We live in a world defined, alas, by compromises – even in the ethereal realm of high-end luxury cars.
Except for one gloriously no-compromises car.
The 2014 S Class Mercedes.
While its rivals – the Audi A8 and the BMW 7, chiefly – bend knee to pedestrian concerns such as cost of acquisition and fuel economy (both offer smallish engines and diesel engines) the Benz proudly says to hell with that. The magnificently audacious Mercedes starts out $20k higher than they do and comes with no less than eight cylinders, two turbos – and 449 hp.
You want a standard wheelbase?
You want something else, then.
This car is a car for the large-living, who want the ultimate in power, presence and prestige.
Cost no object.
WHAT IT IS
The S sedan is Mercedes’ biggest, poshest four-door. It rides on an olympian 124.6 inch wheelbase and stretches almost eighteen feet, end to end.
It’s a bus – but a really nice bus.
Base price is $92,900 for an S550 in rear-wheel-drive. With 4-Matic all-wheel-drive, the sticker rises to $95,900.
A comparable Audi A8 – with the optional V-8 engine and in L long wheelbase form – starts at $86,400 (base A8s come with a middling-strong V-6 and in “standard” – read – shorter – wheelbase form, with a base MSRP of $77,400).
Same thing with the BMW 7.
A comparably equipped model – with V-8 engine and in L long wheelbase form – stickers for $91,000. The base 7 (the 740i) comes with a six and with a shorter wheelbase. Sticker for that one is $74,000.
The fact that Mercedes does not offer a lower-cost (and smaller and less powerful) version of its top model makes it a more exclusive car than either the BMW or the Audi – nice as they are.
They’re just not quite as nice as this car.
The ’14 S-Class is thoroughly updated – making it the “newest” of the Big Three elite sedans.
Boggling luxury – and technology. A tour de force of what’s possible.
Brutal power /performance – delivered without brutality.
Exclusive. Very few can own one. Which makes owning one a bit more special than owning the very nice – but more accessible – BMW 7 or Audi A8.
“A pleasure to drive” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Tank empties quickly, necessitating frequent fill-ups.
Can be a little intimidating initially; this is not a car you just get in and drive. It takes some time to understand – and learn to use – the array (and that’s exactly the right word; more on this follows below) of features this car offers.
When the proles rise up, you’ll be a marked man.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Benz, unlike its uber-luxury rivals, has not bent knee to the moloch of MPGs. Which is why – unlike its rivals – you will find at least eight cylinders and no less than 449 hp under the hood of the S-Class. As opposed to six cylinders and 315 hp in the standard-issue BMW 7. Ditto the Audi A8 – which in base trim packs just 3 liters – and 333 hp – unless you opt for more.
In the Benz, opting for more means 577 hp – and 5.5 liters of twin-turbo V-8. Zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds. That’s quicker – and not just a little bit quicker – than the Porsche Cayman S I tested out a couple weeks back.
Which weighs about half as much, by the way.
And the Porsche could probably fit in the trunk of the Benz. Or – better yet – the cavernous back seats.
More on that in a minute.
If you care about MPGs, this is not the car for you. Audi’s superb TDI diesel, perhaps. Or the no-doubt equally excellent six-cylinder turbo-diesel BMW now offers in the (2015) BMW 7.
But if your priority is performance, then this is the car for you.
The standard S550 is capable or reaching 60 MPH in 4.8 seconds. Remember: This is a car that weighs just shy of 5,000 pounds . . . empty. The Mercedes’ performance is counterintuitive, an affront to physics. Until you recall the beast that lies underneath that expansive hood. It’s not a huge V-8 . . . as displacement goes. A mere 4.7 liters. But this is deceptive. Because the V-8’s effective displacement is much more, courtesy of the pair of turbochargers that force feed it air. The little V-8 takes deep breaths, inhaling huge gulps of atmosphere as your right foot goes down. Almost immediately, (just 1,800 RPMs on the Airbus-style flat screen instrument cluster) a staggering 516 ft.-lbs. of torque is at your command. This is almost 200 ft.-lbs. more torque than the Audi A8’s standard issue gas V-6 gins up. Not a fair fight? True. But even the Audi’s max-effort 6.3 liter W12 cannot match the might of the Benz’s standard V-8. The Audi twelve cylinder engine’s torque output plateaus at 463 ft.-lbs. And the A8 W-12 trails the Benz V-8 to 60 by nearly half a second.
The BMW 7 is more in a position to cross swords with the mighty Mercedes. If you step up to its optional 4.4 liter V-8 (also turbocharged) which generates 445 hp – just four shy of the Benz’s output – and 480 ft.-lbs, of torque. But to beat the Benz in a BMW, one must ascend to the V-12 equipped 7 Series, at which point you’ve got 535 hp and 550 ft.-lbs. to work with. But, remember: You’ve skipped upward not one, not two, not three – but four levels – to get there. From the base six-cylinder 740i, past the diesel, the optional V-8 . . . to reach the top-of-the-line V-12.
In order to outgun the standard V-8 in the Mercedes.
And, remember: The Benz can still be upgraded with an optional V-8. One that develops an argument-ending 664 ft.-lbs. of torque.
