We wrote enthusiastically about our road test of the new Mercedes-Benz S Class just a few months ago. With the introduction of the latest cars joining the family at the 2013 IAA Frankfurt Auto Show, we now have a more complete view into the range of vehicles representing the brand's flagship line, and can see the talents of the company's design, technology and engineering teams.
Regular readers may notice that we're paying more attention to Mercedes-Benz lately. Over the last few years CH has taken a pretty deep dive into the brand. An appreciation for the company's engineering prowess has always existed, but we hadn't developed much desire for their cars. Recent introductions—the CLA, CLS Shooting Break and the new S Class—demonstrate a deep commitment not only to design and innovation, but a shift from just well-built cars to cars that look, feel and drive better too. This visible evolution prompts our additional reporting—and our increasing interest.
The Near Future
The new S Class is at the start of its seven-year or eight-year product lifecycle and, like previous generations, will grow to include different engines and drive trains, two-door and four-door models, long wheel base versions and probably an armored version, too. The anticipated Maybach-inspired Pullman version will probably be announced next year; and it has Bentley and Rolls-Royce squarely in its target. Mercedes-Benz invited us to Frankfurt to see its newest cars first-hand, to drive most of the current AMG models—including the S 63 AMG, and visit AMG's headquarters and plant in Affalterbach, Germany. Debuting in Frankfurt were the S 500 Plug in Hybrid and 63 AMG production cars, the S 500 Intelligent Drive research vehicle, and the "glasstastic" Concept S-Class Coupé.
Next year's 2015 S 500 Plug-in Hybrid will hit dealers in 2014, making it the third hybrid in the S Class sedan family and the first you can connect to an external power source. The other two models, already available, are the S400 Hybrid and the S300 BlueTEC diesel Hybrid; their electric batteries are charged only when the cars coast and brake. The S 500 Plug-in Hybrid can travel around 18 miles on its 80 kw electric motor alone, which is paired with a 3.0l V6 turbocharged engine. All have impressive fuel ratings (the S 400 Hybrid delivers around 6.3l of fuel per 100 km or 37 mpg, the S300 BlueTEC delivers around 4.4 l per 100 km or 53 mpg), the S500 Plug-in Hybrid delivers an unprecedented 3l per 100 km, or 78 mpg, without giving up on performance (0-100 km/h, around 62 mph, in 5.5 seconds). The car features variable modes for using the electric motor, allowing you to use only electric or gas or both, as well as all of the design, comfort and driver assistance packages available to the range of S class vehicles.
Looking to the near future, the S 500 Intelligent Drive research concept uses production available technology to create a car that can handle complex driving situations. The car sports a few more cameras, monitors and sensors, but unlike the autonomous cars you've seen and read about, it looks nearly identical to a standard model. To prove its viability the car drove the same 100 km long test route that Bertha Benz drove on in one of the first Mercedes-Benz cars125 years ago.
"Design is the best brand ambassador," says Gorden Wagener, Vice President of Design at Daimler AG (Mercedes-Benz's parent company), and the Concept S Class Coupé offers a hopeful vision for what is considered to be the brand's flagship car. The car is clearly a Mercedes grand coupé, but it premiers a sexier, sleeker, much more refined direction. While novel, we can do without the four clocks which allow drivers to see the time in multiple timezones. Cleaner and more sensual lines, the dramatic glass roof and the more refined styling make this a concept car we hope will be close to its production model, expected some time next year.
The 2014 S 63 AMG represents the brand's top-of-the-line performance sedan (unless we see an even more souped up Black Series edition) and the first S Class built from the ground up as an AMG model. Following the car's debut at the auto show we had the chance to drive it around Germany and Austria. While we enjoyed the versions of the S Class we drove a few months ago, driving them was nowhere near as fun as the AMG version.
For those of you that aren't familiar with AMG, it was a close collaborator and tuner for Mercedes-Benz since the 1960s. Finally purchased by Mercedes-Benz in 1999 and now a wholly owned subsidiary, AMG is both developing cars from scratch (the lust-worthy SLS, for example) as well as continuing to provide higher performance versions of many of the brand's cars.
AMG cars share the overall body, systems and interiors of the cars with the addition of a few sporty details, but feature a wholly different engine that is hand-assembled by one of several skilled technicians at the AMG plant, as well as a near-complete upgrade to the cars' drivetrain and handling components. These may look very similar to their standard version cousins to most people, but handle and perform like very different cars.
For the S 63, that's a very good thing. Nearly 100 kgs/220 lbs lighter than last year's model, it also offers AMG's specially tuned 4Matic four wheel drive system for the first time. There's also an increase in fuel efficiency and engine power, too. A new Lithium ion battery, composite brakes, alloy wheels, an all-aluminum outer skin, carbon fiber and other materials are responsible for the car's weight loss. The S 63 features AMG's 5.5l V8 biturbo engine, delivering 585 hp and 900 Nm/663 ft-PdF of torque, enough to propel this luxury saloon to 100 kmh/62 mph in 4.4 seconds (4.0 for the 4Matic).
Highlights of the car include special interior finishes like carbon fiber and Alcantara suede on the steering wheel as well as controlled, sport and manual drive modes—the latter locking the transmission to the paddle shifters to power through the seven-speed transmission. In sport and manual modes the new sports exhaust system kicks in, making the distinctly AMG sounding engine sound more pronounced. The 4Matic also adds additional suspension tuning with AMG Ride Control, offering Comfort and Sport settings, a nice touch for sitting in traffic or zipping down the Autobahn. One of the most impressive options is the Intelligent Drive package, which makes driving in traffic nearly autonomous. Paired with the car's lane departure system, the car can steer, slow down and accelerate all on its own at speeds that drivers can set to their own comfort level. The car's analog clock gets an upgrade as well, with a really great design by IWC featuring raised hour markers. It's a nice touch.
Like the other S Class sedans it offers a slew of driver assistance packages with geeky names, the impressive Burmester sound system and a range of rear-seat package options. Exclusive to the AMG models are their first-ever ceramic brakes, special trim packages, new wheel designs, additional instrument panel layouts and more. Pricing in the US—where all models will be 4Matic—starts at $140,425. Extras can add up to a fully-loaded sticker price of around $160,000 with the with Burmester 3-D surround-sound and ceramic brakes is hands-down the S Class we'd spec. (We'd also remove the large embossed AMG emblem in the hand-rest.) Leaving no part or system untouched, the new S Class—especially the AMG versions—represent a huge evolution for the line. They are overall more luxurious and refined, better looking and jam-packed with material and technological innovations that deliver a noticeable and welcome shift.
While slightly overwhelming, these various expressions of the S Class leave a singular, lasting impression: Mercedes-Benz is stepping up their game and making big promises for the future of driving. We're already looking forward to seeing how the innovations presented in the S Class will trickle down into the company's more affordable models.
Hybrid Plug-in and Intelligent Drive images courtesy of Mercedes, all others by Evan Orensten