Here’s an exercise. Close your eyes for a second and think what is the best car in the world right now. Not the sportiest, not the fastest, not the most fuel-efficient, not the most comfortable, and not the most stylish or anything but the absolute best car, period. Chances are, you are thinking of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
It really doesn’t matter which incarnation, or from which era your choice belongs, the S-Class has always been the best car that money can buy, ever since it was launched back in 1972 with the W116.
The influence that Mercedes-Benz’s uber-luxury S-Class have had over the years over other, less expensive, more ubiquitous cars cannot be underestimated. Most of the technologies, creature comforts, and gizmos – both electronic and mechanical – that are so commonplace now had their gestation in an S-Class. Sure, there are other luxury cars in the market with bigger road presence, more exotic badges, and even bigger price tags but you will rarely find something in these cars that hasn’t already made its debut in an S-Class. And if it isn’t there, take it in writing that the idea/technology was either though of and discarded because Mercedes-Benz had a better alternative, or because it didn’t go with the rest of the car.
It is hard not to use superlatives or be full of gushing praise when you’re in the presence of this behemoth. Behemoth, quite literally, for the new S-Class 350 CDI that we have here today is an imposing machine physically. The car is 5246mm long, 1899mm wide, and 1494mm tall. Wheelbase is 3165mm, and everything between those measurements is devoted to delivering the most sublime travel experience this side of a private Lear jet.
But first the engine, the reason why we visited the swanky Centre of Excellence wing of Mercedes-Benz’s plant in Pune. The new S-Class Diesel is powered by a 2987cc V6 CDI engine, producing 258 PS of power at 3600 rpm and a prodigious 620 Nm of torque between 1600 to 2400 rpm. Capable of doing the 0-100 kmph dash in a factory-claimed 6.8 seconds (compared to the 4.8 second for the V8 petrol) and electronically limited to a top speed of 250 kmph, the S 350 CDI can comfortably trade paint with true-blooded sportscars, should the need arise. Like all S-Class cars, transmission duties are handled by a 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic transmission. Tank capacity is 70 litres, and the entire vehicle weighs in at 2132, kerb, which is actually 70 kilos lighter than its petrol powered sibling.
But it is in the sheer list of gadgetries and creature comforts that the S-Class shines, more than that silky-smooth engine. For instance, this is the first car in the world that does away with conventional lights completely. The entire car is fully lit by LEDs, some 500 of them, from the headlights and taillights to the interiors. Mercedes-Benz says the LED low-beam headlamps of the S-Class only require 34 watts to produce the same light output compared to 120 watts from normal halogen bulbs, and this translates into savings of 0.05-litre of fuel per 100km.
Inside, things get even more interesting. Considering that most S-Class cars will be chauffeur-driven, Mercedes-Benz has packed the rear seats with enough creature comforts and luxury that you never have to leave the backseats to run your million dollar business empire. There is a seven-colour ambient lighting with a choice of five dimming options, and two 31.2 cm hi-res TFT-LCD screens capable of playing video and audio from every source imaginable. Everything from the head-restraint to the thigh bolsters is adjustable, and the car has three memory settings to remember your presets, negating the need to adjust the seating to your liking every time someone else changes it. It will even function as your mobile spa, with six massage modes that can be selected with a remote control. As you’d expect, the dashboard is done up in high quality materials, with eucalyptus trim and supple leather everywhere.
Underneath the bodywork, the S-Class features an AIRMATIC suspension, and enough acronyms to make the best spelling bee’s head go round. Active Park Assist, ESP, PRE Safe, Adaptive Brakes with HOLD function, ASR, Hill Start Assist all combine to make the life of the driver much easier behind the wheel. The S-Class has famously been described as the one car that is virtually “uncrashable.” 70 sensors actively monitor the the road ahead and the driver himself, warning him in case the car in the front brakes too hard or does an inadvertent lane change. If the driver pays no heed to the alerts, the car’s radar mounted upfront will engage the brakes on their own, and tighten up the seat belts in preparation for the impending collision.
By taking the driver and the human error factor out of the equation, Mercedes-Benz has created the safest car in the world, a car that can almost drive itself. What makes it even more significant is that the technologies that we are now witnessing on this flagship will eventually make their way to cheaper cars in the future. It is like a test bed, the cutting edge in what is possible with current technology. Listing all its equipment and features would require more words than you’d possibly care, and it’s no wonder that the car’s owner’s manual is thicker than the King James Bible.
Despite its undisputed status as the best car in the world, we haven’t been big fans of the S-Class’ styling in the past. It looked a bit too nondescript and, do we dare say it, bland for a car of its stature. Not anymore. The new S-Class is truly a grand machine with design that speaks volumes about its sophistication even before you set foot inside. I absolutely adore its new headlamps and front air-dams, and its subtle side creases, although the rear – even with those beautiful LED taillamps – is still a bit too simple for the inner child in me.
Speaking at the launch event, Mercedes-Benz CEO and MD, Mr. Eberhard Kern said that the new S-Class 350 CDI would be manufactured locally, right here in Chakan, Pune. This is the first time that the body for the S-Class will be manufactured here, and is a direct result of the high demand for the S-Class in the country. Currently, the Pune plant manufactures the C-Class, E-Class, and the ML-Class and GL-Class SUVs. Mercedes-Benz is also aiming to double the current production capacity to 20,000 units annually by the end of this year. The plant is also flexible enough to accommodate other models from the Mercedes-Benz line-up if required by future market demand.
Mr. Kern also outlined the green initiatives taken by Mercedes-Benz in a bid to reduce the factory’s carbon footprint. The modern and minimalist looking administrative building recently installed a rooftop solar power plant capable of producing 100 kW of power. Spread over 12000 sq metres, the solar plant will save 150,000 kilo watt hours annually, enough to power a small town with 400 households. Piyush Arora, Senior VP, Operations, added that environment sustainability is a top priority at Mercedes-Benz India and the company is looking at ways in which they can give back to the environment.
The new S-Class goes on sale today for INR 1.07 crore, ex-showroom, Pune and Mumbai.