In the world of automobiles, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the final word, the period, the closing argument, the game over. In its sphere of influence, its allure is undisputed. In other car segments, competitors can argue that their model is the best. But even in a full-size luxury category populated by sublime sedans like the Jaguar XJ, the BMW 7-Series, the Audi A8 and the Lexus LS, the S is still acknowledged as the benchmark to beat.
We got a first taste of the new limousine that will ferry taipans (Lucio Tan is rumored to buy every S-Class model that comes out) and top diplomats weeks before the media and public launch. It wasn't a very thorough experience. Units are scarce, and distributor CATS Motors is still scrambling to meet the orders of people who can't wait to fork over P9.98 million to be able to park an S500 in their garage. So the silver S500 we drove was most certainly an early Christmas gift reserved for a lucky tycoon.
But our encounter was enough to confirm what doesn't need to be said. If you're looking for the best car in the world right now--a means of transport that offers an unmatched combination of comfort, luxury, performance (yes), technology and heritage--then you should drop by one of the Mercedes-Benz dealers on EDSA or in Bonifacio Global City. Or not, because if you're at this level of purchasing power, the personal numbers of CATS Motors' top management are already with your personal assistant.
For 2014, the new S-Class--like the 500,000 examples of the generation before it--ushers in technology that makes motoring safer and more pleasant. Through one of its most prominent new features, the S crosses a motoring threshold by being the first automobile that doesn't use light bulbs for illumination. Instead, it is equipped with LEDs, around 500 of them, in fact. Roughly 300 of those LEDs are used in the cabin, and they can make the interior glow in various colors to suit the owner's mood. Externally, 56 LEDs per headlight shine the way in front, and 35 LEDs per taillight let the car behind the S-Class know that it is stopping.
If the driver behind the Benz realizes belatedly that the ultimate luxury car has stopped, sensors will tell the brake lights to flash, to give the other car fair warning that an expensive accident is about to happen. This is just one of the myriad safety features Mercedes has integrated into its top model. Because built into the new S are short-range radar, ultrasonic sensors, a multipurpose camera, long-range radar, and an infrared camera.
Through these high-tech senses, the S-Class can give warnings if there's an incoming car when changing lanes, an obstruction in the form of a person or car ahead, or a risk of collision in cross-traffic (like at intersections). Via the Distronic Plus feature, the S can even match the speed of the vehicle in front, letting the chauffeur concentrate on playing ma'am or sir's classical music through the excellent Burmester sound system.
The concert-hall-level sound emanating from the premium German audio brand is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the creature comforts that the S-Class offers. The S500 that made us feel like captains of industry for a day was the extended-wheelbase variant. Cosseted in the buttery leather rear seats, with the leg supports extended and our heads buried in the rear headrest's plush pillow, we felt the sensation drown out the world outside, constantly reminding us that we had conquered that world. At least, that's what we imagine what goes on in a taipan's mind as he is transported to his next high-level meeting.
What we can easily relate to are the sensations of driving. And surprisingly, in a vehicle designed to ferry those that put the 'I' in VIP, the S500 can be driven in a fun manner. The 455hp V8 responds quickly to the leather steering wheel and the seven-speed gearbox. An astounding 700Nm of torque is available as early as 1,800rpm, giving this car athleticism that defies its majestic size. Before meeting the new S, we had presumed that the best seat in the house was the seat of power--behind the front passenger. Now we're envious of all the drivers who will get to pilot this magnificent machine.
Automotive pioneer Gottlieb Daimler, one of the people who laid the foundation for what would become Mercedes-Benz, once said, "The best or nothing." With the 2014 S-Class, that statement has never been more true.
NOTE: Get our December 2013 issue for a more comprehensive story on the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Photos by Mikko David