News of the week:
· Following a very positive reception at last year’s Johannesburg International Motorshow (JIMS), GWM’s M4 compact crossover has now officially gone on sale in South Africa.
· The M4 has been such a smash-hit sales success in China, that it has been nick-named the GWM “Speed”, as a result of its quick sales.
· It is smaller than vehicles such as the Ford EcoSport and Renault Duster, but offers more standard features and a very attractive sticker price.
· It comes with SUV-rivalling ground clearance of more than 180 mm and stylish 16” alloy wheels.
· The M4 is powered by GWM’s trusty 1.5L VVT-i engine that delivers 71kW and 138 Nm of torque to the front wheels via a slick five-speed manual transmission. GWM claims that the M4 sips fuel at the rate of 7.2-litres/100km as a combined cycle.
· The GWM M4 is priced at R189 999 and includes a comprehensive 5 year/100 000 km warranty and comes with 2-years AA roadside assistance. The price includes a 5-years / 45 000km service plan.
Mercedes S400 Hybrid: in a class of its own
It’s an early Saturday afternoon and I’m on my way to the Carlos Santana concert at Soccer City. The problem is, it hasn’t stopped rained since the morning, and there are signs of further downpour later in the evening.
The car that I am reviewing, on the other hand, makes up for the gloomy weather outside.
Engineered like no other car in the world
For the more than 40 years, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been designed like no other production Saloon in the world. Until the 90s, the S-Class was designed without cost as a factor.
Back then, the S-Class was marketed using the slogan: “Engineered like no other car in the world”. It was dropped at the turn of the century when the Daimler-Chrysler Group was formed and all models were budget capped, including the S-Class.
S-Class raises the bar
The S-Class is arguably the most advanced production car I have ever driven. And, it contains many world firsts in a passenger car.
These include the Magic Body Control, an adaptive air suspension, consisting of windscreen mounted cameras that “read” the road ahead and communicate with the suspension to ready it for an uneven road surface. Alas, it’s only available on the V8 derivatives.
The lighting on the S-Class doesn’t contain a single light bulb. Some of you might find that hard to believe, but each headlamp consists of 56 LEDs, each tail light consists of 35 LEDs and about 300 LEDs inside the vehicle.
It doesn’t end there, there’s also a Perfuming System as part of the AIR-BALANCE package. The perfuming system is switched on and off manually, and the driver can individualise the smell of the vehicle interior.
The new S-Class also comes closer than any production car to having the ability to drive autonomously. Systems aboard the S-Class allow it to steer a course within a lane. I experienced it on a highway and allowed the vehicle to steer itself for at 1km.
It will also slow or come to a dead stop and accelerate in response to traffic ahead. Mercedes engineers claim to have – under controlled conditions – ridden aboard an S-Class that had driven autonomously for 50km.
The S-Class experience
The S-Class isn’t all about speed. It’s more about the experience, which becomes evident from the time you get behind the wheel, gently push the start button, and place your fingers around the elegantly crafted steering wheel.
All the buttons fall to hand, the dashboard is neatly laid-out and the build quality is mind blowing. The dashboard is a combination of wood inlays, leather, and metalised trim finishes. It takes a while to get use to the cavernous space, and it takes a while to navigate the telemetry aboard the S-Class.
The standard instrument cluster has been replaced by a solid TFT display. It is an information centre to provide the driver with the normal speedo and odometer, and a host of other information related to your journey.
The left-hand display allows the convenient control of infotainment and comfort functions. Our test unit was equipped with a Burmester Surround Sound System. Needless to say, it sounds incredible and makes you feel as if you are in a theatre.
The S-Class is focused around the passenger ,who has individual climate controls at the rear, infotainment system at the rear, and can even connect to Google Maps and the internet.
The interior is super-luxurious and offers first-class comfort at the front. It’s airy and there’s plenty of head- and legroom and the front and rear. The executive seats at the front and rear can adjust electronically in a various positions, and includes heating and cooling features, and massage functionality too.
The rear suite incorporates a business centre console which combines personal comfort with practical convenience (integration of a telephone handset, and additional stowage compartments, among others). It is also equipped with innovative thermo-cupholders which use special technology to cool or warm drinks.
From the outside, it’s a silhouette of smooth lines that flow away from the prominent grille at the front.
What’s a hybrid system all about?
The S400 Hybrid – the vehicle on test – is powered by a 3.5L V6 engine with a basic electric motor that acts as a starter and generator. The system offers a double benefit, as it helps to save fuel and, owing to the booster effect of the electric motor, complements the V6 engine at full throttle. The beauty of this hybrid system is that it’s relatively straightforward and it can be scaled for other Mercedes models.
Simply put, at under 2000 rpm, the electric motor is useful. It produces an additional 250Nm, and this low-down torque, makes the car feel relaxed in traffic. The 7-speed G-Tronic gearbox too, makes fewer changes in traffic. But at higher revs, the electric contribution fades.
The engine is designed to be efficient in mid-revs, just as the electric motor runs out of steam. The ECU monitors things so that if the battery is well-charged, it throttles back the engine and calls on more effort from the electric motor.
But, if the battery is low, then it switches from the electric motor to the V6 engine. You never notice the difference because the restart is done by the electric motor, rather than a normal starter motor, so it’s much smoother than you’d expect.
The S400, without the electric motor in full swing, is a 225kW and 370Nm barge not scared of picking up the president – or challenging a hot hatch on the way to Nkandla. This beast will get from a standstill to 100kph in a claimed 6.8 seconds, before hitting its 250kph governor.
The battery in question is a lithium ion job, one of the first of the kind in a production car. It’s under the bonnet, so there hasn’t been any sacrifice to the boot space.
The key element of the S400 Hybrid, however, is the fuel savings. The 800km I spent behind the wheel, burning 10-litres per 100km, were effortless. Mercedes claims a combined fuel consumption of 6.8-litres per 100km, which I think is difficult to achieve.
I did, however, achieve 7.0-litres per 100km on a round trip to Soccer City. That’s remarkable when you consider the size of this car. More impressively, it emits 159g/km of carbon emissions – lower than your average hot hatch!
The driving experience
The S-Class takes motoring to another level. It’s like sitting in your lounge or an executive travelling lounge, with everything at your fingertips.
It’s a regal feeling watching that Mercedes emblem on the bonnet cut through the autumn air, with the air suspension keeping you on a cloud by sensing and adapting to undulations in the road.
Former CEO of Mercedes-Benz South African stated that “Rather than being about safety or aesthetics, power or efficiency, comfort or dynamism, our goal was ‘the best or nothing’ in every respect.” I think that’s the ethos that comes with the S-Class.
At R1 227 000, The S400 Hybrid is one of the more expensive cars that I usually get to drive. It’s a really large amount of money to fork out for a car, but I can understand where some of that spend goes. The price includes a 6-year/100 000km Premium Drive maintenance plan as well.
The BMW 7 Series ActiveHybrid is R100 000 cheaper, but the design and technology is somewhat dated. Pricing aside, the S-Class remains one of the finest Saloon cars on the planet.
It comes will all the safety gizmos out there, and it will undoubtedly score highly in the Euro NCAP tests later this year.
The S-Class is the sort of car that is reserved for the elite, the presidents of the world, and superstars in Hollywood. It’s no wonder Mercedes-Benz claims it to be the “Best car in the World”.
Now, to find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, when it does stop raining!
Thegandra Naidoo in conversation with ebizradio
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