There was a time when luxury cars were defined by their sheer size and mass, their power, performance and, of course, exclusive details like leather seats and wood trim.
Those are all factors that help distinguish the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, as you might expect, but there’s a lot more to the completely redefined German flagship that fit the changing nature of the auto industry. From its 500 LED lamps to the 3D cameras, radar and night vision systems that allow the new sedan to virtually drive itself, the new S-Class is a technical tour de force that will likely have competitors racing to catch up.
The long-awaited remake of the classic full-size luxury sedan was staged at an Airbus factory in Hamburg, Germany – no surprise because parent Mercedes-Benz also holds a stake in the European airline manufacturer. But the venue was clearly chosen to underscore the technical sophistication of the new S-Class.
Mercedes officials made note of the fact that it will be the first automobile to completely dispense with conventional light bulbs, opting instead for more advanced LED technology for everything from the head to taillights, and all those little indicators, reading lamps and mood lights in-between. All told, there are 300 LEDs in the interior alone, 56 in each headlamp and another 25 in each taillight. Oh, and you can choose from seven different colors for the interior lighting, with five dimmer levels and four distinct lighting zones.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the mammoth, 104-page press release covering all the details of the new car. Just the section on all the various sensors the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is equipped with runs longer than most new car announcements.
There’s the latest version of the Mercedes Distronic technology, using both cameras and radar to watch what is happening ahead and around the new vehicle. It lets the new S-Class keep pace with the traffic flow, come to a complete stop in a tie-up and then start rolling again. It will trigger the brakes if a collision seems likely and even turn on the flashers when one does occur.
The latest in lane departure warning systems will even take control if a drowsy driver starts to drift into an adjacent lane.
Short of the near desktop-sized displays on the Tesla Model S, the new S-Class will feature some of the largest video screens ever stuffed into an instrument panel, two of them measuring 12.3 inches apiece. The primary, reconfigurable display handles traditional duties, such as speed and engine RPMs, while the right panel oversees Mercedes’ latest infotainment technology.
And, as the maker revealed during a session halfway around the world at the annual Google I/O developers’ conference, there’ll be lots more apps to play with. Mercedes is even developing a so-called “Heat Map” system that will be able guide a motorist to the center of the urban action by visualizing areas with high concentrations of night clubs, restaurants and shopping centers.
Not quite enough? There’ll even be an automatic perfume atomizer option lifted from the Maybach brand abandoned last year.
Among the many firsts Mercedes is claiming for the 2014 S-Class, the big sedan will introduce the Magic Body Control system. Rather than wait until sensors detect a bump or pothole, it will use the stereo camera system to look for uneven pavement and automatically adjust the standard-issue air suspension.
As always, Mercedes plans to offer a number of different versions of the new S-Class, including both diesel and gasoline drivetrains, as well as a plug-in hybrid due out a year after the initial launch. There are two V-12 versions on tap, as well, while the high-performance S63 AMG is set to debut in November, about two months after the initial rear-drive S550 makes its debut.
The primary version earmarked for the U.S. market, the S550 could leave potential buyers wondering why they might need anything else. Its twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V-8 will pump out an impressive 455 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque – more than all the direct competitors from BMW, Audi or Lexus – and enough to launch the big Teutonic sedan from 0 to 60 in just 4.8 seconds. That’s nearly a full second faster than the outgoing model.
Mercedes won’t discuss EPA mileage ratings yet but hints that it should do better than the outgoing S-Class, in part by the use of lightweighting and extensive improvements in aerodynamics – claiming wind drag is now a wee bit better than that of a Toyota Prius.
A key addition to the new S-Class line-up will be the S600 Pullman model that will replace Daimler’s largely unloved Maybach line. Expect a sizable share of those stretch versions to be shipped to China, the world’s fastest-growing luxury market, where high-line motorists routinely prefer to be chauffeured around.
The Pullman model will be available with two rear-seat layouts, much like the old Maybach S63, including a Business Jet-style two-passenger configuration that will introduce a new hot-stone-style massage function.
The new model’s looks could generate some controversy, especially the much larger grille and the distinctive LED lamps.
Don’t expect to see final pricing until close to the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class launch this coming autumn, but something nudging $100,000 appears to be in order, according to insiders, a moderate bump from the current $93,000 base.
The Stuttgart-based automaker has found itself slipping in the luxury market in recent years and now lags in an unfamiliar third place behind BMW and Audi. The relatively exclusive nature of the S-Class means it won’t help Mercedes regain the lead – at least not directly – but if the new design and features click, the maker is betting it will also bring in plenty of less affluent buyers for C-, E- and other models that could give the brand a needed boost.