The new Mercedes S-Class has been unveiled, with Merc boss Dr Dieter Zetsche, describing it as "the best automobile in the world".
With a striking new design, a number of technological world firsts and no less than three-different hybrid powertrain configurations, Mercedes is planning to build on the success of the current car – which topped the luxury segment with 1,800 sales in the UK in 2012.
We’ve already seen undisguised spy shots, leaked pictures of a scale model and the Aesthetics S sculpture at the 2012 Paris Motor show, so the smart new design is hardly a surprise. As with all new Mercedes, the front grille is now larger and more upright, while bold creases along the flanks converge towards a slanted rear end, giving a sportier profile than the current car.
The headlights and tail-lights tell an important story, too. The S-Class is the first road car to ditch light bulbs altogether and use brighter, energy-saving LEDs throughout. The headlamps use up to 56 LEDs, the taillights use up to 35 LEDs (the intensity of the brake lights is reduced at night and in traffic jams), while the interior uses 300 LEDs for ambient illumination.
Mercedes S-Class engines Four engines will be offered, including two hybrids – the S 400 petrol and S 300 BlueTEC diesel – plus two conventional petrol and diesel models badged S 500 and S350 BlueTEC respectively.
Powered by a 449bhp 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8, the S 500 is the fastest, covering 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds, while the S 300 BlueTEC Hybrid combines a 201bhp 2.1-litre diesel engine with a 27bhp electric motor for a combined fuel economy of 64mpg and CO2 emissions of 115g/km.
And according to Thomas Weber, Mercedes’ head of R&D, there’s more to come: “This is just the start of our ‘Green Leadership’ initiative: soon to be followed by the S500 Plug-In Hybrid – the first S-Class with a fuel consumption of lower than 4l/100km [71mpg].”
A new proactive suspension system aims to improve on the S-Class’ already legendary ride quality. Called Magic Body Control, the optional set-up uses cameras to scan the road ahead, feeds that information back and the suspension instantly sets itself up to deal with the new situation.
For the first time the S-Class was developed from the outset in long-wheelbase form - the short-wheelbase version was subsequently derived from that. That’s because while most drivers in Europe and North America prefer to drive themselves, customers in the booming Chinese market prefer to sit in the back and let a chauffeur do the work.
Thanks to slightly longer, wider and taller exterior dimensions than the current S-Class, head, shoulder and elbowroom has grown by 12mm, 14mm and 10mm respectively for front passengers, plus there’s an extra 14mm knee room and 9mm shoulder room in the back.
Five different rear seat designs are available, ranging from a fixed rear bench to two ‘Executive’ seats capable of reclining by up to 43.5 degrees. Specify the ‘First Class Rear’ package and the front centre console continues into the rear with cup holders that can heat and cool your drinks, as well as airplane-style fold-out tables.
Other new creature comforts include heated armrests, an active perfuming system that adds fragrance to the air-con and a hot stone massage function for the front and rear seats. A 10-speaker stereo is fitted as standard, while two increasingly powerful Burmester systems are aimed at audiophiles.
Dominating the dash are two 12.3-inch widescreen TFT screens, side by side. One replaces the traditional instrument cluster, while the other displays the status of various infotainment and navigations systems. A BMW iDrive-style rotary push button is the main human-machine interface, while a new voice control function allows hands free control of the telephone and audios systems.
Orders books for the new S-Class open at the end of June, although first deliveries won’t be until September.
The S 350 BlueTEC and S 400 Hybrid will be the only models offered initially, with the S 500, S 300 BlueTEC Hybrid and S63 AMG following in April 2014, and the S 500 Plug-In Hybrid following later next year. UK prices are yet to be confirmed but expect a five per cent increase over the current car – that means the S 350 BlueTEC will start from around £64,500, while the S 63 AMG should start at £120,000.