Mercedes-Benz S600 Guard Review : Driving the armoured G-20 cars

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Designed to protect global leaders in the back, we get up front with the most protected S-Class in the world

When the leaders of 24 countries enter the 2014 G-20 Australia summit tomorrow, there will be 16 highly armoured Mercedes-Benz S600 Guard limousines waiting for them to protect them from any harm.

By ‘highly armoured’ what we really mean is the most heavily protected car in the world, with each $1-million-plus limo leased by the Australian government for the global economic event. It’s not often world leaders want to be seen as out of touch with society, but in this instance they are more than happy to.

CarAdvice was one of only 15 international journalists allowed to drive the bomb- and firearm-proof S600 Guard around the streets where it is built, in Sindilfingen, Germany. We then entered the top-secret lair where the car transforms from being a regular S-Class and doubles its weight on the way to becoming the Superman of cars (only still dressed in a Clark Kent suit, and only protecting the rich…).

Open the driver’s door of the S600 Guard and you might feel bad that you missed that last session at Fitness First. Each door weighs 150kg, with thick steel integrated into every cavity between the outer skin and the inside trim.

Laminated glass is more than an inch thick, and is coated with polycarbonate on the inside for splinter protection. Sit inside the S600 Guard, and you’ll note the door trims and dashboard are identical to every regular S-Class. Power down the window then place your hand over the top of the glass, however, and your finger to first knuckle will cover it.

Look over past your front passenger and the glass is so thick it covers a quarter of the side mirror. Then look straight ahead and the thick glass makes the scenery look a bit warped. The windscreen weighs 130kg, compared with around a tenth that figure for the regular S-Class.

While Benz builds E-Class, M-Class and G-Class Guard vehicles, the S-Class is the latest and greatest member of the family, with a protection rating of VR9 – the highest there is of nine levels.

To officially achieve VR9, the German government fired 400 bullets at the S600 Guard from any distance and at any angle to ensure the car isn’t just optimised for a specific test.

The S600 Guard can resist rifle-fire from military weapons (such as an AK47) of twice the velocity of handgun bullets, while occupants can survive hand grenades and explosive charges.

The thought of such nasties is a world away from the leathery luxury of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class cabin and what we soon find out becomes the quietest cabin in the world.

Press the starter button and the 6.0-litre V12 petrol engine whumpfs distantly into life. The hand-built AMG engine produces the same 390kW of power and 830Nm of torque as it does in the everyman, half-price S600 that retails locally for $415,000.

That budget S600 also gets to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds compared with 6.2 seconds for the S600 Guard that doubles its 2185kg kerb weight. While world leaders may get to the G-20 summit faster, however, they’re not guaranteed to get there in one piece should trouble arise going past, say, Queen Street mall.

In perhaps the coolest press release of all time, the otherwise formal Mercedes-Benz states, “the S-Guard combines lower fuel consumption with impressive acceleration for a rapid escape from the danger zone when under threat.” Cue up Kenny Loggins on the standard Burmester audio system for full effect.

Other changes include a new rear differential and retuned stability control and seven-speed automatic, while the top speed has been reduced to 210km/h; not really an issue on the Pacific Motorway.

Off the line you can immediately feel the weight of the S600 Guard. A slightly dull throttle and slight slowness to rev is all that gives clue to the weight on this engine’s shoulders, because otherwise it is so quiet and torquey that the speedometer needle just simply raises whenever you want it to.

Merging onto the freeway outside Stuttgart, a truck rumbles past us but we can barely hear it, such is the insulation.

Perhaps the most impressive statistic is when you go the other way. Despite the extra weight, much larger, ceramic disc brakes with six-piston callipers ensure the S600 Guard pulls up from 100km/h in 39 metres, just one further than the regular S600. Perhaps that wasn’t short enough for one Brisbane truck driver, however; as we go to press one of the S600 Guards has been rear-ended before the G-20.

Benz says you need to brake differently in the S600 Guard. The brake pedal has touchy responses, and again you feel the weight. The sensation is a bit like water rushing from the rear to the front of the car when you’re on the picks.

You can also feel the weight when going around corners. In a right hand corner you can sense the armour plastered onto the left of the car as the S600 Guard leans obviously to one side.

The otherwise superb S-Class steering wanders when making slight movements. To keep the water-based analogy going it’s a bit like walking with a fish bowl keeping the steering in your hands.

Extra stabilisers have been added to the front and rear suspension to keep things stable, with the rear gaining steel springs in addition to the Airmatic springs standard on the S600.

The S600 Guard gets the ultimate form of run-flat tyre. Usually such tyres are so thick that they make life difficult for the suspension, resisting the absorbtion of impacts as though they’re filled with concrete, yet the S600 Guard rides beautifully. It gets Michelin PAX rubber that has a large steel belt inside them to ensure that you can drive 30-40km if the tyres are destroyed (and it’s only 14.6km from the Brisbane exhibition and convention centre to Brisbane airport, just saying).

And this million-dollar Mercedes will potentially keep on driving even if it’s on fire. Fire extinguishers may reduce the boot volume to less than that of a Volkswagen Golf hatchback – just 350 litres versus 380L – so delegates will need to keep their suitcases thin, but the system is linked to several jets underneath the car that can detect external fire then put it out.

Beneath the dainty lid of what usually is a pair of cupholders mounted in the centre console of the S-Class is now actually just a series of Bond-like buttons, one of which can manually activate the water jets and another that provides a quick burst of stored fresh air into the cabin in case of a chemical attack.

The S600 Guard is sealed off completely underneath, and the armour is placed both on the front firewall and rear compartment behind the seats. If the car drives over a bomb the engine and boot will be destroyed but the occupant area will remain a hard shell with airbags deployed. Depending on the size of the attack, severe injuries can occur, but death won’t.

It is apparently the highest honour to work in the Mercedes-Benz Guard factory in Sindelfingen outside of Stuttgart. For the S600 Guard, the body shells and interior come off the regular production line, before being hand built with body armour attached to the body shell before the body panels go back over them, and new suspension and componentry installed beneath.

Governments the world over buy from Mercedes-Benz Guard and Australia gets a little, leased slice of this heavily armed world this weekend for the G-20 summit. If they say you can never be too safe, then the S600 Guard might just see an end to that argument.