Filed under: Sedan, Technology, Videos, Mercedes-Benz, First Drives, Luxury
Technology Meets Magic In The New Standard Bearer
If you’re like us, you’ve been eagerly awaiting this car for the better part of 10 years. No, not the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class specifically, but rather the technology underneath it. Perhaps you remember the Bose active suspension system? Yes, Bose – a company better known for overpriced audio equipment – revealed an amazingly sophisticated automotive suspension system about a decade ago, demonstrating it via a pair of 1994 Lexus LS luxury sedans. One LS was fitted with the system, and the other went without. The two could be seen on split-screen video performing a battery of ride and handling exercises, with the Bose car experiencing remarkably little body roll and head toss thanks to its network of electromagnetic motors and microprocessors. It was as if the car looked at the road ahead and the suspension used that data to actively counter inputs and keep the chassis level and drama-free. Bose revealed the technology back in 2004, but it had been working on the technology since the Carter Administration. We’ve seen active suspensions before and since, but even now, the Bose’s performance seems positively next-level, with body control that boggles the mind. And that’s before the jump at the end of the video presentation.
As it turns out, the Bose demonstrator car was keyed to the course it ran in the video – it wasn’t examining the road at all, it was preprogrammed to expect those surface conditions. This might explain why a decade on, we still haven’t been able to buy such a system in a production car. It’s that missing anticipatory quality – the road scanning – that hasn’t happened. Until now. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class features just this sort of technology, though the suspension itself shares nothing with Bose’s architecture. Daimler’s so-called Magic Body Control combines the S-Class’ hydraulic Active Body Control (ABC) suspension with stereoscopic twin cameras mounted ahead of the rearview mirror to scan ahead and relax or firm up the suspension in preparation for the road surfaces ahead. Hitting your first speed bump with the system activated is nothing short of spooky – the Michelins feel for all the world like they’re sluicing through the traffic-calming nuisance as if it’s made of room-temperature brie. Like it isn’t even there. You’ll laugh and clap – we did.
The Michelins sluice through the traffic-calming nuisance as if it’s made of room-temperature brie.
Yet this brand of Magic has its limitations: it only works during the day, foul weather can cause the system to pack up (if the camera gets blocked by snow, for instance) and it’s really most effective over large disturbances like the aforementioned speed bump, as it’s not yet quick-witted enough to catch subtler potholes and such. Oddly, it also only works with ABC set to Comfort Mode – if you choose Sport you’re on your own. Most of the time, the system feels like a conventional luxury car, which is to say very well behaved, but not entirely sporty. The world’s wealthy who toil in city centers where speed bumps are all too common will have cause for rejoice, but this is not yet the revolution the Bose presentation conditioned us to expect all those years ago.
So, on some level, Magic Body Control falls short of what we imagined, but the same can’t be said for the rest of this W222-Series Benz. While it shares the basic powertrain and similar dimensions of its predecessor, this S-Class couldn’t feel more new. That fact was rammed home by my 250-mile drive from Greater Detroit to the car’s international launch in Toronto in the outgoing 2013 S550. A perfectly fine luxury sedan and not the segment’s perennial volume leader by accident, the W221 nonetheless feels positively antiquated in the face of this new generation.
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2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class [w/video] originally appeared on Autoblog on Tue, 16 Jul 2013 11:57:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.
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