2007 Mercedes S Class Review
By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
Let’s be clear about something. There are an awful lot of car launches every year-small cars, medium sized cars, trucks, van, crossovers, the list is endless. All these are launches, a new S class Mercedes launch is an event. An event, an occasion, because what we see in a new S class will filter down the line to, dare I say, “lesser “ makes over the years. Not everything, I hasten to add, but I’ll return to that later.
The 1999 launch of the current S class was pretty exciting, the car is still selling well even though ads for the replacement have started to appear on television. I was there in Scottsdale for the first drive and what I wrote about then could more or less be repeated for the new car. Leading edge of technology, imposing looks, great driving position and just the car for young tycoons from Silicone Valley. I say young because it was already pretty complicated to figure out the various buttons so I said at the time that Yahoo executives will adore it ( the Google boys were still trying to figure things out in a loft somewhere…) but I did suggest that baby boomers will have problems and will need extreme patience or a very bright and tech savvy chauffeur. In this respect nothing has changed but the car, overall, is substantially better.
It is 1.7 inches longer, almost an inch wider and the wheelbase is more than 3 inches longer than the current S class. From the front it is the same, mighty grill with the three pointed star, from the side it does look more like something designed for the 21st century.
Just like 120 years ago when Karl Benz applied for a patent for the first automobile Mercedes are still the benchmark when it comes to automotive design. Yes, they do get it wrong at times but the name, the three pointed star, has to be one of the most famous trademarks in the World . Of course being a flagship brings with it certain obligations as well. In the past Mercedes were first with all important features such as anti lock brakes, supplemental restraint systems and ESP stability control, all of which are now part and parcel of everyday motoring even in cars costing a fraction of a Mercedes.
One feature which will not filter down to lesser automobiles is the brand new 5.5liter V8 engine, a huge improvement on the current one with four valve per cylinder, variable valve timing and a lightweight crankshaft assembly. In case some owners are worried about getting left behind at the lights there are 510 horsepower V12s on the way with an S65 for the power crazies, signing in with a non too modest 604 ponies.
On the roads of Arizona I’ve spent some of my time half asleep in the back pretending to be a tycoon. There were adjustments for the air conditioning and also for the seats. I pressed a button for the front seat to move forward giving me even more room and it was a case of Drive on James! No arguments, no ifs and buts- this car is made for tycoons. It was quiet, relaxing and most enjoyable. Unfortunately my chauffeur up front didn’t have such a great time as he was wrestling with the new Comand system. God bless people who write press releases but only they could say that the “latest COMAND system in the new S class is easier to use, more powerful and better looking.” They had to I suppose, they could hardly say that sorry folks, we can’t figure it out either but we’ve got mortgages to pay. The problem, regrettably is what I can only call a German auto industry disease, namely anything you can do, I can do better. Or worse, as the case may be . Every single automotive journalist-with one exception-hated and still hates BMW’s iDrive with a vengeance. So what do Mercedes and Audi do?! Come with their own versions which are nearly as bad. If the professional car tester from Britain’s leading Sunday paper could not figure out how to work the radio any more than the auto testers in Ann Arbor, what chance for the owner whose age is hovering round the 60+ mark?
Yes, 0-60 in 5.3 seconds is wonderful, top speed of over 130 miles per hour is brilliant, the uncanny silence of the engine is amazing but what if you get into the car and cannot find the “News hour” with Jim Lehrer in spite or maybe because of all the amazing gizmos ? Of course the problem can be overcome. The Mercedes engineers in Scottsdale were amazingly frank and honest, a rarity among automakers who regard their products as perfect. They admitted for instance that those ridiculous bells which ring incessantly when the doors are open are stupid . Consequently MBUSA are fighting with the factory about it but as the man said-there are a lot of egos at stake. They also agreed to my suggestion that every owner should be given a sheet of paper they might call an Idiot’s guide to work the COMAND. No messing with a huge owner’s manual, just a simple sheet along the lines of 1. press aluminum knob, 2. press it forward, 3. turn it right or left to find audio and so on. Let them keep this laminated sheet and after a while it will become second nature. The annoying thing is that in an M35 Infiniti costing 40 thousand odd even an 80 year old could figure it out in two minutes flat. It is all so, so silly. Gentlemen and ladies of the German auto industry- please buy an Infiniti and see how it should and could be done.
The most stunning new item the company should be congratulated for is the optional infrared system that delivers a crisp black and white image of what is in front of you at night. Not a necessity for the highway but an absolute life-saver on minor roads. As is the color camera at the back which will show what is behind the car. Something Infiniti had for several years it is nevertheless very welcome and a huge help. Not just in tight car park but far more importantly when a child might be behind the car.
So, at the end of the day what do we have? A superb automobile with a price tag of approx. 90 thousand dollars. A car in which you can cruise for ever without getting tired equipped with every conceivable extra to make your journey as pleasant and as safe as possible. If you have to have an accident-this is the car to have it in. If you are a geek, you’ll figure out the technical bits in second. If you are a typical 61 year old owner let your chauffeur figure it first before you get an apoplectic fit. Then sit next to him make notes and before you know, hey presto- you too will be able to enjoy all the S class has to offer.