2013 SLK-Class New Car Test Drive
The 2012 Mercedes Benz S-Class remains the prototypical full-size luxury sedan, and the complete luxury package. It's suitable for quiet, rock-steady cruising at Autobahn mega-speeds, spirited drives through the countryside, unflustered dawdling through heavy traffic or chauffeured escape from the grind. S-Class safety systems are unparalleled, and this sedan is huge inside.
The 2012 S-Class introduces some substantial changes. Among them: three new engines and a redesigned 7-speed automatic, all intended to improve fuel economy while preserving the requisite power and verve. However, the biggest news for 2012 is introduction of the first diesel-powered S-Class for North America since 1996.
The S-Class competes with the Audi A8L, BMW 7 Series and, to a lesser extent, the Lexus LS, but the S-Class offers more model choices than any of those other models. The sport-tuned S63 AMG matches up with BMW Alpina B7, and the smaller but sportier-handling Maserati Quattroporte, Porsche Panamera and Aston-Martin Rapide. The S65 makes a less-ostentatious (and faster accelerating) alternative to Bentley's Flying Spur Speed. Mercedes offers the most engine choices in this class, and optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTEC is powered by a high-tech, low-emissions 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6. It's arguably the smoothest, quietest diesel engine ever, almost imperceptible from the driver's seat, and its 455 pound-feet of torque allow the Mercedes-Benz S350 to scoot from 0-60 mph in 7 seconds. Based on the EPA's projected ratings of 20/31 mpg City/Highway, the S350 BlueTEC beats the next highest mileage car in this class by 20 percent (including a couple of hybrids), and that's with 4MATIC all-wheel drive as standard equipment.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid combines a gasoline V6 with an electric motor for nearly 300 horsepower, powering the car to an electronically limited top speed of 130 mph, and surpassing all but the new BlueTEC diesel in fuel economy. This mild hybrid won't run strictly on electric power. The motor assists the gasoline engine to conserve fuel and converts braking energy into electricity to power accessories The S400 Hybrid is EPA-rated 19/25 mpg.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S550 gets a new, smaller twin-turbo V8, with more power (0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds), better mileage and optional all-wheel drive. The S600 is the most luxurious S-Class, powered by a 536-hp, 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 fitted with a 5-speed automatic.
The S63 AMG is finished by the in-house tuning department with appearance tweaks, 20-inch wheels and firmer sport suspension. The 2012 S63 AMG is powered by a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 generating 536 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque. It also features a unique clutch-operated 7-speed automatic. The S65 AMG is AMG's treatment on the V12 S-Class, with a 6.0-liter engine delivering 621 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque. It's one of the most powerful four-door cars in the world.
The S600 V12 and the S63 AMG are both a second quicker than the S500, while the S65 AMG is quickest of all (0-60 in 4.2 seconds). Approaching its 186-mph speed limiter, the S65 is still pulling like a freight train.
We've found all the S-Class models handle well for big luxury sedans. They are composed, responsive and stable at any speed. The Airmatic air suspension system has both automatic and manual controls for ride height and firmness. The transmissions offer multiple operating modes, for best comfort and economy or maximum driver involvement and performance, while brakes bred for the Autobahn have massive reserves at more pedestrian American speeds.
Technophiles may revel in the best night vision system on the market, cruise control that will maintain following distance up to 125 mph or stop the car automatically, and seats that massage, cool and self-inflate under lateral loads. Even the least expensive model comes with everything most buyers want, including a navigation system and a high-grade, high-watt harman/kardon surround system with all the right hardware.
Inside, occupants are surrounded by wood, leather and finishes befitting an expensive car, not to mention serene quiet at cruising speeds. The trunk is one of the largest in this class, and perfectly shaped for maximum storage, and the rear seat is truly expansive. It's also loaded with standard niceties, including lit vanity mirrors, ambient lighting and multiple air vents. The rear cabin can also be upgraded with adjustable, ventilated seats and a killer two-screen video system.
The S-Class rolls near the tip of the luxury pyramid, at a premium but largely justifiable price. Whether you prioritize hybrid cleanliness or incinerating power, its general air of superiority makes a compelling argument to anyone shopping a true luxury sedan. The Mercedes-Benz SLK350 is the smaller and less-expensive of the marque's two-door roadsters. The SLK350 features a retractable hardtop that shuts out the weather when up and allows for the freedom of open-air driving in just 20 seconds. In price and performance the SLK350 competes with the Audi TT, BMW Z4, and Porsche Boxster.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class features fresh looks inside and out and a new engine, though the platform isn't substantially new.
Initially, a new 3.5-liter V6 is the only engine available. It replaces another 3.5-liter V6, but adds direct engine and changes from a 90- to a 60-degree configuration, which is the ideal design geometry for a V6. Horsepower and torque are up slightly, but fuel economy is improved by 12 percent. The lone transmission is a 7-speed automatic that can be shifted manually with steering wheel paddles.
Due in early 2012 is the SLK250, which will feature a 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder. Following soon thereafter will be the SLK55 AMG, which will get a new 415-horsepower 5.5-liter V8.
In basic V6 form, the SLK350 is quite quick, but not as fast as higher end models from its competitors. The new engine has a pronounced exhaust note that is probably the rawest aspect of the car.
Handling is impressive, though not quite as sharp as that of the Porsche and BMW competition. The steering isn't razor sharp just off center but it gets quicker as the steering wheel is turned thanks to Mercedes-Benz's Direct Steer. It's a great system that aids handling in sharp turns. While the Boxster and Z4 may be sportier, the SLK-Class is the most comfortable car in its class, with a quiet, stable ride.
