2011 SLK-Class New Car Test Drive
Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a reference point for large luxury sedans, with specious coddling interiors, plentiful and useful technology, and a lineup that covers everything from a low-emissions hybrid to the most powerful four-door production car in the world.
Primary among changes for 2010 is the addition of the S400 Hybrid model. The first production hybrid with a lithium-ion battery the S400 maintains S-Class performance while significantly increasing fuel economy and lowering emissions without any of the typical hybrid compromises: Even when equipped as the S550 the S400 is the least expensive S-Class and has the same large trunk space.
Another noteworthy item, optional on any S-Class is Splitview. This arrangement allows the driver and passenger to see a different image at the same time on the central dashboard screen. The driver may want to check maps and traffic while the passenger watches a movie rather than gridlock, and with Splitview both can.
Other 2010 changes are smaller in scale and include things like front and rear lighting changes to make more use of LEDs. No detail escapes attention on the S-Class, and the same LED strip beneath the headlights (except base S400) shows white as a parking light and amber as a turn signal.
At nearly 300 horsepower, the S400 is the least-powerful S-Class, yet capable of an electronically limited 130 mph. An S550 will reach 60 mph 1.8 seconds earlier in ideal conditions and offers all-wheel drive for less-ideal conditions, the S600 and S63 AMG almost a second quicker still (4.5 seconds), and the S65 AMG in 4.2 seconds. They're more powerful than the numbers suggest, as even approaching its 186-mph limiter the S65 is still pulling like a freight train.
These cars handle remarkably well for big luxury sedans, composed, responsive and stable at any speed. The Airmatic air suspension system has both automatic and manual controls for ride height and firmness, transmissions bring multiple operating modes, and the braking system bred on the Autobahn's have massive reserves at more pedestrian American speeds.
Inside, you are surrounded by wood, leather and finishes befitting an expensive car. Separate overhead lit vanity mirrors, ambient cabin lighting and multiple air vents characterize the base model's rear seat. 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, a smart man-machine interface, and seats that will massage, cool and self-inflate under lateral loads.
The Mercedes S-Class competes with the Audi A8L, BMW 7 Series, and to a lesser extent the Lexus LS. The Mercedes S63 AMG matches up to Alpina BMW and the smaller but sportier-handling Maserati Quattroporte, Porsche Panamera and Aston-Martin Rapide, while the S65 makes a less-ostentatious (and faster accelerating) alternative to Bentley's Flying Spur Speed.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz S-Class line has five models: S400 ($87,950); S550 ($91,600); S550 4MATIC ($94,600); S63 AMG ($133,550); S600 ($149,700); S65 AMG ($201,150). A Gas Guzzler Tax applies to most S-Class, up to $3,000 on S63, S600, and S65. Metallic paints are no-cost except for Diamond white ($795).
All S-Class models include leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, walnut trim, navigation system with voice recognition and Zagat guide, heated 14-way power front seats with lumbar, heated power mirrors, 600-watt harman/kardon 15-speaker, 6CD, Logic 7 surround sound system with weather band and satellite radio, front/rear illuminated vanity mirrors, air suspension with ride height and damping control, bi-Xenon headlamps, and full power accessories. Most come with a moonroof and 18-inch wheels as standard.
S400 uses a 3.5-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline V6 and 120-volt lithium-ion battery-powered electric motor for 295 net hp (EPA 19/26) and a seven-speed automatic transmission. Options are substantial: Premium 1 ($1,380) includes heated/ventilated front seats, power trunk closer, adaptive high-beam assistant, active-curve headlights, LED running lights; Premium 2 ($4,950) includes Premium 1 plus rear camera, Parktronic guidance, Keyless-Go, Drive Dynamic multi-contour/massage front seats); Driver Assist ($2,900) includes Distronic Plus with PreSafe, blind spot assist; Sport ($5,800) adds AMG bodywork and 19-inch wheels; Sport Plus One ($6,550) features special bodywork, 20-inch wheels; Rear Seat package ($2,900) includes left-right climate control and 8-way power heated and ventilated seats; Rear Entertainment ($2,450) features dual-source dual-screen with remotes, video inputs and DVD drive); leather upgrade ($1,350); 19-inch wheels ($1,250); 20-inch wheels ($2,000); wood/leather steering wheel ($580); power rear side window shades ($740); heated steering wheel ($480); illuminated door sills, four ($950); Splitview ($700); Panorama roof ($1,070); Night View with pedestrian detection ($1,740).
S550 has a 5.5-liter 382-hp V8 and seven-speed automatic (EPA 15/23) and is available with 4MATIC ($3,000). An S550 gets the S400's Premium 1 package as standard, along with the wood/leather steering wheel. Options include the Premium 2, Driver Assist, Sport/Sport Plus One, Rear Seat, and Rear Entertainment packages, all the S400 standalone options, and Active Body Control active suspension ($4,020).
S63 AMG uses a 518-hp 6.2-liter V8 and seven-speed automatic transmission (EPA 11/18). Both Premium packages are standard, as are AMG-grade Active Body Control suspension, brakes, 20-inch wheels and bodywork. Options are the Driver Assist, Rear Seat and Rear Entertainment packages, Splitview, Night View, and an AMG Performance package with a higher limited speed and carbon-fiber/piano black trim ($7,180).
S600 comes with a 510-hp twin-turbo 5.5-liter V12 (EPA 11/17), five-speed automatic, wider rear wheels and most equipment standard. Primary options are limited to Split View and 19- or 20-inch wheels.
S65 AMG comes with a 604-hp twin-turbo 6-liter V12 (EPA 11/17), five-speed automatic and AMG-enhanced chassis like the S63. For $200,000 virtually everything but Splitview and Diamond White paint is included.
Safety features on every S-Class include eight airbags, electronic stability control and PreSafe which will close the roof and windows and reposition the seat and its pneumatic lumbar for an impending collision. Fully equipped models use radar to stop the car automatically from up to 125 mph if the driver fails to pay attention and can alert the driver to unsafe lane changes. Night View offers a black-and-white TV-picture-like image of the road and people ahead in the central dashboard area used for the speedometer (which becomes a bar-graph along the bottom edge while ancillary gauges remain as normal).