Trip diary: how Mercedes launches a new S-class

Published: 20 May 2013

Hamburg is a long way to go to poke around a new car and not drive it, but when it's a new Mercedes S-class, it's worth the trek, if only to see the tech that'll be filtering down to Golfs and Fiestas over the next decade. As it turned out, I saw rather more than just that…

6.45am The black Mercedes S350 L Bluetec arrives outside home to waft me down to Heathrow: the first jaunt of a journey to meet the new S-class in Hamburg. Time to go…

6.50am The rear seat recliner is set just so, and the warmers quickly turned down after underestimating their furnace-like potency.

The new S-class has more head-, shoulder-, elbow-, knee- and legroom than the current one. I'm worried I'll get lost inside it. This outgoing model already feels vast. The rear seat is also strangely unsupportive – I have to make quite an effort to sit upright through turns.

7.00am I've just remembered the sideboard-like armrest and folded it down. Rear seat supportiveness issues solved. No massage controls in this model – a pity, purely for the reasons of thorough product testing, you understand…

My driver for the morning, Mark, has never driven an S-class. As we thunder down the outside lane of the A1M towards Heathrow, it's fair to say he's settled in well. The digital speedo is obscured but we're making excellent progress in the outside lane and the 3.0-litre V6 is only just above idle, at 1500 rpm.

The high-speed ride in this car is obscenely smooth. This AMG Sport version wears big 20in rims, but manages to float over motorway imperfections bumps beautifully. I've noticed a Sport damper button on the dashboard just east of the centre nav screen. Normally when I'm driving, toggles like than get pushed straightaway, but Mark is pleasingly ignoring it today.

I've long thought the highest compliment you can pay a driver (and a luxury car) is to fall asleep as a passenger. This S-class is snore-inducing – in a good way. Will the new one be night and day better, or over-complicated? I'm looking forward to finding out.

9.30am I'm deposited at the door of Terminal Five, dead on schedule and impressed by the completeness of the outgoing S-class. Time for the usual dignity-shredding patdown at security.

12.00pm I'm sat next to Mercedes-Benz UK's communications director Rob Halloway on the outbound flight. He's reading a list of FAQs on the new S-class. I'm pointed to one note: "How does the S-class's air fragrance system differ from that offered in Citroens?" A: "Mainly in the quality of the smell."

1.30pm (German time) Just had quite a different ride in the back of an S-class to the serene cruise this morning. Our transfer from Hamburg airport to the hotel is in a high-spec S500 4Matic, driven by a frustrated DTM-wannabe racer with the bit between his teeth and 435bhp under his right foot. At least this model has cooled, massage seats and dubious German daytime TV in the headrests to distract from the breakneck pace across downtown Hamburg.

One commonality between both S-classes so far today: it just doesn't feel like a dated car. The design, refinement and fit/finish all feel spot-on. The W221 still feels like a car that'd give a Jaguar XJ a right run for it's money in the limo class stakes, or an Audi A8 and BMW 7-series. Can the new one really top this stalwart?

4.00pm We arrive (via Merc Viano power) at tonight's venue: the Airbus factory in Hamburg. It appears the 15,000 staff has been given the night off so we can come and nose around. There's a tour of the facility, some mind-boggling A380 super-jumbo stats sprinkled in. Did you know its tailfin is the size of a regular airliner's wing, and is made of carbonfibre?

British Airways' first A380 is lurking around, ready for delivery. It's cost BA a cool £265m. The scale of the whole place is fascinating. Mercedes is in serious jeopardy of having the second most impressively engineered machine here tonight.

5.45pm Everyone is talking in hushed tones about the presence of a gentleman in a battered red baseball cap. Niki Lauda is here. Wonder if he's got any tickets to RUSH going spare?

6.00pm Thirteen hours after waking up, it's time to finally hear the speeches, endure the build-up, and see the new S-class in a purpose-built auditorium. At its climax the whole back wall concertinas apart to reveal the entire Merc range forming a guard of honour for the new S. There's still an almighty thunderstorm raging overhead, challenging the Hamburg symphony orchestra for dramatic volume.

And who should step out from the all-important rear seat? Yep. Alicia Keys. Must remember to check the 'R&B goddess TRONIC PLUS' option in the accessories list.

8.00pm Presentations over, the floor is open to the cars, but I'm off to collar the suits for some juicy interviews.

8.30pm The crowds of journalists quickly disperse at the promise of free food. And ten-star grub at that: Mercedes hired five chefs with two Michelin stars each to create an S-class inspired menu for the evening. This means it’s time to clamber inside the new S-class for some first impressions...

8.45pm Does the W222 S-class feel like a big step on from the current car inside? Yes. There's an almost complete and conspicuous absence of plastic – welcome to the Rolls Phantom-like sense of occasion. The hot stone massage feature is wonderful, though I'm still not sold on the fragrance diffuser gadget. Sports scent? Nightlife scent? No thanks, I'll just have new car smell please.

These are the new S-class's all seeing eye cameras.

 

Nerd point: on non-AMG Sport trim models, you don't get proper exhaust outlets, rather some trim that hints at the idea. The real pipes are hidden right under here.

Some joker appears to have fitted the engine start button upside down in one of the show cars. Heads will no doubt roll for this...

 

9.15am Back in a Viano for the airport run. The only portion of the trip not covered by Mercedes power was the flight – carried by Rolls-Royce engines. The very brand that helped kill Maybach. Ironic…

12.30pm (UK time) The final furlong: a 100-mile schlep home in the outgoing S-class. There's certainly less opulence about it, but it's still a mighty thing. Mercedes reckons the new car is lighter, stronger, faster, greener, cleaner, safer, quieter, better to drive and more comfortable. Now there's a promise.

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