Wednesday 7 December 2016

Hi-tech step too far

Published 18/09/2010 | 05:00

You know you have reached a watershed when a top peoples' carmaker such as Mercedes puts out an S-Class bedecked and adorned with proclamations of efficiency. My companion for the week was the 3-litre V6 diesel BlueEFFICIENCY. Yep, remember where you read it.

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This powerful drive for frugality all comes down to making a myriad of little items more efficient to produce a noticeable, cumulative effect.

That, for example, means making the car itself less wind resistant by smoothing as many areas as you can just a little bit more.

Those efficient folk work hard on items such as wing mirrors so the air flows more easily around them and a droplet more diesel is saved.

Then there are tyres with lower rolling resistance (another few drops saved) and of course a revised, reworked and tweaked powerhouse of an engine that sneaks its lowest emissions in just under the psychological 200g/km watermark (still costs €1,050 a year to tax).

All of which goes to substantiate the claim by Mercedes that it is the most fuel efficient S-Class of all time.

That is as may be, and I have absolutely no doubt it is true, but somehow, somewhere, I found a few areas -- not necessarily linked to efficiency -- where I think they can improve. Maybe I was put off by the version I had on test having the most awful colour combination in the cabin.

It was not the interior itself, mind you, but the mix of bright walnut wood trim finish, a wooden/leather steering wheel and (much nicer) leather upholstery.

It was -- dare I say it? -- less than I'd expect somehow. But I'm sure you can specify what mix and match you want so don't let that put you off.

What I found less appealing was the quality of handling and ride on a car of this class.

It felt a bit unsettled over poorer roads and surfaces, the gearbox took a while to kick down in Comfort mode (Sport is much better) and the steering was too vague.

Much of that is down to personal preferences too, I agree, and the S-Class is not the big seller it is without having appeal across a broad sector. But it still felt, to me, a little bit off the pace I'd anticipated.

And then there is all that gadgetry. Sure, it's dream stuff but I ran into techno cul-de-sacs too often. You know what I mean: you press a button or flick a switch or twist a knob and something happens that you don't want and then you forget how to get out of it or you have to stretch to another means to get back. Shouldn't be like that on a car of this stature and status. Shouldn't take so long to "tune in".

There were just too many bloody buttons and it was too hard to find and remember where they were and everything was far too complicated.

Look, I'm a techno idiot and I probably was having a bad week. My idea of really good technology is something that goes into action at the press of an obvious button. I was all over the place in this. I was uneasy.

And my expectations were not met in at least one "obvious" area. For example, cars at this level usually have a door-closing function. If the door is "nearly'" shut it "pulls" it closed. Not on this. Strange.

And yet, it was wonderfully protective of its driver and passengers: air bags, all sorts of alerts and warnings. And it was oh-so-comfortable with my seat simply wrapping me up and tucking me in.

I drove it in horrendous rain, on surprisingly slippery roads on grotesquely twisty backways in the lap of luxury, away from the awfulness of the world, the economy, the misery.

There is no doubt this is an extraordinary good driver out on the big open motorways. It swept me along, efficiently of course, its light system automatically dimming the high beam and lowering it, depending on the oncoming traffic. Brilliant.

If the other hi-tech stuff was as immediately apparent to me, I would have felt a good deal better about this.

The excellent engine does not command centre stage, mainly because it just ramps on in a low-key manner. No fuss, little or no noise, and plenty of pulling power. I enjoyed it a lot.

The "frugal" S-Class is a large, luxury motor with a real feel of power, space and pace to it but it needs to be simplified where it counts -- at the driver's fingertips.



What

- Mercedes S-Class 350 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY saloon (2,987cc, 232bhp, 0-100kmh in 7.8 seconds), 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission, 7.6l/100km, CO2 of 199g/km to 201g/km; VRT is 32pc. €1,050 annual road tax.

Cost

- Price from €98,000. Test version: €120,473. Delivery and related charges extra.

Target market

- Senior executives, chauffeur-driven limo companies, diplomats.

Plus

- Economical engine, luxury cabin, spread of technology, comfort, composed driving.

Minus

- Confusing buttons, switches and knobs; handling/ride behind key rivals.

As standard

- Massive range of safety and comfort equipment. Electronically controlled suspension system, myriad airbags, automatic headlight dimming system.

Others to consider

- Jaguar XJ,

- Audi A8

- BMW 7-series

- Lexus LS460

Star Rating: 77/100

ecunningham@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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