2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
I’m riding in the backseat of the 2018 Mercedes-Benz S560 when my driver peels his hands off the wheel and glances sideways. Relying on the car’s lane guidance and adaptive cruise control systems, he allows our big sedan to drive itself through an unprotected intersection at around 60 mph. Without warning, a car emerges and crosses our path, and we come frighteningly close to slamming into its tail until the Benz suddenly jams its brakes, lets the car pass, and resumes its path.
The harrowing near-miss was staged by Mercedes-Benz on an airfield outside of Stuttgart, but the message is clear: Not only did the S560 successfully avoid a potentially fatal collision, it had the brains to calculate the car’s speed and direction, anticipate the potential impact, and apply brakes before resuming its trajectory. In all, these eye-opening simulations signal significantly sharper tech in Mercedes-Benz’s flagship sedan.
Big sedan luxury, 2.0: New nuts, bolts, and software
Not long ago, luxury flagships adhered to the simple formula of big engines and plush, amenity-laden interiors. While the new 2018 S-Class still targets optimal poshness starting at around $100,000, the mid-cycle refresh focuses on building a smarter sedan around three new engines whose model names happen to recall big Benzes of yore.
The new S450 is motivated by a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 producing 363 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque that can haul it to 60 mph in 5 seconds flat. The S560 throws back its nomenclature to the big-bore V8 era but shrinks its twin-turbocharged engine from 4.7 to 4.0 liters, which is good for 463 horsepower (a gain of 16 hp), and 516 pound-feet, yielding 60 mph in 4.5 clicks. Both models mate to nine-speed autos and are available with rear-wheel drive or a new 4Matic+ system, which, for the first time, can fully vary its front/rear torque distribution.
The new AMG S63 drops its V8 from 5.5 liters to 4.0 liters but gains twin scroll turbos that help add 26 horsepower for a total of 603, while retaining its (still stupendous) torque figure of 664 pound-feet. Together with the new 4Matic system and a nine-speed auto that swaps a torque converter for a wet startup clutch, the S63 is good for 0 to 60 mph in a supercar-like 3.4 seconds. The big daddy S65 remains mechanically unchanged, with its 6.0-liter twin-turbo V12 churning 621 horsepower and 738 pound-feet. Due to its rear-drive configuration and inherent tendency to vaporize rubber (not to mention that the only gearbox capable of handling all that twist is a seven-speed), the S65 manages 60 mph in a (still not-so-glacial) 4.2 seconds.
Look beyond the new engines and you’ll find even snazzier stuff with the S-Class electronics. Taking yet another step closer to autonomous driving, the S-Class now uses route-based speed adaption to slow for corners, junctions, roundabouts or toll booths. An active steering system can change lanes following a driver-instigated turn signal, and the aforementioned active brake assist with cross-traffic function uses a long-range radar camera and stereoscopic camera to avoid potential collisions.
Trusting the machine
Settle into the S560’s left-hand throne, and you’re quickly reminded of why the S-Class is one of the most admired – and imitated – luxury cars on the planet. The seats are supportive without hitting any particular pressure point, and that’s before you’ve even started the massage function. Ignore the new “Wellness” feature, which links climate control, seat, lighting, and five pre-set music programs with the intention of relaxing passengers; the real relaxation lies in the S-Class’s eerily zen-like insulation from wind and road noise. Squeeze the throttle, and the S560 whisks ahead swiftly and smoothly. Select “Sport” mode, and the transmission gains a bit more sharpness, holding gears longer and downshifting more eagerly.
Because the engine’s torque peak starts at a mere 2,000 rpm and carries all the way through 4,000 rpm, more aggressive driving modes are really only necessary if you’re in a hurry and don’t mind the disruption of the S-Class’s impeccable smoothness. Though Comfort is a tad innocuous and Eco is a bit toothless, either mode satisfies under most driving conditions. The suspension is pliant and easygoing, with enough body control to encourage swift driving on b-roads. While the S560 is more biased toward all-day comfort rather than out-and-out carving, our tester was equipped with the so-called Curve Tilting option, first seen on the S-Class Coupe. The feature enables the car’s air suspension dampers to lean into corners in order to reduce the perceived G-load on passengers; with up to 2.65 degrees of body lean, the S560 seems to corner completely flat, a sensation that might seem strange to those accustomed to the reassuring feel of slight body roll.