Mercedes S 500 L: One knows you have arrived!

India Infoline News Service | Mumbai |

The new S 500 is quite a looker and doesn’t give the impression of being a bulky beast in a certain way the earlier S-class used to look.

Among all the luxury cars that one can see in India today, it is unmistakably Mercedes that has the highest recall value. And the S-class is the jewel in the crown for the three-pointed star from Stuttgart – their flagship luxury saloon, and a car that showcases the latest in technology that Mercedes has to offer in road-going cars. The S-class had lost a bit of sheen over the past few years with the advent of sportier (and more contemporary looking) models from the competition (especially BMW and Audi), and the 2014-launched W222 base S 500 L is Mercedes’ attempt at setting the record straight. Combined with the recent launch of the India-assembled S350, Mercedes aims to regain the marquee status among those who have the money to splurge on such luxury, and would like to indulge in this luxury while being chauffeured around. The new S 500 has a dual task of keeping the S-class flag flying high and taking the legend to a whole new benchmark, while also ensuring that the now-mothballed Maybach brand is not missed by moneybags. And Mercedes is now extending the S-Class range into an extra-long super-luxurious model to protect its image as a brand for the elite (See Link: S-Class – over the years).

The S-class nomenclature came into being in 1972, the year of the Munich Olympics, with the launch of the W116. But it is the 1954-launched ‘Ponton’ series (W180) that is considered as the first official S-class (See Link: S-Class – over the years). In all these years, the S-class has been feted as the largest selling luxury saloon globally. The S-class very much indicates that the owner ‘has arrived’, and I certainly felt so when the kind friends at Mercedes-Benz India informed me that the stately sixth-generation S 500 would be with me for all of two days over a lazy weekend. While elated, my first concern was where I would park a car of this sort, considering that I live in a pretty old apartment complex in Mumbai. Scratches while parking or driving, tinkering by curious onlookers, et al – these were genuine fears of mine, even as the heartbeat was mounting with the eagerness of getting behind the wheel of such a luxurious car. Somewhere at the back of my mind was this niggling thought that manoeuvering this beast would be quite a task – or so I thought (but more of that later). With all these trepidations in my mind, I approached the acclaimed ‘best car in the world’ parked below my apartment to try out the goodies on offer – this being my first-ever S-class drive.

Sporty and regal looks
The new S 500 is quite a looker and doesn’t give the impression of being a bulky beast in a certain way the earlier S-class used to look. Though it has certainly evolved from the previous generation S-class, this is a different animal that one is looking at. The W222 was designed as a long wheelbase model, and the shorter wheelbase version was carved out of that, unlike in the earlier years where it was the other way around. The chassis weight has been lowered by the addition of more aluminium (roof, bonnet, almost the entire sheet metal) than ever used previously, making the 5.2-metre long W222 weigh just 2,200kg (down by over 100kg over the previous version), which is impressive. While the lower weight makes the car nimble, Mercedes has not compromised on the safety aspects that the S-Class is known for by using high-tensile steel for the passenger shell, and improving torsional rigidity. The wheelbase stays the same at 3165mm, but Mercedes has managed to increase the space in the cabin a little by tweaking the overall packaging and using better design elements.

Unlike the sportier grilles that one gets to see in all new-generation cars from Stuttgart, Mercedes has eschewed the new design treatment for the S 500. The massive four-slat chrome grille (much larger than before) is reminiscent of Mercedes cars of yore, and proudly carries the three-pointed star on top of the bonnet – as homage to tradition. But truth be told – despite sticking to tradition, this grille doesn’t lend the S 500 an old-world feel. It is melded to a huge bumper with faux air vents, with a chrome strip doing a foglamp impresario. This mammoth grille and huge bumper is coupled with an all-new headlight unit – extra-large all-LED headlights that are swept back, creating a very distinctive front-end treatment – something that will make cars get out of the way in a hurry when they see the S 500 looming in their rear view mirrors. LEDs have been extensively used all over the car – from the headlights, taillights as well as the ambient lighting inside. Infact, this car only has LEDs taking care of all the illumination that is on display, making it the first car in the world to not have a single conventional bulb anywhere on it.

