Foreplay on four wheels
When a friend finally sealed the deal on his first property purchase two years ago, we celebrated with our first taste of Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
Of course, we had been celebrating throughout the evening—so the taste of something so refined was lost on us, and it was only when we tried it again on another occasion that we really appreciated why we had to fork out R150 a tot. Yes, it’s ludicrous to pay that much for a single tot, but we had been celebrating and, considering that my credit card is still in intensive care, we won’t be celebrating again anytime soon.
By admitting this, I risk being disowned by my mother, who sees alcoholic consumption (of any kind) as a depraved activity usually engaged in by ill-educated bottomfeeders who have no control over themselves.
But, I’ll risk her wrath because I feel the following is quite a pertinent analogy: the Johnnie Walker represented the pinnacle of whisky making excellence to my friends and me, and, in much the same way, the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class represents the pinnacle of car-making excellence to the car-buying public.
The Blue Label is a blend of the finest whiskies, matured over at least 25 years, while the new S-Class is also a blend of technology that Mercedes-Benz has been perfecting over decades.
The technology on the new S-Class is by far its most astounding attribute and one can only hope that, over time, such expensive technology becomes commonplace.
The most amazing of the new gizmos is the optional Night View Assist. The area in the dashboard that is usually occupied by the speedometer, the rev counter and sometimes the trip computer is a digital panel which looks pretty normal during the day.
But, when the sun sets, activate the Night View Assist and that area transforms into the display screen for the infrared camera built into the windshield, which relays a constant black-and-white image of what’s in front of the vehicle.
Now, it has to be said, this can be a bit disconcerting because what you see on the screen is more detailed and enhanced than what you’re seeing out of the windscreen.
On low beams, the camera sees far more than you do, but on high beams, the light reaches almost as far as the infrared camera.
Merc insists this function is only meant to assist the driver and one isn’t supposed to look at the screen continually, but it’s hard not to choose the camera’s perception because one can’t always drive with brights on.
Another clever innovation is the advanced brake assist plus programme. As soon as you put pressure on the brake pedal, infrared sensors are activated to determine the distance to objects in your path. If you are not applying sufficient pressure, the car takes over and applies the necessary amount of braking power to bring the car to a standstill. But, if you hit the brake too late, the car might not stop in time. This is why Mercedes-Benz stresses that these are driver aids—the car is not capable of driving itself, yet.
The advanced distronic plus is a cruise-control programme of note. Set the required speed and the programme activates to keep the car at that speed, even bringing it to a complete stop if it is too close to another vehicle.
Of course, the car will also accelerate through the twisties to maintain the programmed speed—which could be hair-raising for the older folk who can well afford such cars. But it remains a fantastic way to drive in staccato Jo’burg traffic. Don’t forget to steer, though.
The launch took place on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Despite the constant downpours, the S350 excelled on a variety of road surfaces, even the sometimes challenging little roads around Kokstad, Harding and Ixopo.
Inside, it is so quiet that, for a split second, I heard a pedestrian’s cellphone ringing as I drove past.
The S-Class range, which comes standard with the impeccable 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission, consists of the S350 (200kW, 350Nm at R715 000), the S320 CDi (170kW, 540Nm at R735 000) and the phenomenally quick S500 with a 5,5-litre V8 engine (285kW, 530Nm at R895 000). One wouldn’t expect that many South Africans could dish out about R14 000 a month for the bottom-of-the-range S350, yet there is already an 18-month waiting list for the S-Class.
Of course, it goes without saying that the creature comforts are well and truly taken care of, so I won’t go into the specification list.
One accessory that should be mentioned, though, is the front seats, which not only heat up when you need them to but also give you a massage at the touch of a button. You are given the rather suggestive options of ‘slow and gentle”, ‘slow and vigorous”, ‘fast and gentle”, and my favourite, ‘fast and vigorous”.
My driving partner, Car magazine’s technical editor Jake Venter, said to one of the Mercedes-Benz marketing guys when I activated the massage function and a naughty grin stretched slowly across his face: ‘This is the first car I’ve come across with fully automatic foreplay.”