Inside, the SLK-Class offers the typical high-quality Mercedes-Benz cabin featuring an attractive design and top-notch materials. Room is good for all but tall drivers, who will want more seat travel. The folding hardtop limits trunk space, but there is still enough room for a weekend away.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 delivers agile handling, ready power and a smooth ride. Driving enthusiasts, however, will be better served by the Porsche or the performance version of the BMW.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class includes seven models distinguished by their engines and drive systems. All come standard with an automatic transmission, and two offer 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The most powerful models are saddled with a federal Gas Guzzler Tax.
S-Class standard equipment includes leather upholstery and real walnut trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, 14-way power front seats with heating, ventilation and memory, voice-operated navigation with on-board hard drive, sunroof and a full complement of power accessories. The standard audio is a 600-watt, 15-speaker harman/kardon Logic 7 surround system with CD changer, HD and satellite radio, an SD card slot and Bluetooth. All models feature an air-spring suspension with ride height adjustment, and most come standard with 18-inch alloys wheels. The S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC ($93,425) is powered by a 240-horsepower, 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V6. The transmission is a 7-speed automatic.
The S400 Hybrid ($92,725) uses a gasoline-fueled 3.5-liter V6 and an electric motor, combining for 295 peak horsepower.
The S550 ($95,375) gets a direct-injection twin-turbo 4.6-liter V8; The S550 4MATIC ($98,375) adds all-wheel drive.
Options for these S-Class models are vast, though many are clustered in packages. Popular groups include the Premium package, which adds Parktronic guidance, Keyless-Go proximity key, massaging seats and a back-up camera. The Sport package adds racy AMG body work and 19-inch wheels. The Rear Seat package includes four-zone temperature control and 8-way power heated and ventilated rear seats, while the Rear Entertainment package adds two rear-seat video screens with DVD, remotes and multiple methods for connecting external devices. Stand-alone options are even more plentiful, ranging from 20-inch wheels to a wood/leather steering wheel to a Splitview front video monitor. Custom S-Class options include non-standard paint colors and upholstery material.
The S600 ($160,375) is powered by a 536-hp, 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 with a 5-speed automatic. The most luxurious S-Class, the only standard options are larger wheels, the Splitview video screen and special paint.
The S63 AMG ($140,175) features 20-inch wheels and sports suspension along with a 5.5-liter twin-turbo V8 generating 536 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque plus a special clutch-operated 7-speed automatic. The S65 AMG ($211,775) features the AMG-tuned V12 S-Class delivering 621 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque.
Safety features include eight airbags: front-impact airbags, side-impact airbags for both front and rear passengers, and head-protection curtains on both sides of the cabin. The Pre Safe system senses an impending collision and loads the brakes, tightens the seatbelts, closes the windows and sunroof and repositions the front passenger seat for optimal crash protection. The mbrace telematics can automatically report an accident and summon help. Active safety features include advanced skid control (electronic stability control) and anti-lock brakes (ABS).
Safety related options include Attention Assist, which identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning. Active Lane Keeping Assist warns when the S-Class drifts from its lane, while Active Blind Spot Assist identifies vehicles not visible over the driver's shoulders. Both incorporate an intervention feature, helping correct the car's course if the driver doesn't heed the initial warning. Distronic Plus cruise control can automatically stop the car from up to 125 mph. Night View uses an infra-red camera, creating a black-and-white image of the road and people ahead in darkness, and projecting that image in the center of the dash. 4MATIC all-wheel drive improves stability in slippery conditions. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is initially offered in only one model: the SLK350 ($55,675), powered by a new 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. The lone transmission is a 7-speed automatic that can be shifted manually with steering wheel shift paddles.
Standard equipment includes leather upholstery, air conditioning, interior air filter, cruise control, 8-way power seats with lumbar adjustment, power tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, heated power mirrors with turn signals and driver's side auto-dimming, power windows, power locks, remote keyless entry, AM/FM radio with 6-disc CD/MP3 changer, HD radio, auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth audio streaming and wireless cell-phone link, mbrace assistance system, trip computer, rain-sensing wipers, universal garage door opener, automatic headlights, theft-deterrent system, cloth windscreen, sport-tuned suspension, rear fog lights, and P225/40R18 front and P245/35R18 rear tires on alloy wheels.
Options start with Premium Package 1 ($2,590), which includes heated front seats, AirScarf neck-level heating, a Harman Kardon sound system, an iPod interface, satellite radio, and remote control for the retractable roof. A Multimedia Package ($2,150) adds a navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic information, the Mercedes COMAND control screen, an SD card reader, and a 10-gigabyte music hard drive. A Dynamic Handling Package ($990) adds a Sport button to control an adjustable suspension. A Sport Package ($2,500) comes with red interior ambient lighting, AMG wheels, and more aggressive AMG-designed front air dam, side sills and rear apron. The Distronic Plus Package ($2,685) includes Pre-Safe crash safety system and adaptive cruise control. A Lighting Package ($1,090) adds adaptive bi-xenon headlights with washers, and a Wood Trim Package ($990) brings Burl Walnut wood interior trim and a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel. Stand-alone options consist of front- and rear-obstacle detection ($970), dual-zone automatic climate control ($760), Keyless Go keyless access and starting ($650), a glass panel roof ($500), Mercedes' new Magic Sky Control roof ($2,500), a Plexiglas windblocker ($350), illuminated door sills ($700), and the AMG alloy wheels ($500).
Safety features include dual front airbags, side airbags, knee airbags, active head restraints, roll bars, tire-pressure monitor, Attention Assist, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, traction control and electronic stability control.
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