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FIRST CLASS - In Toronto with the new Mercedes S class


There are some things that you can’t wait to come around: Eid, Christmas, birthdays, the weekend. Obviously, we all share a little passion for the automobile and when there is an iconic new car to be unveiled I wait by my inbox for the test drive invitation.  

2013 has been a particularly good year for being behind the wheel of great cars. Two highlights for me were the new Corvette in January, a fantastic American icon, and the Range Rover Sport I recently tested. The RRS steered its way to top spot as a ‘must buy’ car. And now, set amongst beautiful Canadian countryside, I’m testing the car that the RRS knocked off the top spot - the wonderful Mercedes-Benz S Class.

I can feel it already, the S Class has got the hump with me. The Germans wrote in big bold letters on the first page of their S Class presentation - ‘The Best Car in the World’. Ooops, a few weeks ago I gave that title to the Range Rover Sport - could that be one of the shortest held titles ever? Can the big Merc overtake the Range Rover Sport after only a few months in top spot?

In motoring history the RRS is only a baby entering its second generation while the S Class has true pedigree maturing nicely into its sixth development after its birth in 1972 (Ponton was the original name in 1954 though). The S Class is a car that puts Mercedes-Benz on the map and fills order books; keeping BMW owners in the shade and is the very definition of luxury driving.

S Class is short for supreme engineering, fantastic drive and a luxury cabin. The pick of the models I’ve driven previously was the S 400 Hybrid, which gave a touch of green smugness to driving such a large vehicle. Mercedes-Benz continues to keep the green brigade happy, this time with an S 300 BlueTec Hybrid. Not much else though in terms of ground breaking technology to replace the combustion engine, but this new generation is 20% more efficient than the last and 100kg lighter.I didn’t get to drive the Hybrid this time, instead I was behind the wheel of its polar opposite: the S 500. 

My first tough decision was whether to drive or be driven, especially as this car has been designed perfectly for both. I chose to sit in the back for a spin around Toronto - not exactly a city car but the Financial District is where a car like this roams free. Toronto is unlike other major cities, most of the jams tend to be in the commuter lanes of the 401 just outside the city. In the city the traffic flows quite nicely and the S Class seemed to float up Yonge Street as I reclined in the rear. Quite literally, reclined. The rear seat behind the front passenger seat folds origami style into a chair reminiscent of a flat bed in business class. No way was I using the onboard WiFi and table for my laptop, no work was going to happen in a chair this comfortable. Turning up the magnificent Burmeister sound system and focusing the sound for my particular position in the car, where I was wrapped in leather and massaged by the chair. Outside, the car drifted along soundlessly and effortlessly, belying what was booming out on the inside. There were no Blurred Lines from my comfort zone, the only vibrations I was feeling came from the musical bass and the massage as I took in the impressive skyscrapers through the huge sunroof.

Obviously I was on a test DRIVE so after parking my Tim Horton’s medium regular in the cup holder, I jumped behind the wheel and set off to the Muskokas, two hours north of Toronto; a beautiful, scenic part of the world where affluent Canadians cottage for the weekend.Two hours is quite daunting on test drives because not all cars are made equal and two hours in some cars can need a chiropractor to enable the basic skill of walking. Not so in the S Class, thanks to the uber-comfort design being based around ‘Wellness on wheels’ to quote the brochure.

I don’t need to tell you too much about how the S Class drives, we all know it’s magnificent and is in fact the best car in the world to drive. Glorious, soft, soundless, confident, the S Class hoovered up hours of tarmac without a bump, clunk or cough. It is no wonder then that with a drive this good I could hit the motorway and take my hands off the wheel and relax as the car took me north. Where else would you put autonomous driving other than in the smoothest car in the world? However, the meanies who govern cars won’t allow manufacturers to build cars that drive themselves. To get around this Mercedes-Benz have built a car capable of driving itself... almost. I could have driven all the way north for two hours on the motorway without touching the wheel. Cruise control keeps the car at pace, if another vehicle is in my lane, the car will automatically slow down to match their speed at a safe distance. During this time if a crazy pedestrian ran out in front of me, the car would brake to try to stop before we made contact. Potentially, the theory is autonomous driving but, in reality, if I take my hands off the wheel a little warning light comes on and I must re-apply my hands to the wheel. As long as I have the faintest, feathery touch on the wheel the car will do the driving and steer me along the highway, turning with the bends. Best time to try this would be at night, when the roads are a little clearer. To add more clarity and visibility Mercedes-Benz have fitted the S Class with LED lighting, the best in the world, 40-percent more efficient than previous old fashioned bulbs. These LEDs can think for you, remaining on high beam all the time they read the road ahead and will dip automatically when needed. Not just any dip though, only in the area that is dazzling to oncoming traffic the rest of the roads stays on full illumination. If it is a pedestrian being dazzled, the LEDs will flash to alert the driver and in the case of an animal, the flashing can scare the animal so it simply dims the lights in that direction.

While health and safety won’t allow cars to drive themselves the S Class is ready for it and is just about as close as you can get. Although, after all that, why would you not want to drive such a magnificent car? Maybe you’re one of those drivers who refuse to drive in protest about all the speed bumps in the roads these days - Arabian Ranches residents I hear your plight. Everyone who detests speed humps should buy the new S Class because it makes the bumps disappear. Where you would expect the up and down jolt over a bump, the S Class, like a knife through butter, melts into the bump and out through the other side like magic, not a rumble. The new S Class is so full of gadgets that 007’s Q could take a few lessons from it. These gadgets and futuristic controls sit Mercedes- Benz firmly on the top of the luxury market.

The elephant in the room though? I have to say it, the new S Class isn’t the prettiest and I’m a little disappointed at the front view. The 2013 S Class is a cross between the fourth & fifth generations - sleek like the 4th gen but chunky like the 5th. I don’t like the retro front end, too old fashioned and a step backwards. This might cost Mercedes because while the drive is almost perfect the looks might upset a few. Comparing the new S Class to the new E Class you’ll struggle to tell them apart. I’d have liked a bit less sibling rivalry, I want people to know I’m in the S not the E.

Mercedes-Benz, with the new S Class, have taken the art of driving way beyond anything we’ve driven before though. Best Car In The World - no, it won’t do so well in a river like the Range Rover Sport. Best Car To Drive In The World - yes. Mercedes-Benz have another winner on their hands and the order books will be full.



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