Monday, February 28, 2011

Car Review: Mercedes Benz S350 Facelift W221

Model (Code / Model Year): Mercedes Benz S350 Facelift (W221 / 2010)

Engine: 3,5 liter 6-cylinder petrol engine
Transmission: 7G-tronic automatic transmission with speedtronic cruise control
Paintwork & Interior + interior trim: Obsidian black metallic; black + wood trim – dark brown eucalyptus
Optional Equipment:Ambient lighting, Sunblinds for rear side windows, Electric rear roller blind, Electric glass sunroof, Front seats heated & ventilated, Night view assist plus, Reversing camera, Xenon headlights with Intelligent Light System (ILS), COMAND APS, speed limit assist, Parktronic inc. Parking Guidance, Automatic air conditioning Thermotronic, PRE-SAFE preventive protection system, Heated windscreen wash system, CD / DVD changer, Telephone pre-wiring with hands-free facility (Bluetooth), Harman Kardon sound system, Side View Assist
Performance: 272hp / 350nm
0 to 100km/h: 7,3sec
Top speed: 250km/h (155mp/h)
Weight: 1895kg
Fuel tank (US gallons): 90 liter (21.13 US gallons)
Fuel consumption in liter / 100km (U.S. miles per gallon): 12,8 liter / 100 kilometer (13,38mpg / US)
Price (Germany): €100.000
W221 driven: S350 Facelift, S350L pre-Facelift

Mercedes Benz' S-class, the car for state leaders, captains of industry and wealthy sheiks. Once this car was unchallenged in its class, but nowadays more competition is looming around the corner. The W221, how the current s-class is called internally, has been on the market since 2005. However, in 2009 Mercedes Benz has released a facelift in order to brush up the car to take on the competitors.

1. Exterior

Mercedes Benz usually is representing a more conservative design philosophy and the S-class W221 is no exception. Compared to relative small predecessor (W220), the W221 has grown a bit more with a focus on elegant and smooth lines. When looked upon from the side and back, the fluent design of from the top to the booth is somewhat reminiscant of a coupé, but it might require a bit imagination.
After the facelift, or Mopf (Modellpflege) as it is called in Germany, the basic design has remained unchanged. As in the past few years LED-technology has been increasingly popular, the design has been updated by adding this technology to the slightly changed mirrors that have LED-indicators, headlights, rearlights and two LED-strips that serve as daytime running lights. Please view the video below for a comparison of the pre-facelift and facelift design.

2. Engine, Transmission & handling

Click to enlarge

In the S350, a 3.5 liter 6-cylinder engine produces an output of 272hp. For a car that weighs 1895kg it is sufficiently powered to have a comfortable yet rapid drive. The S350 used 12,8l / 100km while driving substantial amount (50%) on the German Autobahn at speeds above 160km/h (100mp/h). The other 50% have been drivin on limited stretches of Autobahn and local roads at speeds around 100km/h (60mp/h) or on a few miles of inner city traffic. Although the V6 lacks the power reserves of the V8, it also does not have to pay the "V8 premium" in terms of fuel consumption, range and other higher running costs, yet is has the same smooth engine (turbine?) sound and the linear power delivery. However, in terms of costs vs. comfort nothing beats the S350 CDI with the diesel engine.  A small comparison can be found in the table below.

Small sidenote, for MY2011 both the S350 and S350 CDI have received an engine upgrade. The new S350 delivers 306hp (old: 272hp) while the S350 CDI is now called the S350 BlueTEC with 258hp (old CDI: 235hp).

All the W221 are fitted to the 7G-tronic, except for the S600 and S65 AMG which use the 5G-tronic. The reason is that the 7G-tronic is unable to cope with the huge amount of torque that these engines produce. In the W221 a gear shifter on the center console is missing, a handle behind the steering wheel allow the driver to select gear, while the flappy paddles behind the steering wheel enable a manual selection of the gears.
The 7G-tronic itself is an excellent gearbox, it changes gear almost unnoticed while it shifts down when the driver is cruising along, resulting in a satisfactory average fuel consumption (compared to the 5G-tronic gearbox in the E220 CDI, where the lack of gears cause an increased fuel consumption). However, most of the transmission that are fitted to Audi's, Mercedes Benz's and BMW's are not developed by themselves, they come from the company "ZF". This means that altough the gearboxes are different because of the design and finetuning, they are of the same high level of quality and all peform similarly well.

Please visit the ZF-website for more information: click.

Handling in the W221 is as one might expect from an S-class, it is tuned towards comfort and prevails in this class over the A8 and 7-series. The suspension filters out any discomfort so that the driver feels more like he / she is flying on Alladin's magic carpet then actually driving a car. Because it the suspension is set up this way, the car feels sluggish driving in fast corners, here the car cannot hide the fact that it is a heavy limousine. Although the A8 and 7-series master this skill better, the question asked is: "should a 2 ton limousine be able to drive like a small roadster?". Personally, I do not think so, if you are looking for the handling of a small roadster then buy one. If you are looking for a comfortable travel companion, then the S-class is the partner you are looking for.

