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First Drive: Mercedes-Benz S 500 Lang (2013)

21/11/2013 09:10 | Comments: 

Editor

As typical of a long-serving automotive journalist he worked at nearly all of the major printed automotive magazines in Hungary before ending up on the internet. More of the new cartester type, he’s also an automotive engineer by profession. Although he’s the editor in chief
of the mother magazine, totalcar.hu, he loves doubling as a photographer – we sometimes
think he made a mistake when choosing titles. Has a wife and a small daughter.

You load up your long wheelbase Mercedes with all kinds of amenities and you end up running out of luggage space. I know I am being a jerk. On a different note, I have never experienced anything remotely this comfortable, although I have had my fair share of pampering.

Suppose I won the recent jackpot on the national lottery. We are talking about 10 million Euros. Give or take 300000. That is a mere error in rounding up. The tip you give to the staff when you leave the casino after a grand night. Compared to that little error an S 500 costs mere peanuts at, what, 105000 Euros?

Alright, time to wake up. For most of us, even the 3000 Euro that separates the S 500 from the S 500 L is a lot of money. We buy complete cars for that kind of money, and note the plural. At MB this much cash buys you another five inches' worth of S-Classiness. And don't you dare call your L long. It reads lang, because this is German territory.

You probably need to be a born aristocrat to fully appreciate the S 500 L. For one, your genes must be completely void of the slightest traces of cheapness or small-mindedness. If you great grandma was a village girl you are definitely out of the game. You see, you need to be able to rule out hybrids or diesels. Also the S 63 AMG because that's a car for exhibitionists, for people seeking to advertise their newly found riches, and that kind of behaviour is hardly befitting a true gentleman. The S 500 L, on the other hand, is a sign of stable and long-standing wealth, something you can literally buy with some round-up error in the books of your estate.

These were the kind of thoughts I was thinking as I met the car for the first time. And because you should always start at the top, I chose one of the rear seats, with the extra legroom and the reclining seat backs, ready for a good afternoon nap under the clear sky visible through the glass roof – unless of course I choose to pull the blinds up there, or on the side windows. It takes but a few pushes of the right buttons and I am surrounded in a comforting shade.

The leather is phenomenal. This is not off-white but white, I guess this is what they would call porcelain on the options list. Perforated, cooled and heated, front and back, what else would you expect? There are small cars with fewer knobs and buttons altogether than you will find on a single door panel of this Merc. In fact the adjustment options for the rear seats are just overwhelming, and that is before counting the controls for the windows and blinds. On our first shuttle ride from the ferry to the hotel we spent about 15 minutes pushing all the buttons like we were naughty kids in an electronics superstore.

Sitting across the driver (which would be rear right on LHD markets) you have the prerogative of controlling the seat in front of you. If you need to extend your leg room you can almost shove the front passenger seat into the dashboard. The seat is also lifted somewhat in the process, necessitating the (automated) folding down of the headrest, lest it should hit the roof liner. I'm wondering whether there is a protective mechanism preventing you from solving personal conflicts by squeezing your antagonist into the glovebox. I assume there is.

Having gotten the passenger seat out of the way you can succumb to hedonism. There is a footrest that folds out like on intercontinental business flights, and your seat stretches out to accommodate you. Except it does not always do so. My colleague, Zoli is about 190 cm tall and he kept fidgeting around, trying to make himself comfortable. I am certain space is plentiful for South-East Asian markets but it would not surprise me the least bit to see an even longer version, especially now that Mercedes' übercar brand Maybach is retired.

I am tempted to put a price tag on the various optional items. Indeed, your €105K will only buy you a plain S 500 L with five black leather seats, enormous dimensions and four years' complimentary servicing to go with the warranty. I promise this will be the last time but the sheer amounts of money at play makes me want to drag you down into the abyss of equipment packages and combined offers Mercedes like to call their list of options.

For instance in the Hungarian market, power adjustment for the rear seats costs something like €2000. You cannot however tick that box unless you also opt for individual rear seats for €1500 – or you can pick up both as a package for just a smidgen over €2K. Fold-out trays come at a hefty price of €2300. Instead of picking up seat heating and cooling separately, go for the combined package at a mere €700 which also gives you low-cost access to the heated armrests, front and rear, creating the perfect ambience for enjoying a view through the sunroof (€1870). Alternatively, you can watch the telly instead, provided you are willing to pay €3200 for the individual entertainment system. But don't get cheap now, go for the best with the 3D audio system, a steal at €8300 with its neat perforated metal covers and an additional speaker on the roof. I assume this comes with the stylish wireless headphones. For an added peace of mind, opt for the rear seat Pre-Safe system, priced at €1600. This comes with extra airbags in your seatbelt and seat cushion, intended to keep you safe in case the car is involved in a collision while you are relaxing in a reclined position.

