Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Best Car in the World?

In 2010, BMW overtook Mercedes Benz as the best selling luxury car manufacturer in India for the first time. But Mercedes has no intention of going quietly into the night. Their line-up now features the all-new E Class, as well as the newly Introduced 7-seat GL SUV. But leading the charge is a refreshed, and lengthened, flagship 8 500L.

The wheelbase of the 8 500 has been stretched by 13 centimeters to ensure that corporate honchos and / or world leaders in the back aren't left wanting for leg room. However, BMW stretched its 7 series by one centimeter more, 14 to be precise, in the 750Li. 80 let's delve a little deeper, shall we - to see if the 8 500L can once again profess to be the 'best car in the world,' and reclaim the top spot on the sales charts for the coveted three-pointed star?

From the outside
The current generation S class was introduced in 2005-in India in 2006-and preceded the svelte W220, which, in appearance, was the epitome of understated elegance. The W221 grew to be far more aggressive and shapely, while finding a happy medium between the tank-like S class of yesteryear and the sleek Mercs of today. In 2009, Mercedes tinkered with the S Class in an effort to bring its appearance up-to-date by adding an array of now customary LED lights-both front and rear.

The front end looks more purposeful with added chrome and a redesigned bumper, as well as a more pointed edge. At the rear, this Mercedes flagship wears its S 500 badge proudly. It also has a massive set of rectangular dual exhausts that hint at the serious firepower under hood. The design, on the whole, has just the right combination of curves and creases-the end result is a car hat looks a dominant force going down the road, which of course, is the point.

From the inside
At the recent launch of the S sooL, Dr. Wilfried Aulbur, MD & CEO, Mercedes Benz India, pointed out that this particular model is the most expensive car ever made in India, as it's being carefully assembled at their new state-of-the-art facility in Pune - unlike its Bavarian compatriot, which comes in fully assembled as a CBU. And you need only set one foot inside the cabin of the S 500 to see that it is, indeed, money well spent. In fact, even as you open the doors, you notice the individual shockers in each door to ensure that you don't expend any more energy than absolutely necessary to open and close the soft-close-doors - should your chauffeur be slow to react for some godforsaken reason.

Once inside, there's acres of room in the rear, and every surface has a quality feel to it - even the buttons look decidedly decorative, and feel just as good. There was a time in the recent past, during the days of the Daimler-Chrysler merger, when you could in fact find fault with certain pieces of interior trim in a Mercedes - even in an S Class. But such asuggestion is unequivocally banished into the dusty pages of the history books by the current models.

It's eerily silent in the cabin - ideally suited, I suppose, to plan strategy for your next corporate takeover and / or military coup, depending on your line of work. This car is meant to soothe its occupants. In fact, legend has it that Mercedes actually strapped heart rate monitors onto occupants of the S Class, as well as cars made by rival manufacturers, in an attempt to prove that the heart rate of those in the S Class was, on average, roughly five beats-per-minutes less than that of people in other cars.

And it's the little touches that achieve this, such as seat massagers that truly provide the illusion that there are a team of masseurs hiding in the seatback, and head rests that are so soft and fluffy that they truly cradle your head - so that you can do your best thinking presumably. And while it was very business-like in the all-black interior of our test car, the panorama roof was brilliant, and it made the already expansive interior feel even bigger. However, if you are feelingbusinesslike, there are exquisitely moulded walnut tray tables that fold out of the seat backs. On the contrary, if you'd like some R&R, simply recline your seat, and pull out a bottle of your favourite beverage from the fridge in the back - accessed from in between the rear seats.

You can also watch a DVD on the two screens mounted on the back of the front headrests for added entertainment. In fact, even the front passenger can watch a DVD while the car's on the move - courtesy of 'Splitview' technology incorporated onto the 8-inch high-definition TFT screen in the center console, which allows the driver to view vehicle functions from his vantage point, while, at the same time, the front passenger can watch a movie from his. You also get a now customary USB input in the glove box that allows iPod connectivity quiteeasily - unlike in the 7 series, which requires a proprietary cable from BMW. The Harman Kardon Logie-r surround sound system delivers eoo-watts of absolutely astonishing sound quality from its 14 speakers for your choice of media, whichcan range from an iPod, USB stick, SD card, to CD / DVD, or even 2,500 of your favourite tunes in MP3 or WMA format saved in a 7.2 GB in-built hard disc.

