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Things to Know about the New S-Class

The first Mercedes S-Class had its run from 1972 to 1980. This year brings the sixth generation. They didn’t want to create just another luxury car. They wanted to create the contemporary luxury car.

The Car

“Rather than being about safety or aesthetics, power or efficiency, comfort or dynamism, our aspirations were ‘the best or nothing’ in every respect. No other car stands for the Mercedes-Benz brand promise more than the S-Class.”—Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.

Without question, the Mercedes S-Class, given that Daimler has taken the über-lux Maybach out of production, is the top-of-the-line vehicle for the company. With the development of the new S-Class, the company has set a vast cadre of designers and engineers to work on creating and crafting a car that essentially encompasses much of what the organization knows about automotive technology at the highest levels.


On Design

“The sophisticated design of the S-Class has always been an expression of luxury and automotive grandeur of its era. And our new S-Class continues this tradition. With its classic architecture and flowing silhouette, it is a modern embodiment of sensual clarity. The design draws a line from the sophisticated, progressive design idiom to the classic elegance of our 1930s cars—intelligence that speaks to the emotions. Stylish sportiness and sensual forms in synthesis with timeless clarity and effortless superiority make the S-Class a true design icon.”—Gorden Wagener, vice president Design, Daimler AG

The designers went to work on developing a car that has presence without ostentation. Part of the presence can be found in the front of the car, where the grille is larger and more vertical in orientation, indicating a sense of pride. The subtlety is exemplified around back, where the backlight is rounded and cuts into the C-pillars, consequently creating a coupe-like appearance. The tail lights are integrated into the body.


On Lighting

According to Mercedes, the S-Class is the first vehicle in the world without a single light bulb. Not one. Not for exterior lighting. Not in the cabin. Not even in the trunk. It is all-LED, all-locations. The tail lamps each have up to 35 LEDs (and there are four more for each fog lamp). The headlamps have up to 56 LEDs.

A word about those tail lamps. They have multi-level functionality. This means that their brightness varies, depending on ambient conditions. For example, when the brakes are applied at night, there is a dimming of the lights so that they aren’t too bright for the driver in the car behind.

Which then gets to the head lamps. There is a function—not available in the U.S. market yet, due to regulatory issues—called “Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus.” What this means is that the highbeams can be turned on and left on. While this provides the driver with a great view of what’s ahead in the dark (and more about the dark in a moment), it can be problematic for driver’s of on-coming cars.

But the S-Class has a stereo multipur-pose camera that is located near the rearview mirror. It has a range of 500 m, and of that distance, there is 3D capability for approximately 50 m. The camera detects vehicles ahead, using an image-recognition algorithm. It finds both on-coming and foregoing vehicles. Then the system activates what are essentially shades so that the portions of the bright light that would cause problems for the drivers ahead are masked in those drivers’ views. The system will activate low beams under certain conditions, such as when the S-Class is driving into a curve, and there are multiple vehicles ahead. Headlamps are also dimmed to prevent reflected glare from road signs.

Finally, on the interior of the vehicle, there are approximately 300 LEDs.

Certainly, one rationale for the use of LEDs, particularly on the exterior, is that they allow the creation of daytime running lights that have a striking, sig-nature appearance. But there is another, arguably more important, reason why LEDs are used. They are more energy efficient. That is, an LED low-beam requires 34 W to generate the same light output as a xenon lamp requiring 84 W or a halogen needing 120 W.


Sensor Fusion

About driving in the dark in the S-Class. Supplementing that massive LED array is the company’s third-generation night-vision system, “Night View Assist Plus.” This system uses both long- and short-range infrared cameras (the former is mounted in the grille, the latter by the rear view mirror); they detect animals up to 100 m away and pedestrians up to 160 m away. This occurs (1) when it is dark and (2) the car is traveling at speeds over 60 km/h.

What happens then is that the instrument cluster transforms from an instrument cluster to a display showing a grayscale image of what’s ahead, with the pedestrians or animals highlighted in red. (Should the system calculate that it is a person, then there is a flashing of the headlamps to alert him or her; this doesn’t happen if it is an animal because the flashing might have untoward consequences.)

(The reason that the instrument cluster can transform into a screen is because in lieu of physical gauges and dials, the instruments are digital. The S-Class has two high-resolution TFT color displays in an 8:3 format and with a screen diagonal of 12.3 in. The one on the left, in front of the driver, ordinarily shows the relevant gauges; the one on the right, which is central on the instrument panel, is used for infotainment and control settings.)