3. Interior & Technical Features

Once the vault-like door is closed, the S-class seems to shut of the every day noise and provides the driver with what seems to be an oasis of tranquility. The interior looks very elegant and is of high quality, as one might expect from a car in the luxury segment. Its main difference from the 7-series of A8 is that the interior has a more classical design, that is underlined by the classical clock in the center console. Another nice feature is the ambient lighting, it creates a relaxing atmosphere at night on the complete dashboard.

Ambient Lighting "Solar"
 Mercedes Benz introduced a new system in the S-class to operate the entertainment systen in the car laid out around the controller on the center console, which was later also adopted in the C- and E-class. With a touch (or twist) of a button it is possible to control a variety of functions, ranging from the navigation system to the massage function of the seats. Compared to BMW's iDrive system the interface looks somewhat old-fashioned, but is still relatively ease to manage and operate. Only the buttons on the steering wheel might cause some confusion, as they duplicate some functions of the COMAND-controller in the drivers tachograph.

Ambient Lighting "Polar"

There are only a few buttons left in the interior, mainly for the functions that are required the most, like the volume control of the radio and the temperature control of the airconditioning. When BMW introduced the iDrive system, this was actually what they had in mind, to have as few possible buttons remaining in the interior.
What I consider to be another major advantage over the 7-series is the placement of the buttons that control the seats, where in the 7-series the driver has to "feel" his way, in the S-class they are conveniently located at the eye-sight. The seat heating and ventilation is also controlled from this unit on the door, while the 7-series has grouped these buttons on the center console, together with the air conditioning.

Small sidenote, what I especially like is that the S-class has the most roomiest interior in its class. The center console packs a ton of things, even when a 2-liter pack of water is inside, it still can hold a bunch of other stuff. Above the mirror there is a special place for your sunglasses and the doors also can hold other items. Big plus for the S-class here!

Click to enlarge
In the technical department we find a range of options that also can be found at the competition, however in a slightly modified way. The most important are Nightvision, Distronic Plus and Side Assist.
When turning on the Nightvision, the tachograph changes to a screen in which an infrared imaged is displayed. Because on has to look down, away from the road, the see this it is quite annoying to use. Therefore this would be an option that I consider to be less valuable as the Distronic Plus. This system acts as an active cruise control and is espacially useful in urban environments and on a busy motorway.

See the video below how these systems work:

Standard on the S-class is the "Pre-safe system", which detects possible dangerous situations and prepares the car for a possible impact. It not only applies the full brake force directly, it also puts the seats in an optimal position and straps the driver into the seat by thightening the seat belt. But most important, it warns the driver with an annoying beep and small red light in the dash in order to give the driver enough time to take corrective action.

4.Optional Equipment

This section discusses (part of) the optional equipment available on the F01. Ranking from 1 (definitely a yes), 2 (nice to have, but not a minimum requirement) to 3 (not worth the money).
- Ambient lighting, rating 1
- Sunblinds for rear side windows & Electric rear roller blind, rating 2
- Electric glass sunroof, rating 1
- Front seats heated & ventilated, improve comfort massively, rating 1
- Night view assist plus, expensive but annoying to use, rating 3
- Reversing camera, nice to have but no more, rating2
- Xenon headlights with Intelligent Light System (ILS), rating 1
- COMAND APS, rating 1
- Parktronic inc. Parking Guidance, rating 1
- Automatic air conditioning Thermotronic, rating 1
- PRE-SAFE preventive protection system, every driver will make a mistake at a certain time and PRE-SAFE helps to prevent accidents or reduce their impact, however, is a standard feature, Rating 1
- CD / DVD changer, or either the MultiMedia Interface rating 1
- Telephone pre-wiring with hands-free facility (Bluetooth), rating 1
- Harman Kardon sound system, excellent soundsystem that improves the experience increasingly. Rating 1
- Side View Assist, every driver will make a mistake at a certain time, helps to prevent the faults of the driver. Rating 1

Final thoughts:

Audi and BMW are pretty much contesting on the same properties, a more sporty and technological advanced car. The Mercedes Benz S-class has a more conservative approach that is focussed around ultimate comfort for the driver. And it excels in what it wants to do, it is the most comfortable premium drive on the market, even when it was introduced a few years ago.

What I consider to be one of the main advantages of the S-class is the user interface in the interior. Compared to the 7-series and A8, the S-class only has the essential buttons remaining and placed them in a more ergonimical arrangement. Even an unexperienced driver will be able to grasp the user interface fairly easy, while the more "complex" 7-series and A8 require a few more technical skills.

If you might have any questions left, feel free to contact me through the comments below!

Note, in this review the options and packages in Germany are discussed, so small details might deviate from local standards.

Pictures of the Mercedes Benz S350L pre-Facelift (Long Wheel Base) and S350 Facelift can be found in this gallery (click to enter):

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