And for the driver, there's the Command system that navigates through vehicle functions via a screen on the center console, as well as a multi function steering wheel that controls a myriad of other functions, including Bluetooth connectivity - all of which is displayed on the instrument cluster in direct view of the driver. In order to display all the requisite information, the S Class has a digital speedometer projected on an LCD screen - complete with faux speedo needle. The good thing is that all these various bits of technology work extremely well together to keep you both well informed and relaxed at the same time. Oh, and you can also change the colour of the mood lighting in the car to suit your present disposition - ranging from Solar (yellow), Polar (blue), To natural (white).
On the road

The S 500 doesn't feel propelled so much by an engine, as it does by an invisible force. The 5.4 litre V8 that produces 370 horsepower is sublime-as is the 7-speed automatic transmission to which it's mated. The engine really is incredible smooth-it feels exactly the same at 1500 rpm as it does at 6500. The gearbox, meanwhile, has similar qualities, as shifts are instant and indistinguishable. That being said, there's nothing subtle about how the S class thunders down the road-leaving on-lookers and passengers in absolute disbelief that something this large can move quite so swiftly.

The S 500 gives up about 40 horsepower to the BMW 745Li, and while you do feel the deficit on occasion, it's only because the motor in the BMW appeared to be stolen from a rocket launcher. Nevertheless, Mercedes claim a 0-100 km/h acceleration time of, brace yourself, 5.4 seconds! Step on the acceleration pedal, and the whole car shrinks around you in a manner that you don't quite expect. If you imagine that the current S class will feel large and lumbering to drive, you're in for either a rude shock or a pleasant surprise-depending on your point of view.

Nevertheless, the rate of progress you can achieve in this car is staggering.150km\h is achieved in the smallest of open spaces with consummate ease-in case you're running late for a board meeting that is, And, based on how far behind schedule you really are, you can choose between three driving models-comfort, sport, and manual. Comfort, as the name suggests, ensures that engine and suspension are ideally suited to waft you from place-to-place. Sport mode, on the other hand, readies the suspension for some hooliganism, and the engine revs considerably freeier as well. In manual mode, you can change gears via paddles mounted behind the steering, which means you can hold higher revs in lower gears and burn a barrel or two of oil quicker than in a jet plane. Of course, since the S Class is engineered in Germany, these different engine and chassis setting actually do work.

The Active Body control courtesy of the air suspension ensures that the car remains defiantly flat through the corners. In fact, you can even turn off the traction control and have a little fun-in a two-tone S Class! Go into a corner too fast, and the car will understeer, but not in a way that's recalcitrant. Instead, the chassis communicates what it's doing in an effort to keep the driver informed of the physics defying feat that's being attempted. And if you're a little more clever, you can use the power being driven to the rear wheels to enjoy lurid power slides-I use the term lurid loosely of course, since the traction control cuts is despite being turned off if it feels like you're having a little too much fun.

The S Class, in keeping with its pioneering spirit in terms of technology, also has a battery of technological feats, such as adaptive cruise control, which even has the ability to bring the car to a complete halt by itself, parking guidance, which is optional, but can park the car largely by itself, infrared night view assist, also optional, but useful, pre-safe, which braces for an impact if things go pear shaped, and adaptive headlights, which, of course, are fantastic. you can even manually raise the ride height if you're going over some exceptionally bad roads-of which we have plenty. The brakes and ABS are phenomenal, which goes without saying really-we did test them nonetheless.

After experiencing the S 500L,let's just say our suggestion would be to appear magnanimous, and allow the chauffeur extended paid leave.

Verdict

The competition may be treading on its toes, but you have to admit that there is something about the allure of the S Class that plays into its image of being an automotive icon, which has been carefully created over all these years. It still feels like the right car for the ruling elite. And if you're lucky enough to be able to write a check for one, you're still buying into that heritage. The 7 series BMW is by far a more serious drivers' machine - whereas the S Class does astonish you from behind the wheel, the 7 series simply blows you away.

But that also plays into the hands of the Mercedes somewhat, since being less driver oriented means that the ride comfort, and therefore rear seat comfort, in the Mercedes is unparalleled - it does seem to spoil you a little bit more than the BMW. The S Class may have become the predictable choice to demonstrate to the world that you've arrived - but it's by no means the wrong one.

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