In addition to these infrared sensors and the previously mentioned stereo camera, there is a wide array of other sensors. There are two short-range radar sensors in the front bumper and in the sides of the rear bumper. They have a range of 30 m and a beam angle of 80°. There is a long-range radar at the front, which has a range of 200 m and a beam angle of 18°; it also has a medium-range capability of 60 m and 60°. And in the back there is a multimode radar that offers an 80° beam angle at 30 m and a 16° angle at 80 m.

There are 12 ultrasonic sensors: four in the front, four in the back, four on the sides.

There are four cameras that are coordi-nated so that they provide a 360° view around the car.

All of these are necessary because there are a multitude of functions that the S-Class offers, where the various sensors provide inputs to other systems in the vehicle. For example, there is ROAD SURFACE SCAN (Mercedes uses all-caps) that uses the stereo camera to look at the surface of the road ahead; when bumps are detected, then MAGIC BODY CONTROL is activated, setting up the suspension system to accommodate them. There is DISTRONIC PLUS—adaptive cruise-control, which uses radar—that is now available with Steering Assist and Stop&Go Pilot (Mercedes left out the spaces). In this setup, the stereo camera comes into play. It helps make adjustments to the steering torque when traveling on a straight road or where there are slight curves; it reads the road lines or a vehicle traveling ahead for its directional reckoning. In congested situations, when road markings are not visible, the car ahead is used for guidance.

Speaking of congested conditions, this leads to BAS PLUS and PRE-SAFE Brake. These systems use both the stereo camera and radar sensors to not only provide autonomous braking in the event that it is calculated that the car in front is going to be rear-ended (it can prevent collisions at speeds up to 50 km/h), but there is pedestrian detection included as well. The driver is given both visual and acoustic warnings to get on the brakes; if the brakes are applied but not sufficient to prevent a collision, there is boosting all the way up to full braking. 


Seating Experience

A luxury car is primarily about the inside and the amenities than it is about the exterior or even the structure.

(But on the subjects of the interior and the structure, it is worth noting that the skin of the car is aluminum, including its roof, which is the first application of an aluminum roof at Mercedes. The passenger cell is high-strength-steel intensive. The S-Class has a torsional stiffness of 40.5 kNm/degree, which is a significant improvement vis-à-vis the W221 model, its predecessor, which measures 27.5 kNm/degree.)

Mercedes makes its own seats. There are about 600 people in a plant in Böblingen, Germany, who, on a two-shift basis, produce seats for the S-Class and the E-Class. The S-Class must keep them busy because there are five different rear seat variants alone. One of those seats, the Executive, has a backrest that reclines up to 43.5° and features an adjustable calf support. When the Executive seat is specified, the front passenger’s seat is a folding “chauffer seat,” meaning that it tips forward toward the front of the car and has a heel rest on its back surface for the person in the Executive seat.

Naturally, seats are heated and cooled. Cooling is done is a different manner than is typical for seats: when the ventilation system is first activated, fans in the seat pull air down from the seat surface, thereby more quickly removing heat from the hotter surface. After about four minutes, the fans reverse and blow cool air through the seat surface.

There is what is said to be a “world’s first”: an ENERGIZING massage function. Again, there are luxury cars with a massage function. But here there is a difference. There are 14 individually actuated air cushions in the backrest and an integrated warming function. The air cushions can simulate a “hot stone” massage.


Making It

This, the sixth-generation S-Class, is exclusively produced at the Mercedes 

plant in Sindelfingen. The last-generation model went into production there in 2005, and since then more than 500,000 vehicles have been produced.

The U.S. market is getting the S550 and S550 4MATIC vehicles that have the long wheelbase (124.6 in.) and a 455-hp, 4.6-liter, direct-injected, twin-turbocharged V8. However, there is not only a short-wheelbase version (119.5 in.), but a variety of other powertrains, including a 3.0-liter V6 diesel, a diesel hybrid, and a gasoline hybrid. Meaning that with the wide range of options, to say nothing of vehicle configuration, the people at Sindelfingen are dealing with a considerable amount of build possibilities.

Recognizing this, Daimler has invested a considerable amount of money in the plant 
for the S-Class, as in € 350 million for the body shop, € 130 million for stamping, and € 70 million for assembly.