Mercedes-Benz SA launched its new S-Class and Mercedes-Maybach S-Class on Friday last week in Durban. As a guest of Mercedes, I had the opportunity to drive some of the derivatives, which are a total of nine: 350d; 400d; 450; 560; 600; AMG S 63; AMG S65; Maybach 560; and Maybach 650.

To date, the S-Class range has sold over 4-million units globally. And the newest line-up for 2018 has a whopping 6 500 new components. Some of the top-of-the-range models feature Intelligent Drive, which Mercedes says is “the next step towards autonomous driving” (more on this later on).

I drove a handful of the S-Class models, and the ride was super comfortable, so much so that we had to be on the physical lookout for potholes. The inside is every but luxurious as you’d expect from a Mercedes, with mood lights etc, similar to what I experienced on the E-Class towards the end of last year. I sat in the back of the car while my driving partner was at the wheel and all I can say is wow. Just like the front, you have complete control of your seats, the infotainment system screen, the sun roof, cup holders, and wait for it – wireless charging pads!

But more importantly, these cars are not meant to be driven by the owner… and what I mean is if you’re buying the S-Class, which starts at R1.6m, you probably have a chauffeur.

That said, let’s get pricing out the way so the above makes sense:
S 350d / 210kW / 600Nm = R1.62m
S 400d / 250kW / 700Nm = R1.69m
S 450 / 210kW / 520Nm = R1.62m
S 560 / 345kW / 700Nm = R2.04m
S 600 /390kW / 830Nm = R2.6m
AMG S 63 / 450kW / 900Nm = R2.76m
AMG S 65 / 463kW / 1000Nm = R3.41m
Maybach S 560 / 345kW / 700Nm = R2.45m
Maybach S 650 / 463kW / 1000Nm = R3.21m

Also important to note, people buying these cars are not reading Wired to the Web before making their purchasing decisions, so this is in no way meant to tell you why you should or should not buy the car. Instead, I am going to focus on the reason I was at the launch – for the tech, as always.

ASK MERCEDES

Ask Mercedes is a new app that’s available for E-Class and S-Class owners. It is currently only on iPhone but Mercedes South Africa told Wired to the Web that the Android version will arrive in February 2018. The app is being piloted in two markets so far, Germany and South Africa – how cool that we’re not being left behind for something tech related!

The app has two aspects to it, the first is an augmented reality (AR) feature that allows you to point your camera onto the dashboard, centre console, steering wheel or inside door panel (there’s a lot buttons on it!), which then tells you what its function is. It will recognise what part is being pointed at, and shows you the corresponding number, which you then tap again for more info.

Now before you think, “how do you not know what all the buttons do in your car”, I can tell you that as a tech-savvy individual, I’ve driven loads of SUVs and big-ass fancy cars where I myself did not know what every single button was, never mind does. We should know the basics, but as cars get more intelligent/smart, we need to know what they are in order to use them.

My understanding is that the app replaces the manual (I only ever used mine in my previous Fiat 500 for warning signs I didn’t recognise for when I couldn’t get hold of an ex-motoring journo buddy ha), so I can see how useful this would be. After downloading the app, you need to download the AR camera (about 76MB) and it then works offline. So you don’t need signal or data to use the AR functions.

The other aspect of the app works like Siri, so you can interact with it like a personal assistant either by voice or text. You can have a conversation with it by asking it to help you pair your iPhone or Android smartphone. Ask about fuel levels, or how to use certain features in the key, probably the new ones, ha! The voice system works with the trigger “Hey Mercedes”, sort of like “Hey Siri”.

TWO HIGH-RES DISPLAYS

The new interior of the S-Class features two large 12.3-inch screens side-by-side to offer a widescreen cockpit. The one directly in front of the driver is the instrument cluster with virtual instruments that you can customise, and the other is your infotainment system.

The infotainment screen is not a touchscreen, yet I always instinctively touch it and assume it is. It is controlled via the touchpad on the controller in the centre console, or via voice (there are over 450 commands). There are also buttons that you can use if the mouse-like-touchpad isn’t for you.

Depending on the type of car and extras you choose, you can opt to have TV screens in the back which you can use to access media that’s plugged in.

SMARTPHONE PAIRING

The pairing of a smartphone can be a tedious process from what we experienced; and the car supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which I tested on the E-Class towards the end of last year. Once you plug two phones in with cables, the system gets confused and automatically switches to the new phone. If you want to use CarPlay or Android Auto, you have to pair it over Bluetooth first.

WIRELESS CHARGING

The car has wireless charging pads that uses the Qi standard that is found in the front of the car, inside the stowage compartment. I’m so glad Apple decided to use this open standard because it’s so convenient to charge your devices by placing it on the mat – no more cables! It is also available as an option for the back seats.

Still on the subject of smartphones and wireless, the car uses NFC to allow your smartphone to unlock the vehicle, essentially making your phone the key to your car. Nifty!

INTELLIGENT DRIVE

The S-Class has Intelligent Drive, which as mentioned, the company says is the next step towards autonomous driving. What it actually does is allow the car to keep a safe driving distance between the car in front of it; and will then adjust the speed automatically at bends, or traffic circles, and assists with steering. The new models make use of maps and navigation to calculate driving behaviour, and this was tested in Cape Town last year as part of a global ‘5 continents in 5 months’ campaign, where real South African traffic conditions were used.

However, this is no part means you can take your hands off the wheel. Sometimes these features are referred to as “semi-autonomous”, which is a bit of a grey area, and this topic itself is a separate subject altogether, but I will just leave this here, on the various levels of autonomy and why it’s so complex (in South Africa we don’t have any level 3 yet, as far as I’m aware):

REMOTE PARKING ASSIST

You can make use of the Remote Parking Assist to park the 2018 S-Class, and S-Class Maybach vehicles. This isn’t new, as I tested this on the 2017 E-Class towards the end of last year. “Remote Parking Assist requires an iPhone or Android smartphone to be paired to the vehicle. Once the mode is activated, the driver steps out and uses a circular gesture with any finger on the app, continuously until the car is manoeuvred into the bay; if your finger is taken off the screen, the car will pause.”

You can read more about that here in my article for the Financial Mail: https://www.businesslive.co.za/fm/fm-fox/digital/2017-11-30-new-in-sa-park-a-car-with-a-smartphone-app/

CONCIERGE SERVICE

If you’re in an S-Class, you’re not doing menial tasks, which is why customers have access to a new concierge service directly from the vehicle. You press the “info” button on the overhead control panel and get access to services like getting restaurant reservations made, book tickets, tourist routes, get directions sent to you for your next destination like a meeting, mall, diner, hotel, etc.

This is what the inside of the Maybach looks like:

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