Asia Tatler: Mercedes’ Maglev

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For their flagship two-door, the S-Class Coupe, Mercedes-Benz have unleashed a machine that throws itself into corners like a tilting train and boasts Swarovski crystals in its headlights. Adam Hay-Nicholls cruises in the car that’s on every oligarch’s wishlist.

Mercedes-Benz know a thing or two about groundbreaking technology and sparkly features, and with the 2015 S-Class Coupe they have outdone themselves. But this isn’t merely a branch of Radio Shack covered in bling, as perhaps it might on paper; instead they have produced a svelte GT that has the pace and grace to compete with the Bentley Continental.

 

It wasn’t always this way with Benz’ flagship coupe. In its previous guise, the CL, this two-door limo looked and felt ungainly; yes it was comfortable and clever, but where was the sex appeal? Nowhere to be seen, along with its residual values. As soon as you drove the CL off the forecourt you’d said sayonara to 25 percent of its sticker price.

 

With badging now switched to the more straightforward S-Class Coupe, and in the case of the car I tested the S500, this car is an altogether different proposition. For a start the design hasn’t been phoned in this time. It has considerably more road presence than the luxury saloon from which it’s spawned. Just look at those elliptical curves sculpted into its flanks; the last time I saw that much muscle it was being slapped with a WADA doping charge.

 

At the front, those low-level nostrils look like they could hoover the tar off a highway, the three-pointed star looks like the barrel of a decommissioned pistol, and those long bulges in the bonnet, like two chopsticks draped with a silk napkin, hint at the 4.6 litre twin-turbo V8 that can move this car from Maastricht to Milan in an effortless teutonic blur.

 

Round the back the scene is elegant, restrained, handsome. The front delivers the visual punch, and the back calmly explains to police that it had nothing to do with a violent assault, and you have a license for those 455bhp-emitting exhaust pipes.

 

In short, Mercedes have successfully distinguished this car from the four-door version, although inside its familiar, and that’s not an altogether bad thing as the S-Class had perfectly pitched a mix of state-of-the-art and classicism in its slightly nautical dashboard. Are you blasting along the Autobahn or, in fact, splashing into Venice at the wheel of a Riva Aquarama? The chunky three-spoke steering wheel helps differentiate it from the sedan’s 50’s style controls, but the huge twin LCD screens which display everything from satellite-navigation and massage seat controls to night vision will be familiar to anyone who’s ridden in an S. The major difference is, of course, in the back where there’s less room that the saloon but more than the Continental GT.

 

Illuminated Mercedes-Benz kick plates on the sills and night club-style LED interior lighting that can be changed to any colour of the rainbow are all S-Class saloon features but the Coupe has gone further when it comes to flash. Ladies and gentlemen, should you wish you can kit your car out with 47 Swarovski crystals that surround the daytime running lights and indicators in the headlights. This option is proving extremely popular among Mercedes’ many Chinese customers.

 

Overhead, the Benz boasts a panoramic sunroof that extends over two-thirds of the car’s roof, its opacity adjustable via something called Magic Sky Control.

 

Every generation of S-Class ushers in never-before-seen-on-a-production-car advances in science. Now 40 years old, it was the first to give us anti-lock brakes, airbags, and sat-nav. Its current saloon – the sixth generation – left me spellbound by its Intelligent Drive lane-keeping technology, which effectively allows it to drive itself on motorways, when I drove it for HK Tatler’s November 2014 issue. The Coupe has all that, and something else.

 

This is the first car ever to incorporate Active Curve Tilting, which makes the car lean into corners by up to 2.5 degrees much like a motorcyclist or a tilting train, thereby reducing the lateral acceleration acting on the vehicles occupants. In other words, you’re steering hard into a corner but the cabin stays level. That burning hot Starbucks in the beverage holder is going nowhere near your lap.

 

It uses a stereo camera to read the road 15 metres ahead and is active within 18mph and 112mph. Mercedes’ claim the system has been created not to increase the car’s speed around corners but to enhance passenger comfort. Nonetheless it carves through bends with such elan that there’s no doubt you can carry more speed through the apex.

 

Interestingly one adopts a different driving style to that when tipping a four-door S into a corner. In the Coupe, thanks to ACT, you don’t need to use as much steering input and can wind the lock off earlier, allowing you to get back on the throttle quicker. This results in higher exit speed and, indeed, a smoother ride experience. It’s a revelation. It comes as a shock to learn that the Coupe is 15kg heavier than the saloon because this technology, combined with a shorter wheelbase, makes it feel considerably lighter.

 

The ACT works well in tandem with the Magic Body Control system, which scans the road using a camera mounted within the windscreen to alter the ride and damper settings depending on the surface it sees ahead. Lifted from the S500 limo there’s also a class-leading cruise control system that includes the Steering Assist and Active Lane Keeping system I mentioned before, Active High Beam Assist, night vision display and a collision prevention system, which makes this car just about the safest, cleverest, easiest-to-drive car that money can by. It has the brain of Stephen Hawking and the looks of Isabeli Fontana, At £95,000, given all the kit, this machine is a bargain.

 

There’s talk of a convertible version sometime soon, which will have oligarchs rejoicing. This car could cope with the extra attention for, as it is, it’s a stunner but there’s a subtlety about it. Aside from the AMG GT, this is Merc’s biggest statement but it looks the cheaper car next to a Bentley or Aston Martin which, in fairness, it is. That gap can be closed by ordering the faster, more aggressive and expensive AMG S63 or S65 Coupe, but they’re still quite clinical. Imagine a really noisy doctor’s surgery, where all the patients have been in a fight.

 

The British rivals have more wow-factor, more romance, more drama. However, if you’re in the business of stealth as opposed to show the S500 is the perfect weapon. Besides, everything else on the road is a dunce. This car has a PHD in driving dynamics, and if that’s not impressive enough just look at those Swarovski headlights. Stars are meant to sparkle, right? Especially three-pointed ones.

 

THE COMPETITION

The S500 Coupe came top of the class in its exams, but how does it compare to these toys out on the playing field?

 

BENTLEY CONTINENTAL GT V8 S

The Mercedes is an iron fist in a velvet glove, while the Conti doesn’t bother with gloves. It’s a bruiser who’s partial to Gieves & Hawkes tweed, game shoots and bloody noses. It’s Guy Ritchie.

 

ASTON MARTIN RAPIDE S

Not strictly a coupe, but with lines, lap-times and legroom that beat the Mercedes. Now fitted with the Vanquish’s 6.0 V12, it’s Rapide-r than ever. If 007’s illegitimate children ever catch up with him…

 

BMW M6 COUPE

The Mercs’ countryman comes with more aggressive styling and faster acceleration, but without the Active Curve Tilting and Magic Body Control it feels like a high school dropout in comparison.

 

LOCKHEED MARTIN F-22 RAPTOR

The S500 isn’t the only tactical stealth fighter in this group. Although at US$150 million, the Raptor is only available to the most committed exotic collectors and despots. It’s also a bugger to park.

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