To an older generation of car buyers, the name Mercedes Benz might evoke favorable images of large, solid, limo-like sedans. While a younger generation is likely more in tune with recent offerings, like the M-class SUV, the sleek SLK Roadster, or the AMG-tuned performance sedans. But the new and completely redesigned 2000 S-class is a car that Mercedes hopes will be a bridge to both generations. So let’s see if the S-class is one bridge worth driving.
If there is such a thing as a perfect automobile, one that fans the flames of passion for driving in both young and old, the all new 2000 Mercedes Benz S500 is a serious contender.
And that’s because the new S500 has much to offer on many different levels. Perennial Mercedes buyers will appreciate the still very controlled but more supple ride put forth by the new AIRmatic suspension system. Replacing the steel coil springs at the corners are these pneumatic suspension struts. Ride height and quality are continuously monitored by computer, and automatically adjusted by increasing or decreasing air pressure in each individual damper. This is done by rapid-acting solenoid valves and an on board compressor that maintains the system at 227 psi. And our drivers liked how quickly and invisibly the system responds to changing road conditions.
Rough dirt roads and especially nasty speed bumps can be dealt with by a driver height adjustment override. Cruise at 68 mph or faster, and the S-class automatically lowers itself more than half an inch, to better take advantage of its low 0.27 coefficient of drag.
Younger newcomers to the Mercedes marque are likely to be seduced by the S500’s surprising performance. Nearly 500 pounds lighter than its predecessor, sprints to 60 are easily accomplished in 6.1 seconds. And the quarter mile passes effortlessly in 14.6 seconds at 100 mph. Numbers that were duplicated regardless of whether the silky-smooth, 5-speed, adaptive automatic transmission was in normal or Sport shift mode, as it skillfully manages the 302 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque produced by the S500’s 5.0 liter, single-cam, V-8. That, like the other Mercedes new generation engines, incorporates twin-spark ignition and three-valves-per-cylinder technology in its impressive engineering repertoire.
In fact, with its deceptive quickness off-line and agile highway manners, it’s easy to forget this is still a big car, 203.1 inches long to be exact. Its completely redesigned, coupe-like sheetmetal is smoothly stretched over a tauter 121.5 inch wheelbase. The new face, its headlamps a more fluid interpretation of the familiar double oval design, and its new, but rather derivative-looking, rear end hang over a 62-inch track.
But the ESP stability program, the adaptive, gas-charged dampers and the 4-link front, 5-link rear components that complement the AIRmatic set up, keep the 2-tons of S500’s side to side transitions even and controllable. The rack and pinion steering is nicely weighted and precise, but offers less feedback than we’d like, a disturbing trend among all cars.
There’s plenty of feedback and modulation from the ABS-equipped brakes, however. As the large 13.1 inch, cross-drilled discs in the front, 11.8 inch, solid discs in the rear, do an astounding job of bringing the S-class to a stop in a good average of 128 feet. Panic stops also get the help of electronic Brake Assist.
But it shouldn’t take any assistance or insistence to get both generations behind the wheel once they get a look at the S500’s opulent interior. It’s an inviting blend of Nappa leather and burled walnut accents.
Our tester was equipped with the optional ventilated bucket seats up front. A total of 10 electric fans per seat keep you dry and comfortable. Plus the system is much quieter than similar seats in the Saab 9-5. Front seat occupants also have 14-way power adjustments at their disposal, an “active” lumbar support that gently massages the spine and, of course, seat heat.
The driver faces an electrically adjustable steering wheel and a new “Black Screen” IP, illuminated by cold cathode tubes that automatically adjust for ambient light. The center stack to the right houses the S500’s COMAND center. Using a 32-bit microprocessor and fiber optics, COMAND integrates the car’s GPS, CD-ROM driven navigation system, the Bose AM/FM/Cassette stereo and trunk-mounted CD changer that, by the way, delivers concert quality sound, as well as the portable, voice-activated telephone system. The audio and telephone systems and the engine management displays can also be operated via the steering wheel mounted controls. To sort it all out, plan to spend some quality time with the car’s library of manuals.
And to do that in high comfort, just punch the auto setting on the S500’s dual zone climate control system, that uses more sensors and filters than we’ve got time to tell you about, and ease into the S500’s spacious rear quarters. Despite the car’s smaller dimensions, Mercedes designers have cleverly managed to slightly increase the already substantial rear legroom. And, to insure their safety, rear passengers also get side impact airbags and added protection from the curtain airbags that run inside the roofline of the car.
Behind the rear seats is an ample 15.4 cubic feet of cargo space, an extra room we wish we had to tell you more about this car.
Even though we’ve only scratched the surface of the S500’s capabilities, you’ve seen a lot of car. And base price on what you’ve seen is $77,850. With the optional CD changer and ventilated seats, our tester rang up at $83,005.
Now, that’s a lot of bucks, but you get some pretty serious bang for those bucks. So serious in fact, Automobile Magazine said, “Without a doubt, the Mercedes-Benz S500 is the best car in the world.”
And as a bridge that’s been built to span two different generations of buyers, the 2000 Mercedes Benz S500 is one bridge we don’t mind crossing over and over again
Engine: 5.0 Liter Sohc 24-valve V-8
Torque: 339 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.1 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 14.6 Seconds @ 100 MPH
60-0 MPH: 128 Feet