They forgot the kitchen sink

The Clarkson review: Mercedes-Benz S 500 L AMG Line (2013)

Watch out, pedestrians, I'm packing lasers

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BECAUSE I SPEND pretty much all of my life at airports, I’ve learnt a great deal about the human spirit. And what I’ve learnt most of all is that a man is genetically programmed to go into a branch of Dixons.

You watch him with his little-wheeled hand luggage and his laptop bag, wandering past all the shops selling perfume, and all the other ones selling Chinese bears in Beefeater suits. He drifts past Smythson like a trout in a slow-moving river and looks neither left nor right as he meanders past the art gallery selling massive horses. He doesn’t even register it — never even stops for a minute to think, “How would you get an actual life-sized ceramic horse in the overhead bins?”

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But then, carried by the current of his tiny mind, and by impulses over which he has no control, he will slither into Dixons to have a look at all the new machines that beep when you push their buttons. It doesn’t matter if the passenger is late, and doing that half-run businessman thing. He will still go to Dixons. Nor does it matter if he’s naked and plainly in need of some new trousers. He will still consider a quick browse in gadget central to be more important. Hungry? Thirsty? Minutes to live? None of these things will get between a man and his need to examine the latest GoPro camera.

Which brings me on to the new Mercedes S-class. Over the years this flagship has been the pad from which most of the important motoring innovations have been launched. Crumple zones. Collapsible steering columns. Airbags. That sort of stuff. If it matters, we saw it first on an S-class.

So what manner of new stuff is to be found on the new model, I hear you ask. Well, stand by and roll the drums, because . . . it comes with the option of having a choice of fragrances in the air-conditioning system. Don’t mock. In 30 years’ time, when the S-class is a minicab, you will welcome anything that masks the overpowering aroma of the driver’s armpits.

I haven’t finished with the air- conditioning system either, because you are also able to go into the on-board computer and alter the level of ionisation in the air being delivered. And what is ionisation? Good question. Glad you asked. Because it’s the process by which an atom or a molecule acquires a positive or a negative charge. So, in my book, that means Mercedes has developed a car that can fire lightning out of the air vents. It says that this makes the interior more relaxing. If I were ever to use an exclamation mark after a sentence, I’d have used one then.

Anyway, sticking with the air- conditioning system, I can tell you that its innards are filled with dried coconut shells that absorb not just some of the world’s more unpleasant gases but, with the help of the ionisation, many of the world’s viruses. This, then, is a car in which you cannot catch smallpox, cholera or even ebola. Which, as a safety feature, beats the crap out of a collapsible steering column, if you ask me.

Before we move away from the air- conditioning system, I should explain that different levels can be set for each part of the car. So if you have passenger whose company you do not enjoy, you can make him hot, fire lightning into his face and give him the bubonic plague.

I’m aware I have now spent a long time covering the air-conditioning, so let’s take a deep breath and move on to the seats. As you would expect, they can all deliver a “hot stone” massage, the armrests are heated and in the long- wheelbase model those in the back can recline until they are pretty much flat. Pillows are provided, naturally, and they are not just heated but also air- conditioned. This . . . (That’s enough air-conditioning stuff. Ed.)

There’s more, of course, but we must move on at this point to the optional thermal-imaging camera. When engaged at night, it projects a greyscale image of the road ahead to a screen on the dash, and — get this — when it detects a pedestrian, the person in question is highlighted in red.

This is fantastic. Because when you drive down Baker Street you feel as if you are commanding an Apache gunship and that all the people are targets.

They are as well. Because if one of them does something that appears to be threatening, such as, say, stepping into the road, the Mercedes fires a laser into his eyes to warn him you’re coming. I know you think I’m making this all up. But I promise I’m not.

Mercedes says the equipment is so sophisticated, it can tell the difference between a person and an animal. But this isn’t so. Because when I reached my London flat late last Sunday night, the camera detected what it thought was a human hiding in the bushes, and a little red square highlighted his exact position. I could see nothing with the naked eye, so I drove over to find it was a paparazzo. Not a human at all.

Sadly I was not able to run him over because the Mercedes has a system that applies the brakes even if you don’t. The same system allows you to engage the cruise control in stop-start traffic and sit back while the car quite literally drives itself, maintaining a safe distance between itself and the car in front.

But that is nothing compared with the cameras that guide what’s called the Magic Body Control. I kid you not. When they see a speed hump or a pothole approaching, they don’t just soften the suspension to minimise the jolt: they actually lift the wheel clear. So there’s absolutely no jolt at all.

Oh, heavens. I’ve forgotten the interior lighting. You can choose from a vast array of colours and then choose how bright you’d like it all to be. And then, with a swivel of the knob, you can turn on the wi-fi. You then input the 17-digit code into your phone, and don’t worry about drifting onto the other side of the road while you do this because the Mercedes knows when you’re about to cross the white line, and, if you haven’t indicated, it will steer you back again.

Did I mention the fridge? Or the larder? Or the availability of TV screens that fold out of the centre armrest? Nope? Well, what about the button that allows you to choose just how high you’d like the electric boot lid to rise?

Some are saying that all of this stuff is ridiculous and the S-class is no longer sitting at the prow of motoring innovation. Others say — and I have some sympathy with this argument — that true luxury is achieved with a clever use of space, light and silence, and that a billion gadgets is no match for the sheer opulence you find in a Rolls-Royce.

And yet. My inner man loved foraging about in the Merc, finding solutions to problems that no one knew existed. It also comes with an engine.


Verdict ★★★☆☆

They forgot the kitchen sink


Mercedes-Benz S 500 L AMG Line

4663cc, V8
449bhp @ 5250rpm
516 lb ft @ 1800rpm
7-speed automatic
0-62mph: 4.8sec
Top speed:
31.7mpg (combined)
Road tax band:
K (£620 for first year)
L 5248mm, W 1899mm, H 1491mm

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