This has ranged from the relatively simple combined indicator and wiper stalk of the 1960s to voice-activated controls introduced in the 1990s. And the latest S-class, revealed during a top-level briefing in Stuttgart, shows the pace of technological change is not slowing. If anything, it is speeding up.
While the looks of the new S-class draw on design inspiration from as early as the 1920s the entire car exudes modernity, particularly at the front end where on top-spec models it bristles with cameras, radar housings and other hi-tech instruments.
Fleet NewsNet was invited to Mercedes-Benz’s Stuttgart HQ to find out what James Bond-esque innovations have been included on the new car.
NUMEROUS safety systems are available including Brake Assist with radar and the latest generation of Pre-Safe. Brake Assist Plus registers vehicles ahead with an in-built radar and warns if the gap is too small, or the closing speed too high. If it decides a collision is imminent, it works out the ideal braking assistance to add to the human input in order to stop the car. Pre-Safe prepares for the event by tensioning seatbelts, inflating air cushions and generally bracing for impact.
PERHAPS the most impressive feature is Night View Assist. Using infra-red night vision, it extends a driver’s view to more than 150 metres on low beam, helping spot dangers in the dark such as pedestrians or suicidal hedgehogs.
INSIDE, the blend of old and new continues with traditional comfort enhanced, while technology is presented in a user-friendly way. While the instrument panel looks the same as any other car, most of it is an LCD screen which normally displays the speedo, but switches to show the road ahead when the infra-red switch is pressed.
MOST major controls can be operated using a button on the transmission tunnel which is similar to systems created by Audi and BMW.
Called Comand, it is linked to a screen which has moved up to be parallel to the main instrument panel, mainly due to new European safety legislation designed to keep drivers’ eyes on the road.
Some of the systems, such as satellite navigation, can also be operated and adjusted from the steering wheel-mounted buttons, with key messages from Comand appearing on the screen in front of the driver.
In the UK, the S-class will have a hard-drive based satellite navigation system as standard, which promises to be much faster than CD or DVD-based systems.
TO reflect the fact that the E-class has become larger, the S-class grows too, with a choice of two body lengths – 5,076mm or a long-wheelbase of 5,206mm – a rise of 33mm and 43mm respectively.
The wheelbase itself is up 70mm or 80mm to 3,035mm or 3,165mm, while the body is 16mm wider and 29mm higher than before. Boot space rises by 60 litres to 560 litres.
POWER will come from four engines. Petrol units are an S350 with a 272bhp 3.5-litre V6, an S500 with a 5.5-litre 388bhp V8 and the twin-turbo 5.5-litre V12 S600 with 517bhp. The diesel S320 CDI will be a modified version of the V6 engine in the E-class, CLK and C-class, offering 231bhp. Power will be transferred through a seven-speed automatic gearbox which is operated by a steering column lever.
THE current S-class is priced from £47,500 to more than £145,000, but indications are that because of an increase in equipment levels, prices might rise by up to 8%. That means an entry-level price of more than £51,000, around £3,000 above the cheapest offerings from BMW and Audi and more than £10,000 above the Jaguar XJ6. With the advent of the CLS coupe/saloon and the R-class MPV, the S-class is being moved into even more rarified territory.