MUSKOKA, Ont.: So what’s the best car in the world?
That’s a question I’ve been asked from time to time when people learn that I’m an automotive journalist.
It’s a tough one to answer, but Mercedes-Benz is staking claim to that title with its flagship S-Class sedan.
And even in competition with the likes of luxury leaders like the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS, Jaguar XJ and the newest superstar, the Tesla model S, it would be hard to vote against the S-Class after driving the next generation 2014 S550 4MATIC from Toronto up to cottage country north of the city.
This is a car that just exudes luxury and one that is equally at home self-driven or chauffeur-driven, like it is in many parts of the world.
Either way, sit back and enjoy the ride because it is as comfortable and enjoyable as any vehicle on the planet. And this newest version is chock full of so many techno goodies it will make your head spin.
Design-wise, the S-Class is attractive and aerodynamic, but not in a classic head turning way like many luxury sports cars on the market. Understated elegance is the way many super-rich sedan buyers like it to be— they want to drive under the radar, so to speak.
And talking about aerodynamics, the new S-Class has an amazing coefficient of drag of 0.24, best of any luxury sedan out there and second only of the new Mercedes CLA with a CD of 0.22.
Set to arrive in Canada this November, Mercedes-Benz Canada will be offering only one model of the 2014 S-Class on these shores, the S550 4MATIC in both standard- and long-wheelbase versions. Later on, an S63 AMG 4MATIC will join the fleet.
Other variants will be available in Europe and elsewhere in the world, but Mercedes-Benz Canada has decided to go only with the permanent all-wheel driver version here because of the inclement weather most parts of Canada experience in the winter months.
Only one powertrain will be available in the S550, a 32-valve DOHC 4.7-litre V8 with twin turbos, producing 449 hp and 516 lb/ft of torque. It is matched with a 7G-tronic Plus automatic transmission. This combination will take the car from 0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz.
With so much technology on this car, it’s tough to know where to start to tell you about it.
But the one new feature that most people will want to know about is an optional high-tech cruise control system called Distronic Plus with Steering Assist. In effect, the car can drive itself for short periods of time using information from a 3D stereo camera and radar sensors around the car.
Steer Assist automatically keeps the car in the middle of its lane on straight roads and minor bends if lane markings are clearly visible.
The system detects if the driver’s hands are removed from the steering wheel and it emits a warning and deactivates the steering control if the situation warrants it. It will steer the car for up to 10 seconds.
This is just one of a multitude of features that make up what Mercedes-Benz calls Intelligent Drive. The aim is to prevent accidents by detecting and warning against danger through systems that support the driver.
Lane departure warning systems have been around for a while, but the S-Class goes a step further with Active Lane Keeping Assist that prevents the driver from inadvertently crossing a broken line if there is risk of a collision by applying braking to one side of the vehicle to pull it back in its lane.
Also tied into this comprehensive safety net is an emergency braking system that even keeps track of cross traffic in front and also pedestrians and a night vision system that detects both pedestrians and animals in unlit areas.
There’s even a standard feature called Attention Assist that analyzes driving behaviour and steering movements to detect hints of drowsiness. It then displays a coffee cup symbol on the instrument cluster and as well as an audible warning.
For ease of parking in tight spots, a parking assist program is standard on S-Class to both find a suitable parking spot and also help you park the car.
During the press launch, we sampled most of these programs and more and just when you thought you were finished, the engineers had something else new to show off. Much of it is mind-boggling stuff.
But technology is only a small part of what takes the S-Class to the top of the luxury sedan mountain. Interior fit and finish is superb as both driver and passenger are coddled in the lap of luxury with plush leather upholstery, beautiful wood trim, and even an interior air balance package with filtration, ionization and fragrance diffuser to keep the cabin air fresh.
There is even what they call a Warmth and Comfort Package available that features heated door panels, arm rests, steering wheel and seats to help us get through our cold winter days here. Of course, the seats are cooled too in the warm weather.
These seats are as comfortable as you’ll find anywhere and Mercedes-Benz even offers a hot stone massage feature. In the rear, you can flip up a footrest and recline for a nap, all the while enjoying a back massage.
The centre of the dash features one of two 12.3-inch high-resolution colour screens for the infotainment system and instrument cluster. Of course, a car of this caliber must have a sound system to match and the top-end Burmester sound system is up to the task.
In an automotive first, the new S-Class had done away with all ordinary lights, it’s all LED both inside and out for 2014.
We’ll talk more about the ride, handling and driving dynamics when we get a chance to do a more thorough road test later in the year.
But suffice it to say may be the quietest, most comfortable and most luxurious car available today and even with more power than ever before, Mercedes-Benz engineers say they have managed to improve fuel economy over this year’s model.
With all this, the prices have been reduced with the 2014 S550 4MATIC standard wheelbase starting at $106,600 (down from the current $119,400) and the long wheelbase at $115,200 (down from $128,500).
They will be available at dealers here starting in November.
Mercedes-Benz S550 4MATIC 2014
Body Style: full-size premium luxury sedan.
Drive Method: front engine, permanent all-wheel-drive.
Engine: DOHC 32-valve V8 with twin turbochargers (449 hp, 516 lb/ft of torque) with seven-speed automatic transmission.
Luggage Capacity: 530 litres.
Fuel Economy: NA
Price: S500 4MATIC standard wheelbase $106,600, long wheelbase $115,200.
Web Site: www.mercedes-benz.ca