If, adding up these numbers, you come to the conclusion that your family car costs less than these extras, you are not worthy of the S 500 L. Because there are simply no logical reasons to explain this kind of debauchery. Viewed from a Renault Logan or anything compatible it is downright ridiculous to see that people are willing to sacrifice useful luggage space for the sake of adjustable rear seats, a subwoofer or a fridge. Because the extended wheelbase does not make the trunk any larger in the S-Class. Take three people for a week trip and you'll be facing some serious challenges. Alternatively, you can always add a trailer, made safe by the trailer stability program.

So we were happy pushing all the buttons but we stopped short when our driver floored the gas. We fell silent, the snickering (you cannot take all this luxury seriously) died off. Holy cow, this car is powerful!

We are not easily surprised by acceleration. But it's one thing experiencing g's in a Porsche 911, sitting upright, and an altogether different experience while you are leaning back in your seat, getting your back massaged. Yet zero-to-100 sprints are comparable for both vehicles. Mind you, the S 500 is not quite 500: it is in fact a 4.6-litre engine, supported by two turbochargers. That yields 449 PS and 700 Nm. What I don't quite understand is how Mercedes managed to match the weight of the Audi A8 (cca. 1940-1950 kg) because while the latter is a fully aluminium construction the S-Class only uses the lightweight alloy in its nose structure.

Up front you are met with a whole different world altogether. There are no instruments per se. Instead there is a sizeable monitor displaying virtual dials, or for example, the screen for the night vision system. To the right of this monitor there is another display reserved for the satnav, the Comand system and the like. Food for thought: do these cars come with pixel fault warranty? This new IC feels strange at first, as it's completely flat, but that is something you can get used to. These instruments are bound to become widespread rapidly and in time should prove cheaper to manufacture than regular, mechanical instruments. At that point only luxury cars will get analogue instruments. For now, however, digital is the hype.

I haven't been able to decide whether it's the driver or the passengers who will find the S-Class more surprising. I am inclined to say that the driver is in for more of a shock. Although all the assistance systems are highly efficient, the majority of these remained untested in Denmark at the great comparative COTY Tannistest, for lack of adequate highway or city traffic.

What is thoroughly impressive is the level of comfort. While the engine power is melting the asphalt under the tyres, the suspension does a superior job cancelling all road roughness and speed bumps. I have never quite experienced anything like this. True, our car was equipped with the optional (and highly expensive) Magic Body Control system instead of the standard air springs. For one, this is a hydraulic system which uses power cylinders working alongside steel springs to set the optimum spring force. There is nothing new about this. What is new is the pair of cameras looking 15 metres ahead of the car. These sense road conditions and allow the suspension to prepare for what's coming next. I wonder if these also work at night, although with all the lumens the LED headlights put out this should not be a problem.

The effects of the system are amazing. Imaging sitting in an airplane during take-off, when the plane has already lifted off the runway but still has some contact with the ground. And all the while the driver remains superbly in control of the S-Class. It does not feel more agile than a BMW but I am sure this is only subjective. The organisers of the Tannistest performed an elk test on all vehicles and, clocking in at 71 kph, the S 500 L ended up in the top tier of participating vehicles, something you would not expect of a 2-ton, 5-metre vehicle. As for the brakes I could only go with my senses but they felt something like the Porsche Cayman which is purely unfathomable even for the driver – imagine what is feels like as you doze off in the back.

I have no idea if there is any sense in this much luxury. I would reckon there are more tasteful interiors available but that is not the point. Should you opt for the V8 biturbo? I am sure it's a guzzler once you start pushing it hard. And yet, I think everyone should have the chance to experience what the S-Class has to offer. Magic Body Control is nothing short of magical, cars that monitor their surroundings and park themselves are no longer a thing of the future: they are the tangible present. If anyone told me ten years ago this was going to come around I would not have believed them. And now I drove it myself. Well, perhaps not fully myself, but I didn't mind.

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