There’s been a lot of talk, lately, about autonomous cars and, by some estimates, we might soon be stumbling out in the morning, letting our sedans or SUVs handle the morning commute while we slip in a few extra minutes of sleep.
Or so say the high-tech prognosticators. You’ll get a sense of what’s in store by driving the new 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan which, “is paving the way towards autonomous driving,” suggests Dieter Zetsche, the Mercedes brand boss and CEO of parent Daimler AG. This traditional benchmark for the premium luxury segment is loaded with so much new technology it required a 104-page press release to explain it all to journalists. That includes a new radar-guided system that can bring the sedan to a complete halt if a pedestrian steps into your path and another system designed to reduce injuries if its “sensor fusion” technology detects the likelihood that the big Benz will be rear-ended.
But the new S-Class is more than just a high-tech showpiece. The updated 2014 model’s design is more refined than the outgoing sedan’s, with distinctive LED headlamps and a string of diamond-like LED running lamps that flow from grille to fender. It’s just short of too much bling, with just the right sense of balance and prestige without having the bloated feel of S-Class models past.
The design is more aerodynamic and that translates into improved fuel economy despite the 6 percent increase in horsepower, to 449, with the S550 (starting at $92,900). That’s just one of the variants Mercedes plans to offer. Along with the next-generation AMG performance model, the maker even has a high-mileage plug-in hybrid coming.
Which gets us back to technology, something you can hardly avoid in describing a vehicle that has 300 LEDs in the interior alone, plus 56 in each headlamp and another 25 in each tail light. It may seem like an extreme example of Teutonic engineering but Zetsche and company want you to believe there’s also a bit of magic in the new 2014 S-Class, particularly if you opt for the new Magic Body Control suspension. The system relies on a stereoscopic camera on the rearview mirror to scan the road ahead and instantly adjust the way the suspension performs. It can make all but the worst potholes, ruts and speed bumps vanish.
Even backseat passengers will find plenty to appreciate, from the next-generation mbrace infotainment system to the optional business jet-style seats with their built-in “hot stone” massage function.
If there’s one potential downside, it’s a question of whether S-Class buyers will figure out all those features. But there seems little doubt that the 2014 Mercedes S-Class will again set the benchmark that competitors will be struggling to match.