A huge strip of daytime-running LED stretching from top to bottom of each headlight on the inside adds to the effect – the daytime-running LED acts as an eyebrow to the massive headlight units. This just flows back onto the lovely long snout, going further into pronounced shoulder lines, and a coupé-ish roof sloping down at the back. Seen in profile, the new S 500 is very sporty looking, unlike the S-Class that we have seen in recent times, which brings me back to my earlier comment on the S-Class having lost sheen n recent times, and also looking pretty bulky. This S-Class goes about setting those things just right. It has the size to accommodate all the goodies that it carries, and yet has managed to infuse a certain dynamism and litheness in a much sportier exterior that will send shivers up the spines of competition.

The coupé-ish stance gets pronounced when seen in profile, especially with the roof sloping down gently, while the car sits confidently on the R19s (nestling on sporty 10-spoke alloys), giving it a very planted and assured look. The pronounced shoulder lines lead nicely to the rear, while the roof comes down into the rear end, visually reducing the bulk of the car. Also, at the rear, the S 500’s fenders seem a tad flared, giving the new S-Class a much sportier look. the flanks are definitely more muscular and sculpted in the new S-Class. The LED filled raked tail lamps look very pretty, while the boot is well crafted, while the chrome-tipped trapezoidal twin exhausts blend into the massive rear bumper with subtlety. And we don’t expect anything less in a car of this class. But for a car of this size, the boot seems a tad small at 560 litres. Make no mistake – this boot is pretty large. But just that for a car of such dimensions, it seems a tad small. Add to it the fact that the spare tyre sits inside, making the space appear even lesser. And before entering the car, I got a sense of the kind of wizardry that Mercedes has on offer here – swing the leg from right to left underneath the boot, and the lid springs open; move it in the reverse direction, and it shuts right back!

Inner comfort
Now comes the part where the modern-day nabobs will pay absolute top drawer to sink into the luxury that the S 500 has on offer. I open both the doors, and they open wide – wide enough for an elephant to slip in and out. But my dilemma is very different – I am wondering whether to slip behind the wheel or to make my way into the rear. And this is a dilemma that seems extremely delicious to me. Then the enthusiast in me takes over, and I slip behind the wheel into slightly familiar territory. Those who have driven modern day Mercedes cars would be familiar with some of the things on display – the stalks (indicator, headlights, wipers, gear) are the ones that do duty on other Mercedes cars (why not something bespoke for the S-Class?), the light switch, the mandatory ECO start/stop button, the COMAND system, the electric steering system, dual-zone Thermotronic climate control, the GPS, the analog clock even. And then, the luxury overwhelms you.

Mercedes S 500 L

Pictures sourced from internet


For starters, there is a leather-bound cabin in beige, making it feel extremely roomy even for a car of this size, and brilliantly soft to the touch. The perforated leather seats are fit for kings – very large and they envelop you into their cocoon instantly. They invite you to just sink into them. They are designed for large bodies, with plenty of lumbar, shoulder, and thigh support on offer in their deep-cushioned comfort. They are electrically adjustable, can be heated, and the acres of space within means that legroom will nary be an issue. Ditto for head room, shoulder room, and elbow room – all that is available in plenty. Shut the door with a comforting Teutonic thunk, and you begin to appreciate the cabin in complete peace. The quality as well as fit-and-finish of the luxurious cabin done up in wood, leather, and aluminium is exemplary and nothing less is expected from a car of this class.

If the exterior styling doffs its hat to the earlier avatars of the S-Class, there is a very retro touch within. In a nod to the big cars of a bygone era, nestling in front of you is a thick, two-spoke steering wheel completed in leather and wood (with aluminium inserts), with the standard modern steering-based controls mounted on it – the large hornpad proudly carries the three-pointed star, while a simple brass plate carries the “Mercedes-Benz” name in a classy script at the bottom of the steering wheel. While you are coming to terms with the texture and feel of the wood-and-leather tango, you are transported into a digital era due to the technology on display around you. Just aft of the steering wheel are two large (31.2cm each) digital display screens, sitting side by side and creating an impression of a large seamless screen.

The screen sitting just behind the steering gives you all the car info, besides also housing the digital speedo and tacho, and the optional night-vision camera (this gives indication of a pedestrian, animal or anything else that may suddenly come near the car in the night and which may not be visible to the naked eye – trust me, it comes in handy in India). The screen at the centre houses the COMAND system, as well as aids in parking this big car effortlessly, using the eight cameras and 12 sensors (alongwith ParkAssist and a turning radius of 6.15m) that the car is equipped with, giving you near 360-degree visibility of surroundings. My grouse with Mercedes is the lack of a touch screen, despite such advanced technology in the car. Be that as it may, pretty much all the features in the car are controlled from the rotary knob sitting between the driver and the passenger. There is a very neat phone keypad sitting at the head of the driver armrest, using which one can make phone calls once connected via the Bluetooth (this car also has a hotspot for WiFi connectivity) – but you need an elephantine memory to remember the numbers to be dialed!

