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SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

New Car/Review

1997 MERCEDES BENZ S500 SEDAN

by Matt/Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 87,500
     Price As Tested                                    $ 89,795
     Engine Type                             5.0 Liter V8 w/PFI*
     Engine Size                                 303 cid/4973 cc
     Horsepower                                   315 @ 5600 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               347 @ 3900 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  123.6"/74.3"/205.2"
     Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     4754 Pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  26.4 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                      235/60R16
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                Two-percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            15/21/17          
     0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     15.5 seconds @ 94.5 mph
     Top speed                                           130 mph
     * Port fuel injection

(This week the Hagins test the queen of the Mercedes-Benz line, the regal S500. Bob Hagin felt uncomfortable in such luxury, but his son Matt said it would pass with time.)

BOB - Matt, I felt out of place and slightly uncomfortable when I drove this big Mercedes. I felt I should have been wearing an understated, but expensive dark gray vested suit and wingtip shoes instead of my shorts, tank-top and beat-up Birkenstocks. This is a machine more suited to the CEO of an investment company than a retired mechanic with a word processor.

MATT - You didn't drive it as much as I did, Dad, so I know from experience that you get used to it very quickly. There's not much to find fault with in this big S500 except that the fuel mileage is pretty bad and because of it, the Uncle Sam has put a Gas Guzzler tax on it. But the buyers who can afford this car aren't in the category of having to worry about 15 MPG around town, or an extra $1700 on the sales slip. There are six different cars in the Mercedes S-Series lineup and the range from the "little" S320 to the Leviathan 12-cylinder S600 coupe. None of them are cheap, but the quality of workmanship and precision is an industry standard, as it is in all Mercedes products.

BOB - But it's the list of "gizmos" that really amazes me. Mercedes first put ABS on its cars in '72, but now has added traction control devices that rival space-ship technology. It uses a more-or-less conventional ABS system to control wheel spin, but its Electronic Stability Program utilizes a gyroscopic sensor to detect understeer and oversteer on turns and applies the brake on just one wheel to correct the situation if the car is sliding sideways. There's also a winter-mode that prevents the wheels from spinning when it's starting in reverse or forward. Its performance is really amazing for a 315-horse 5.0 liter V8 engine that has to propel a 2.5 ton vehicle. It's not as fast as the S600 V12 that we tried out on Media Day, but it's pretty close. For a more sporting launch, the shift gate on the five-speed automatic has a first-gear lockout to keep it in low for the quickest possible off-the-line acceleration. In my view, the S500 is a plutocratic, somber luxury sedan with the heart of a sports car.

MATT - Luxury is the right word, Dad. Everything in the interior is designed with the comfort of its occupants in mind. Both the front and rear seats are heated and there's also an optional power seat and a/c system for the rear passengers, too. The floor and the roof are both high enough for easy entry and exit, and there is a automatic closer for the doors and trunk are you only slightly shut them. The trunk even has a pop-up lever that prevents fingerprints from being left on the paint. The S500 has an optional device that can sense when the car is about to bump something during a parking maneuver and warns the driver. The windshield wipers are triggered when rain hits the windshield. The glass is all double-pane and is the thickest auto glass I've ever seen. The side mirrors are power-operated, of course, but they can also be laid flat against the sides of the doors.

BOB - Mercedes is pretty hot for safety, too, they pioneered the "crumple-zone" method of body construction in 1951. The passenger's side airbag is only activated when something over 26 pounds is sitting on it and there are airbags beside the front seats, too. I'm surprised at how much boppy advertising Mercedes-Benz is doing on TV. The ads emphasize the contention that there's a Mercedes for every budget and they're really upbeat. It's reflected in sales and every couple of weeks I get a notice from the company announcing that sales are up a significant percentage, so I guess that it's working. During the '60s, I worked in a shop that specialized in Mercedes cars, but then the brand was fairly rare and only bought by the "right crowd."

MATT - There's only a couple of things missing from this car that would make it a perfect CEO vehicle, Dad. One is a chauffeur and the other is a glass divider to separate the front and rear seats.

DAD - Matt, you're learning fast.

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