There is nothing else out there that even comes close.
Both S-Class V-8s are paired with seven speed automatics, but only the S550 (with the 4.7 liter V-8) is available in rear wheel drive and all-wheel-drive (4-Matic) versions. The S63 is so overwhelmingly powerful that it’s sold only in 4-Matic form.
Traction control can only do so much.
The S is among the few cars in the world in which no one rides second class. Up front, behind the wheel – or stretched out on the reclining back seats, your noggin nestled into the downy softness of the pillow headrest. Watch a movie, perhaps? What’s the in-flight entertainment today?
And flight is exactly the right word.
There is certainly enough power on hand to achieve V2 – normal take-off speed.
If only there was sufficient lift.
Regardless, one of the not-so-guilty pleasures of driving this car is its graceful, nearly noiseless – yet seemingly omnipotent capacity to out-accelerate virtually anything on four wheels. To be able to keep up with a Porsche Cayman S – its driver furiously working the boxer six (and the six-speed manual, assuming it’s not a PDK car) while you just watch the digital speedometer’s needle climb silently ever higher, the Burmeister ultra-premium audio enveloping you in symphonic perfection, the massaging seats working out the knots in your backside, each individual air vent individually adjusted for just the right amount of airflow.
And in the S63, you’d crush the Cayman S.
Hear the lamentations of the women…
As stupendously quick as this car is, it’s also nothing less than miraculous that it can corner, too. My test car – riding on the optional AMG 20s shod with Goodyear F1 asymmetric run-flats (if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford ’em) took to the curves almost as adroitly as the Porsche – notwithstanding its 124.6 inch wheelbase and two tons-plus of kruppstahl (assuming Krupp provided the stahl; maybe not).
For the full effect, sit in back – and let someone else drive. He’ll be through the apex while you’re still in the middle – due to the length of the car – a kind of slingshot effect. But the car is imperturbable, do what you will. Getting the tires to squeal at all is damned near impossible – and if you succeed, you’re a True Maniac (welcome to the club). The car offers (and my test car had) Magic Body Control Suspension, which preemptively auto-adjust to compensate for road irregularities. It can see (via special cameras) bumps and dips in the road ahead of you – and set the car up to absorb them before you even reach them.
The ultra-coolness is not just technological. This car manages the trick of floating along like your grandpa’s ’70 Buick Electra 225 – without handling like a ’70 Buick Electra 225.
Naturlich, there is semi self-aware cruise control that will slow the car – and bring it to a stop, should the need arise – according to the ebb and flow of traffic. Then, it will just as automatically resume your pre-set speed. If you should happen too slip into a reverie – easy enough in a car such as this – there are countermeasures to prevent you from suffering embarrassment. The car can sense if it is wandering into the opposing lane – or about to dip off the road onto the shoulder – and will course correct for you (up to a point; it’s still your job to pay attention to the road).
Push that little moon icon’d button to the left of the steering wheel. Watch the LCD dashboard image gracefully shape-shift. A night vision box appears, revealing the road ahead of you in real-time and brightly lit wonder no matter how dark it may be outside. You can literally drive the car by watching the display, without looking out at the road (don’t actually do this, of course). The system, which is very similar to the infra-red might vision gear used by the military, helps you spot – and avoid hitting – late night joggers, deer and so on. Do you remember the second Terminator movie? When Arnold kills the car’s headlights and drives at furious speed into the night? John Conner ask The T1 if he can see where he’s going with the lights off. Arnold says, I see everything . . .as you, the movie viewer, see the world through the robot’s night-vision eyes. Big screen sci-fi in the early ’90s.
In your car, today.
AT THE CURB
The S is, first of all, a massive car. I’ve mentioned the weight. Now the length. Seventeen feet, two-point-five inches. Unlike its main rivals, the Mercedes comes only in “stretched” – long wheelbase – form. The distance between the front and rear tires – the wheelbase – is 124.6 inches.
The comparatively stunted A8’s wheelbase is a mere 117.8 inches; the BMW 7’s a somewhat larger-living 120.9 inches. But neither comes close to the Benz’s luxuriantly outsized proportions – which includes 43 inches of rearseat legroom, more than either the BMW 7 or the Audi A8 have up front (41.3 inches and 41.4 inches, respectively). Open up those rear doors and show the curious what it’s like to ride, executive-style.
To be fair, in long wheelbase form, the BMW 7 and Audi A8 are in the same ballpark, real estate-wise, as the S550. But those cars are less impressive by dint of being more common. The Benz has presence – in part because of its price but also because there’s no “small” version of it running around out there. When you see an S, you see a substantial car – every time you see an S.
Every car at this level is a tour de force of indulgent opulence, but the S – being the newest – will wow you more than the others. At first, it can be slightly overwhelming. Like finding out you just won the Powerball.