The rest of the dash is uncluttered, with the six rotary AC vents vying for attention, alongwith the Mercedes analog clock providing old-world charm. There are a few tiny knobs on the brushed aluminum and wood paneling just underneath the AC vents for adjusting the airflow – these can be pushed inside just so that someone doesn’t fiddle with it! There are enough storage spaces around, including a very deep glovebox. For those with an ear for music to help relax after a long and tiring day, Mercedes has provided 24 Burmester speakers all across the car to help get the tiniest of sounds to your ears in a crystal clear manner. When you switch on the car, the twin Burmester tweeters nestling in the crook of the door behind the ORVMs spin and come out – needless to say, the spin is anti-clockwise when the car is shut and they are on their way in. Lighting is all-LED inside and there are seven colours to choose from for mood lighting (to accompany the music) and convert the car into your personal lounge at night. The driver-side ORVM as well as the rear view mirror inside are equipped for night vision. But true to form, Mercedes hasn’t equipped the passenger-side ORVM with a similar feature. I wonder what it costs!

By this time, I am itching to get to the rear, as that is where the real lap of luxury exists in this car. At the rear, the seating is of humongous proportions, and there is a distinct space created between the two thrones. And thrones they are (or you can call them business class seats on any airline), given their size and the legroom on offer, and also the fact that they recline beautifully, offer six different massages (yes, you read that right!), can be ventilated (heated or cooled), and have individual entertainment systems with personal remotes. The partition down the middle hides two stowaway tables (another airline-like feature) and has the option to either heat up your cup of tea/coffee or chill your glass of beer/wine, depending on your taste. The seat behind the front passenger (where the owner of the car is expected to sit) slides out like a near-flatbed on the business class section of a modern jet complete with a foot rest and leg support. For this to happen, the front seat slides in completely, helping the rear seat to be extended almost like a flatbed, and the massager gets to work on your back in the manner that you want. As a tourer, all that the S 500 lacks now is a chemical toilet! Do you know what bliss is? Imagine yourself in this luxury business class throne with your feet up after a tiring day, your back getting a thorough massage, the panoramic sunroof giving you a great view of the night sky with teeming stars (or the falling rain, as the case is now), and you enjoying a glass of fine wine in the ambient lighting provided by the multiple LEDs throwing seven colours, and the Burmesters playing the music of your choice (and the screen in front of you showing the music being played), even as the car glides over Mumbai potholes!

Tackling potholes on a V8

Start the V8 twin-turbo petrol motor (you have the option to twist the magnetic key or have a start/stop button in the slot), and you don’t hear a thing – the engine is incredibly silent and smooth despite having eight pistons thumping inside its heart belting out 453bhp of raw power @ 5250-5500rpm and 714Nm of torque from a low 1800rpm to the 3500rpm band. The claimed 0-100kmph run is achieved in 4.8 seconds; I managed to do it in a relatively slower 5 seconds. But it was the manner in which the engine performs at low speeds and lower revs within the city while battling traffic, which makes it a real winner – the torque delivery at those low speeds battling bumper-to-bumper traffic is extremely impressive. There is no need to stress out on the fact that a V8 is unable to unleash the horses within, and the car never shows up that side of its character. But once on the Eastern Freeway, and then on to Lonavla and back, the beast was unleashed, and the manner in which all the horses came into play was mind blowing.

This isn’t a sports car, but you can tackle corners with élan, and the car will not lose its poise even a wee bit. If you can keep the nose pointed into the corner and in the lane that you are driving in, the car will ensure that it sticks to the tarmac. You don’t feel the weight of the car as it attacks and exits corners – there is enough grunt on a very nimble set of wheels powered by a rear-wheel drive. The steering is adequately weighted at high speeds, and it listens to the minutest of inputs with interest. The chassis is suspended by the standard air suspension and adaptive dampers featuring Active Body Control. What the new S 500 is known for globally is the Magic Body Control (MBC) system. But unfortunately for buyers of the car in India, the MBC isn’t available thanks to an archaic Indian legislation that bans the use of certain frequencies as they interfere with the defence services. What is the MBC and why am I ruing the fact that it isn’t available in India? MBC uses a pair of cameras mounted on the windscreen to read the road up to 15 metres ahead of the car and this information is relayed to the AIRMATIC suspension that actively reacts to what it is about to encounter. This means the suspension alters the wheel just in time to tackle a bump or dip. The car would simply glide over those bumps and glitches as if they don’t exist at all. Only when it fails to detect the changing contours of the road due to similarity of colours, would the system not be able to stop that drink from spilling onto your lap – but otherwise, it is time for some Merc magic, which unfortunately for India isn’t available to us. MBC something all of us would love to have on our cars, especially when negotiating the potholes that are a continuing gift to Maximum City, courtesy of the BMC. But then, despite the best engineering systems from Stuttgart, I wouldn’t be surprised if the system crashes trying to map the potholes in Mumbai – these can sometime put the surface of Mars to shame!

