This could be the scene of a lovely Saturday morning pedicure, except it's not. I'm working. It's around 10 a.m. on a Thursday, and I'm sitting in the back seat of the 2014 Mercedes S-Class, being driven through the lakelands outside of Toronto. My fellow journalists and I are in Canada for a quick 24-hour romp, meeting the new 2014 S-Class for the first time.
There's a lot to learn. The S-Class is Mercedes' flagship, the company's most expensive sedan and the standard-bearer for the rest of its lineup. The automaker has jammed it full of technology: Cutting-edge safety features, mind-blowing stereo systems, back massagers, LCD screens and more.
You will read a fair amount of reviews that say the most recent iteration of the S-Class is not a driver's car, whatever that means. But don't take that as a knock -- there are plenty of features that might make this car your favorite. Seriously, it comes with a feature with the word "magic" in the name: Magic Body Control. And that's not hype -- it really does feel like a bit of rich people magic. More on that later.
The new 2014 S-class hits the U.S. market in late September, early October. Chock-full of the bells and whistles usually found at a high-end spa, is it more than a gimmick? Read on to find out.
The BasicsSticker Price: Not yet announced
Invoice Price: NA
Engine: Direct injection 4.6L twin-turbo V-8
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Performance: 455 horsepower, 516 pound-feet of torque; 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds
Fuel economy: NA
Seating: 4 people
Exterior DesignThe 2014 S-Class is slightly more attractive than the outgoing model. Not much has changed, actually. When Mercedes unveiled photos of the new S-Class, some intrepid reporters overlaid the old version and the new version in a rotating .gif, fading one image out as the other reappeared. They look strikingly similar.
The biggest difference comes on the side panels, which include Mercedes' now signature lines, which look like parentheses lain on their sides. It adds a dimension of movement to a large and stately car that could have otherwise, with the wrong design, ended up looking like a staid box on wheels.
InteriorEverything about the interior feels high quality, from the intricate detailing on the Burmester speakers to the quilting on the leather of the dashboard. The wood details feel sleek, and the metal pieces feel cool to the touch.
I sat inside two different cars on our test drive -- one with a panoramic sunroof, and one without. The sunroof made a huge difference, turning the car into a warm, sunny room. Without a sunroof, the car feels a bit claustrophobic.
Mercedes added a twee feature that might get some people excited, but fell flat with me: An atomizer that puffs perfume into the car. It comes with four scents -- nightlife, sports, downtown and freeside. Mercedes gave us samples (warning, if you get samples at a dealership -- they are much more potent than perfume and will stay on your skin for way longer than you want) and while the smells are pleasant, having smell-o-vision in the car didn't add enough to our drive to make it a selling point.
Passenger And Cargo SpaceThe S-Class is designed to feel as comfortable as your living room. The back seats offer first-class legroom, and the right rear passenger seat comes with a foot rest that can turn the seat into something akin to a La-Z-Boy chair.
And oh my, the seats come with massagers. Heated massagers. What a way to treat yourself and your passengers. Now, being the spoiled auto writer that I am, I have to point out that these massagers are not the strongest back rub you'll ever experience. Massage chairs at your local nail salon will give you a more intense back rub while you get a pedicure. But this sounds like a very Marie Antoinette type of complaint, completely out of touch with the common man. It's pretty awesome to get even a mild massage when you're driving. Mercedes calls this massage system a "hot stone massage" – the first two options rub your back with heat, and the other four options just rub your back without heat.
I don't know how I'll manage to go on a road trip without this feature, but since I don't make the $300,000 the average S-Class buyer earns, I guess I'll have to manage.
Oh, and the trunk is pretty big. You'll fit your golf clubs or whatever large rich person thing you need to haul around in the back. A marble bust of your beloved maltipoo, perhaps?
Driving DynamicsThe S-Class is jammed full of active safety technology, which makes driving the car feel as close to driving an automated vehicle as you can get these days. The car has sensors that project out hundreds of feet ahead of the vehicle and can get the brakes ready if it thinks you're going to need to stop. It can stop you from drifting into oncoming traffic by pulling the car to the right and keeping you in your lane. You can set cruise control and just steer, letting the car slow down and accelerate as it judges the traffic ahead of you.
This is why other auto writers will say this is not a driver's car. And that may be true –- people who like to test the limits of their vehicle by taking corners fast and accelerating as hard as possible whenever they come from a full stop may not appreciate the S-class, which stops you from doing crazy things like driving over the center line of the road.
But this car opens up a whole other world of opportunities. It can be the car you gracefully retire in, realizing that as you age you might need some help judging the road. And since the average age of the S-Class buyer is 62, it could be the car these buyers purchase, never buying another new car again.
The Magic Body Control makes the car a super comfortable ride. When you put the car in comfort mode, a radar senses bumps coming up on the road, and adjusts the suspension to practically erase them from the road. I tested it out going over huge speed bumps in the road, and it was like they weren't there. Magically erased.
Tech And InfotainmentI'm a huge fan of excellent stereo systems, and so I easily fell in love with the S-Class' Burmester system. For those who don't have an easy $100K to drop on a home stereo system, Burmester is one of the best systems you can own. And it comes standard on the S-Class, with 24 beautifully styled metal speakers. I sampled some jazz, some Rachmaninoff, and the new Vampire Weekend album, all of which sounded beautiful.
The car also comes with the night vision system to beat all night vision systems. It can detect animals and pedestrians, outlining them in red boxes, and shines a light on a pedestrian to give you a better view of where they are on the road. And the pre-safe braking technology will apply the brakes if it thinks you're about to hit someone. Which, I'm sure, the pedestrians of the world will find to be a very considerate touch.
Fuel EconomyThe S-class fuel economy figures aren't available yet, but the automaker promises the car won't be subject to a gas guzzler tax. The current S-Class gets 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, and Mercedes said the fuel economy figures could be as much as 20 percent better.
Bottom LineJust don't call it an old man's car, OK? Unless you're talking about an old man who takes important meetings on Skype, eschews the iPhone because it's doesn't have an open programming platform (and he's a techy who knows all about this kind of nerdy stuff) and delights in having all the coolest new gadgets and toys. Because having the new S-Class is like having the newest gadget, except on wheels.
Driving a car that's got a lot of automation actually takes some skill. It's not the kind of thing you can turn on and forget about -- you still have to monitor the road, adjust the settings on the adaptive cruise control to deal with traffic fluctuations, and maneuver corners and turns. But you'll have the peace of mind knowing the car will brake when it needs to, and that in the event of a crash the car will do whatever it can to make sure you're safe (like tightening your seatbelt milliseconds before impact).
If you have six figures (the S-Class will probably start around $92,000, where it is currently priced, but adding in options easily takes the price higher than that) and love cool technology, the S-Class is like having the most highly-advanced smart phone on the market. Except, unlike in the cellphone world, this kind of technology won't be obsolete in a few months. It will take years for this to trickle down to the rest of us plebeians. So enjoy showing off your elite status and make sure you use that night vision technology to avoid knocking over us commoners as we walk down the street.
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