This car has – and does – things that are literally hard to believe. Like the Night View Assist Plus infra-red night vision camera. And the “magic” ride control that anticipates the road ahead. Now add heated arm rests and center console. Rear seat fridge (it goes with the heated and cooled rear upholders and individually controllable power sunshades and available aircraft-style fold-out tables). Patchouli scent dispenser (and “warmer”) in the glovebox. To hell with Grey Poupon! Wi-Fi “hot spot” . . . in the car. Oversized 12.3 inch secondary flat screen – to the right of the main flat screen. Available 24 speaker Burmeister “Front Bass” 3D surround system (about three times as many speakers – and far better speakers – than you’d find in a Plebe Mobile, even one with a “good” stereo).
The “Multi-counter” massaging and heated seats are why I wish sometimes I had gone to law school. They massage – and heat – in a multitude of ways, including “hot stone” and “active workout.” I haven’t got seats even close to as nice as these in my house – forget about my cars.
Probably yours, too.
Add to this such amenities as Silk Beige/Expresso Brown perforated Nappa leather ($4,450), the Sport package with 20 inch AMG wheels and F1 tires ($6,650) plus a few odds and ends like Designo Sunburst Myrtle Wood trim ($800) and the Air Balance Package (dual charcoal cabin filters, air ionizer and LED backlit heater for the patchouli dispenser in the glovebox…
And of course, there are the givens: Panorama sunroof, soft close doors and trunk (they cinch tight automatically; no need to slam ’em), digital music storage, multi-zone climate control . . .
Gordon Gecko to its rivals’ Charlie Sheen. No apologies for its extravagance. No effort spared whatsoever on the part of Mercedes-Benz to make the car either more “accessible” or more “efficient” – not if either of those criteria threaten in the smallest way to undermine the bar-none experience a car at this level is meant to deliver. That’s what you’re paying six figures for, after all. You’ve worked hard, you finally made it. You deserve this. And because only a few others can afford this, it is truly something extraordinary to own this.
A word, though, about gas. Not what it costs. That is of no concern to those who are in a position to own a car of this caliber. Rather, it is how rapidly it’s consumed relative to the capacity of the car’s tank. 21.2 gallons disappears awfully quickly at the rate of 17 MPG city, 25 highway – which in real-world driving works out to about 19 MPG, give or take. Best-case range in the city is just 358 miles; 527 on the highway.
This means fairly frequent stops – no matter how much money you’ve got.
The diesel-engined Audi and BMW can go for much longer before having to pit. In the case of the A8 TDI, the city range – 571 miles – is greater than the S550’s highway range. And highway-wise, the A8 TDI can go for almost 900 miles before running dry.
The just-launched (2015) BMW 7 diesel is similarly long-legged.
Mercedes could address this issue – without compromising anything under the hood – merely by increasing the capacity of the S550’s tank to 25 or so gallons.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Among its peers, the S has no peers. It is the ultimate, the uncompromised, the radiant and stupendous. An awesome car in the not Paris Hilton sense. Epic. Beyond compare.
If I were a rich man . . . if I were a wealthy man….
Throw it in the woods?
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I drive an E series at this time but am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the S class coupe. Please try to get a review of that when it comes on line. I have been talking to the fellas at the dealership about it and word is the new coupe will be a tour de force. I sat in one of the new S class recently and it is huge, and wonderful.
lol….this luxury speed yacht is less than a 1/2″ shorter in wheelbase than my old GMC family beater/camping van with the extended wheelbase…sick.
It is sick, Nick!
I had a Porsche Cayman S a few weeks prior. It was – just barely – quicker.
“Wow” indeed! The pinnacle of current luxury automotive art and technology.
Obviously, this car is viewed with a “cost is no object” perspective.
If I could purchase with that mindset, there is only one thing that might prevent me from buying the S63 version of this car…..it’s limousine length.
This is a car I’d want to drive myself. I’m just concerned that the stretched wheelbase would make it too bulky to extract maximum fun out of driving it.
Believe it or not, the thing is easy to drive. Excellent sight lines/visibility – and the proportions are not awkward. Add to this physics-defying athleticism.
The designers’ brilliance shows through once again!
OK Eric, if you say it is “easy to drive,” I’ll believe you. Because I “want” to believe it. Because I’d love to daily drive a mega luxury car with that much power. 🙂
More than just easy – a delight!
I (cue Dr. Eeevuhl) freakin’ love this car….
I don’t think the “small” 21-gallon tank is much of a concern. I get 13 in the city and 17-18 on the highway and have a 23-gallon tank, and it lasts longer than I can behind the wheel.
Last Sunday I did Austin to Dallas on half a tank.
Ah, but if you drive like I do….
Chiph, not in a hurry were you?
There’s a variety of road conditions on the way. I started off with an excellent toll road that had a 75 mph limit. Then 3-lane interstate with a 70 mph limit. And then about 120 miles of Detroit-grade been-under-construction-for-30-years interstate with 60 & 65 mph limits.
Heavy rain, and the poor (really poor!) condition of said road meant that I was doing 50-55 mph in places.
Sounds like Interstate 35. It’s an awful road. Should have been widened to 3 lanes each way 30 years ago. In 1988, I took a trip from Fort Worth to Corpus Christi on 35 and 37. I had to stop in Austin after 6 hours of driving. Trip should have taken 3. The road was absolutely horrendous (except for 37) the whole way. Road construction cones, slow driving, potholes, and terrible drivers. I bet today, it is about twice as bad.