Be that as it may, the air suspension (with adaptive damping) was more than geared up to tackle the minor potholes and other warts that Mumbai roads present us with on our daily commute, and ensured that all passengers had a smooth commute. Whenever the car crossed the 120kmph mark, the car lowers itself actively by 20mm so that it can stay closer to the tarmac and give a more planted feel. It dispatched all the undulations of the Pune Expressway and also the ones that have cropped up on the Eastern Freeway with aplomb. And if you were worried about those mammoth speed breakers coming up ahead of you at the Toll Plazas, fret not. At the touch of a button, hey presto, the air suspension raises ground clearance by 20mm. The ‘Sport’ mode wasn’t particularly engaging, but the car showed up as extremely nimble, and the large R19s that the car is shod with helps the car stay well planted and carry all the bulk at really high speeds without disturbing a hair on its head.

Being a driver at heart, I was more than happy to drive this beast around. So even if you are one of those who occasionally would love to give the chauffeur a day off or feel the need to take off to Lonavla or wherever you fancy all of a sudden, you will have no difficulty in handling such a large car. Acceleration is seamless, and the 7G-tronic autobox is very precise. Cabin insulation is stupendous, and even when you redline the car, all that one hears is a distant purr – the noise from outside and that from the powerful V8 is shut out completely thanks to the insulation and the double glazed glass, so that you can make that important phone call, or negotiate a crucial business deal, listen to the music over the 24 speakers, or simply take a power nap without any sound intruding into the reverie. The speed has been electronically limited at 250kmph, and even at that speed, the car definitely feels that it has a lot more to offer.

Wallet power

Needless to say, but the S 500 is built like a tank and has enough safety features (including 8 airbags) to take care of the passengers within in the event of any eventuality. The S 500 is a car befitting royalty, and for a car of this pedigree and at nearly the top of the food chain, you need to pay through your nose. It has an ex-showroom sticker price of Rs1.5 crore (and a claimed mileage of 5.4kmpl in the city and the 7.8kmpl on the highway). For those who would baulk at the idea of paying so much, Mercedes has launched the S 350 (in petrol and diesel avatars) assembled in India, at a sticker price of Rs1 crore (ex-showroom). Coming back to the S 500, if I sound like a fanboy, then I can’t seem to help it. Whether you call it ‘Best car in the World’ or ‘Engineered like no other Car’ is upto you. You are pampered in the lap of luxury in the well-bolstered seats at the rear, and I thoroughly enjoyed the multiple massages that I got while being driven around like a king. But this is a car I would like to drive, and I wish Mercedes would allow me that luxury one more time. Maybe it is time to call for the S 350 and see if the friends at Mercedes agree!


S 500 Specs

Engine

Fuel

Petrol

Installation

Front, longitudinal, rear wheel drive

Type

V8

Capacity

4663cc

Power

453bhp @ 5250-5500rpm

Torque

714Nm @ 1800-3000rpm

Transmission

Gearbox

7-speed automatic

Dimensions

Length

5246mm

Width

1494mm

Height

1899mm

Wheel base

3165mm

Ground Clearance

146mm

Boot volume

560 litres

Tank size

80 litres + 8 litres in reserves

Chassis & Body

Construction

Monocoque

Weight

2200kg

Wheels

Alloy

Tyres

Front 245/45 R19, Rear 275/40 R19

Spare

185/55 Space saver

Suspension

Front

4-link independent, air suspension

Rear

Multilink independent, air suspension

Steering

Type

Rack and pinion

Type of power assist

Speed-dependent, Electro mechanical

Turning circle

12.3m

Brakes

Front

Ventilated and perforated discs

Rear

Ventilated and perforated discs

Anti-lock

Yes

Source: Mercedes-Benz India



 

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