Genuinely surprising moments can be hard to find in new cars.
So when the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class automatically slowed down for a junction and huge blue arrows appeared above the road I needed to turn onto, it took a moment to understand what just happened.
There is more to high-end luxury cars than soft leather, quietly powerful engines and plush suspension.
Part of the appeal surrounds being among the first to experience technology that will filter down to cheaper models in coming years. Another part is the elimination of irritating hassles or annoyances that can put a wrinkle in your day.
The augmented reality head-up display and smart cruise control prevented a time-sapping, unnecessary detour in a way no other car can currently match. Clever and convenient, it’s the sort of stuff that encourages people to hand over a quarter of a million dollars for a new car.
Priced from $240,700 plus on-road costs (about $258,000 drive-away), the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class sits at the apex of a distinguished range.
A byword for luxury, innovation and safety, a new S-Class usually heralds the introduction of tech never seen before.
In this case, we have the enormous augmented reality head-up display, which builds on similar tech found in the dashboards of cheaper models. Long-wheelbase versions priced $24,000 upstream have forward-facing airbags for the back seats, promising to make the S-Class the safest car on the road.
Some of the tech is obvious, such as Tesla-like pop-out doorhandles that look sleek and improve the Benz’s aerodynamic profile.
Others elements work like a first-rate personal assistant to subtly anticipate a driver’s needs. The car automatically retracts its rear sunshade if you look over your shoulder when reversing. It illuminates the passenger side if you reach for something there after dark.
As with many cars, the S-Class has driver fatigue detection systems. Some machines sense jerky steering inputs and take into account how long you’ve been driving. Mercedes goes much further, by considering the time of day, watching your face for signs of drowsiness and communicating with wearable fitness devices to understand how much sleep you had before getting behind the wheel.
The digital dash has convincing 3D effects made possible by eye-tracking, and the portrait-oriented OLED central tablet feels more intuitive and responsive than most infotainment systems. It replaces buttons for many features, delivering a clutter-free cabin.
BMW’s animated 360-degree parking camera system was an industry breakthrough, but the S-Class takes it to another level with beautifully rendered high-resolution imagery giving you a live view of the car’s surroundings.
Then there are classic luxury features such as heated and cooled seats with a “hot stone massage” function, head restraints with impossibly soft down-filled pillows and a fanatical devotion to the elimination of wind and road noise.
Adaptive air suspension does a brilliant job of ironing out bumps and we’re not sorry to see gimmicky camera-based road-scanning systems dropped for the first batch of cars. The Mercedes isolates you from bumps yet seems to shrink around you in corners. And that’s without optional all-wheel-steering intended to make it more manoeuvrable than before.
You also have the syrupy-smooth refinement of an in-line six-cylinder petrol engine that uses 8.2L/100km to make 270kW and 500Nm. Mercedes’ 3.0-litre engine is the only one available for now, delivering a 5.1 second dash to 100km/h with the help of 16kW and 250Nm of mild hybrid assistance. The conventional nine-speed automatic transmission is a gem — imperceptibly smooth on takeoff, with an uncanny knack for picking the right gear on the road.
Expect frugal plug-in hybrid and athletic V8 versions to follow in coming months, but not a successor to the V12-powered S65 AMG. An electric Mercedes-Benz EQS due next year could be its closest competition.
Opulent, refined and clever, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class offers a glimpse at the future of motoring.
MERCEDES-BENZ S-CLASS VITALS
Price: About $258,000 drive-away
Engine: 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder turbo, 270kW/500Nm
Warranty/servicing: 5-year/unlimited km, $3400 for 3 years
Safety: Not rated, 10 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, traffic jam assistance, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert
Cargo: 550 litres
Spare: Inflator kit