Changes for the S-Class sedan are few for 2002. A modified air-conditioning system is available this year, and a radar-based Distronic Adaptive Cruise Control is a new option. It intelligently adjusts the cars speed to maintain a preset distance from the vehicle directly ahead. A Keyless Go option also is available, and the S-Class now has an internal emergency trunk release.
Four versions of Mercedes largest, most costly sedan are available. The S430 has a 4.3-liter V-8 engine, the S500 holds a 5.0-liter V-8 and the S600 uses a 5.8-liter V-12. To save fuel part of the time, the driver can deactivate half of the V-12s cylinders. Performance-oriented buyers can also choose the S55 AMG, which is equipped with a 355-horsepower, 5.5-liter V-8, as well as a sport suspension, bigger tires and aerodynamic body trim.
Billed by Mercedes as the executive athlete, the S55 AMG will set you back nearly $100,000. Both the ultimate-luxury S600 which costs $15,000 more and the S55 AMG have standard Active Body Control that continuously adjusts suspension firmness to eliminate body roll during cornering, acceleration and braking.
The S-Class was redesigned in a smaller and lighter configuration for the 2000 model year, and S600 and S55 AMG versions were added later. Mercedes-Benz calls the S-Class the definitive automotive experience. Sticker prices might cause some interested parties to gasp, but a lot of S-Class sedans are leased rather than purchased.
Mercedes describes the S-Class as a sedan with a coupelike profile, highlighted by a low nose and taller tail. A laid-back grille and smooth underbody improve airflow, keeping the sedans coefficient of drag (a measure of a vehicles resistance to the air through which it passes) at a low 0.27.
Measuring 203.1 inches long overall, the S-Class sedan is about as long as the BMW 745iL and more than 6 inches longer than the Lexus LS 430. Riding a 121.5-inch wheelbase, the sedan is 73.1 inches wide and stands 56.9 inches high.
An Airmatic air suspension is standard on the S430 and S500. With its sport suspension, racy aerodynamic body trim and 18-inch tires on Monoblock alloy wheels, the S55 AMG is equipped for high-speed travel.
With a standard three-place rear bench, seating for five occupants is provided. A split, rear bench with power adjustments is optional. The front seats have 14-way power adjustments, as well as head restraints that can serve as pillows. Full leather upholstery, a navigation system and a Bose audio system are standard in the S430 and S500.
Befitting its price, the S600 gets a higher level of wood and leather trim, as well as four heated power seats, four-zone climate control, a CD changer and a voice-controlled digital phone. Features in the S55 AMG include active ventilated/multicontour front seats and a trunk-mounted CD changer. A Sport Package for regular models includes an AMG-designed spoiler, a rear apron, side skirts and 18-inch tires on Monoblock alloy wheels.
Standard equipment includes Tele Aid, which uses its own cellular-phone system to summon emergency help, call Mercedes roadside assistance operators or track a stolen vehicle. If an airbag deploys, help is sought automatically. An optional InfoServices feature taps into the Internet to deliver news headlines, stock quotes, sports scores, weather reports and other services.
Under the Hood
Mercedes-Benz offers quite a selection of engines: three V-8s and a V-12, with model designations matching the engine size. Among the V-8 sedans, the S430 has a 275-hp, 4.3-liter V-8, while the S500 gets a 302-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 and the high-performance S55 AMG uses a hand-assembled 5.5-liter V-8 that pumps out 355 hp. The S600 sedan carries a 362-hp, 5.8-liter V-12. All models have a five-speed-automatic transmission that incorporates a manual-shift mode for use whenever desired. Mercedes claims that the S55 AMG accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds.
Eight airbags are standard, starting with the federally required front units. Side-impact airbags are installed in each of the four doors. Inflatable curtain-type airbags in the front and rear deploy from the roofline to protect occupants heads. The front passengers airbag deploys with lower force in low-speed collisions and with maximum force when the impact is greater.
Mercedes Electronic Stability Program combines traction control with lateral-skid control technology. Brake Assist applies maximum braking force when it senses an imminent abrupt stop. Antilock brakes are standard, and a Parktronic system is included in the S600.
The S-Class is loaded with so much technology that it can seem overwhelming, but it provides a memorable highway experience regardless of what engine is beneath the hood. The S-Class is a smooth and supremely capable cruiser that may initially be marred by what some drivers could consider a slight sense of detachment. That sensation soon eases, but despite its bounty of alluring attributes, steering seems just a little too light and easy.
The S500s performance, on the other hand, approaches the level of stunning, and automatic-transmission response qualifies as masterful. Even though the ride is smooth, the S500 does hit a few bumps rather hard. In fast curves, the big sedan stays remarkably upright.
The automakers Electronic Stability Program performs competently; it is ready to do its job with little evidence of its presence. In this prestigious motorcar, every element operates with subtlety and finesse, so you barely notice any changes that might be taking place within and beneath the vehicle.
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