciate it just as much as businessmen.

We’re usually not big fans of the Mercedes-Benz star on the hood, but in this case we’ll make an exception. Especially if you order it in black, like our test car, the stat gives you a reference point to go with that enormous hood. It’s too bad the one on our test car had decayed despite the microscopic mileage on the vehicle.

Be it standard or in long wheelbase guise, the Mercedes S-Class can handle the urban jungle. However, while those in the back will enjoy the ride, the driving experience is a totally different thing. Yes, there are about one zillion safety systems assisting you, but the car doesn’t make too many efforts to spare you of having to feel like you’re working to get it through traffic. We let the Stop & Go pilot in the Distronic guide us through a traffic jam just to compensate for that.

Once you’re done with the city business, you can ask the car to park itself though. The Active Parking Assist is one of the best systems currently on the market. It can handle both parallel and perpendicular parking. Just make sure you’re polite to the other drivers who watch the process in amazement. It’s not everyday that Mercedes decides to change one of its traditional features, but they’ve done this with the front parking sensors display, which is now shown between the dashboard instruments.

We’re waiting in a queue for the tool booth ahead. We don’t know what the atmosphere is like in the cars around, but our 2014 Mercedes S500 Long makes moments like these easy to forget. Perhaps its plethora of technologies also include something like Time Passing Assist Plus.

As we set off, the quiet atmosphere remains almost unchanged in here. In the back, the only difference made by the rate of acceleration concerns the extend to which your head dives into the headrest-mounted pillow. Even up front, there’s not too much going on during your drive.

The Mercedes S-Class is more talkative now than it was in the past, so you get some extra feedback. Don’t expect to get tons of feel now, but you’re provided with enough information for a car belonging to the luxury segment.

As an S-Class driver, you can consider yourself an agent who receives just enough data from the masterminds to be able to complete the job. This is the model’s spirit.

The two-spoke steering wheel may be the most conservative we’ve seen in a long while, but it’s attached to a pretty neat system. In terms of driving experience, the extra feedback offered here is the most important change. But it’s definitely not the only one.

We’ve been driving with a silly expression of self-contempt on our faces for the last few miles. We tried not to be arrogant, but it’s hard to resist when you know you’ve got brakes that are so capable without even wearing the AMG badge. We performed repeated emergency braking tests and the car offered superb stopping power and pedal modulation. Thus, if your driver ever makes you spill the coffee, it wasn’t the car’s fault.

As for the firepower, the Mercedes S500 Long has plenty of it. It just doesn’t let you become too aware of this, because all it cares about is comfort. Even at full load, all you can hear is a slight noise coming from the gasses that flow through the exhaust, there’s absolutely no added tone here.

The M278 twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8’s 455 HP and 516 lb-ft (700 Nm) of torque arrive in a well calculated manner, as guided by a personal assistant. They tell you that the full torque figure arrives from 1,800 rpm. However, in the real world you have to noticeably pass 2,000 rpm in order for the car to show you what it’s capable of.

It’s not just the ECU map though, the 7G-Tronic Plus also likes things smooth. Most of the time, it shifts like it’s not even there. After all, we wouldn’t rush things either if we had that much torque at hand.

By the way, if you’re not in a hurry, don’t try to drive the Mercedes S-Class hard. It remains just as detached, regardless of the speed. It’s important to know that you’ll feel you’re driving a massive car. This is one of the few areas where the new S-Class Long falls behind the Audi A8 Long, for example.

We’re entering a mountain road now and the Active Body Control suspension is doing a neat job at keeping the mass of the car under perfect control. The new structure allows the S-Class to feature a 52:48 front-rear weight distribution and this brings a major contribution to the car’s neutral handling. At the limit though, the rear-wheel drive models do give you the sensation they’re not happy with what’s you’re doing.

You can switch between a Comfort and a Sport mode via a dedicated button on the center console, but the difference between the two holds a secret.

We’re talking about the Magic Body Control. There’s a Road Surface Scan system that relies on a pair of cameras placed behind the windscreen to “read” the road ahead. The system can see about 50 feet (15 meters) ahead of the car. It processes the images delivered by the cameras, mixes these with the car’s driving status info. Thus, the air suspension can be prepared for what’s coming.

The system only works during the day and when the cameras are not troubled by the weather. Another limitation is the fact that it can only detect larger road imperfections, preferably spread over longer distances. What’s more, it only works in the Comfort mode, perhaps as an incentive to keep you from using Sport.

While the Magic Body Control doesn’t actually work like... magic, it does come to refine the already good ABC suspension on the S-Class. Yes, this Crow’s Nest scout has its shortcomings, but it’s a nice toy to use.

For one thing, it seems a bit more helpful than the Steering Assist function that’s been integrated into the Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control. To use this, you’ll have to operate the dedicated selector lever on the center console. If a green steering wheel icon appears on the dash, you’re good to go.

Now the S-Class can maintain its lane up to 124 mph (200 km/h). There’s a stereo camera that identifies the lanes and works with the steering to keep the car in place. Up to 37 mph (60 km/h) the system can use the car in front for guidance. The Mercedes S-Class also uses a radar to prevent itself to accidentally overtake on the right, slowing down according to the cars on the side. There’s also the Stop&Go pilot, which takes care of the acceleration and braking when full stops are required.

This all means that, at slow speed and through gentle corners, the 2014 Mercedes S-Class can perform autonomous driving. Don’t take your hands of the wheel though, or the aforementioned green icon will turn into a red one - the system deactivates itself if you’re being too playful.

On the road, all this self-driving attitude is nice, especially through traffic jams, but you can never fully rely on it. Mercedes explains that the future will bring fully autonomous driving and they’ve got the car to prove it. We’re talking about the Mercedes-Benz S500 Intelligent Drive. This is a prototype that’s recently performed a 62-mile (100 km) drive all by itself. As the company mentions, neither the legislation nor the public are ready for cars that truly drive themselves yet.

It’s very facile to say that being in a Mercedes S-Class feels like traveling in a personal jet, but this is the truth. Our S500 Long test car provided just that kind of isolation, being very concerned with providing comfortable A to B transportation.
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autoevolution Sep 2013
In the city
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