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Very few cars make a statement like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class coupe.
For the past thirty years, the big two-door has been a pioneer platform for technology, safety and style, and the newly released C217 Mercedes-Benz S500 Coupe is no exception.
Where the S-Class sedan is the logical choice for heads of state and captains of industry on the move, the coupe is the personal statement. Something for those heavy hitters to drive on the weekends, swapping a pair of doors for unbeatable road presence.
In profile, and with its five-spoke 20-inch alloy wheels, the S500 looks like a slightly less ‘Bruce Wayne’ version of 2004’s Maybach Exelero concept car.
The lines from the long bonnet that lead to the low, pillarless glasshouse and short tail are smooth and elegant. The over-sized three-point star up front and the new slimline LED tail lights at the back complete the look that tells other road users that ‘I made my life choices, and they were good’.
Inside, the opulence continues.
Soft and supple multi-stitched leather and a combination of wood and satin metal trims cover every inch of the dashboard that seems to envelope the front seat occupants. The panoramic glass roof gives the cabin a light and spacious sensation that certainly supports Tony’s likening of the car to a classic Riva speedboat when he first drove it in Italy.
While it may be the starting point to the S-Coupe range (with the S63 and S65 AMG variants above), the $319,000 S500 (before options and on-road costs) is no steel-wheeled base model.
To detail what isn’t included in the standard specification would take less time than to cover all the features of the S500. The options list essentially performs a further personalisation pathway, for you to design your ‘S’ the way you want it.
Our test car, in its stunning Cavansite Blue metallic had only the heads-up display ($2300) and Air-Balance package ($800) fitted as options. While the HUD is a must if you are used to these types of system, we’d personally save the $800 on the glovebox-mounted air freshener and swing past Hermes for a nice bottle of cologne so you smell nice outside the car too.
The interior combination of Espresso Brown and Porcelain leather sounds curious on the brochure but works to only heighten the luxurious nature of the S500. Worth keeping in mind though, that dark-denim jeans started to mark the light coloured leather on the driver’s seat after only a day — so either keep your detailer on speed dial, or make light linen slacks a thing again.
Check your shoes too, as the low stance of the coupe paired with those big, heavy doors, make getting out particularly tricky, and boots can easily scuff the sills and door trims.
Mercedes-Benz is experiencing a renaissance with its interiors at the moment, the ergonomics and overall feel being a modern masterpiece of design and functionality. The integration of the twin, high-resolution LCD screens in the dash suits the technology statement of the car perfectly, and their performance is so perfect you very easily forget you aren’t looking at standard analogue dials.
It’s not all perfect though, as despite the showcase nature of the S-Coupe, it isn’t as special as it should be when it comes to common switchgear.
Mercedes set a new standard for affordable luxury with the 2014 W205 C-Class. The quality and presentation of the interior in particular continues to be a standout, but when the window and mirror switches on a $60,000 C200 look and feel the same as on a $300,000 S-Class, some of the magic is lost.
That said, the Command infotainment system that is working its way onto all new Mercedes-Benz models is the best iteration yet. The way the car is shown in context when making setup changes, and when the control-wheel prohibits movement to indicate a lack of options to select make the system so much more intuitive.
Speaking of setup changes, we had fun with the interior lighting tones, where you can select seven different colours to illuminate the inside of the car. We elected to roll with ‘Miami Nightclub’ purple as it was marginally less offensive than ‘Las Vegas Nightclub’ red.
Another curious annoyance is the fact that the electric arm that calmly hands you your seat belt only activates when the ignition is on, somewhat upsetting the engrained behaviour of sit, click, start.
When you do fire up the S500 though, all sins are almost forgotten.
A lovely deep burble and unmistakable rhythmic throb comes from the 335kW/700Nm 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8. It has none of the ferocity of some of its AMG siblings, just an effortless smoothness — power and purpose. Torque is sent to the rear wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Squeeze the throttle and the big coupe gathers pace easily. Hitting a freeway on-ramp, you see 100km/h almost too quickly, there is no hesitation or tapering of power delivery. The car could keep going, smooth and linear to its electronically governed top speed of 250km/h where we know it would cruise happily and quietly all day, every day.
On all roads, and in all weather, the S500 is quiet, comfortable and generally effortless to live with.
It’s thirsty though, the fuel consumption graph amusingly limited to a 20-litres per 100km maximum level. We regularly saw this maxed out, the claimed 8.6L/100km combined cycle clearly achieved in optimal conditions which definitely don’t include driving in Melbourne.
Low-speed behaviour is light and easy, although we found the automatic parking took the car’s 20-inch rims far too close to the gutter for our liking (on multiple occasions) and each time we abandoned the computer to park the big Benz ‘by hand’. The hidden reverse-view camera is a gem though.
A broad range of other driver assistance and safety technologies are included on the S-Class coupe. They work well, the Distronic adaptive cruise control system is the best in the business, but you tend to feel that the car is doing more work than you are. The steering assistant component of Distronic-Plus, that aims to keep the car in the centre of a lane, makes the wheel feel light and somewhat disconnected from your movements.
It’s a bit disconcerting if you are used to ‘driving’ but it’s not really doing anything wrong. It is almost as if the S500 knows where you need to go before you do, and any human inputs are just slowing it down. We’re not quite at Asimov’s utopian future yet, but cars like the S500 really demonstrate just how close we could be to a driverless reality.
The S-Class coupe range is equipped with the aptly named Magic Body Control system, which uses a stereo camera array in the windscreen to ‘read’ the road ahead and adjust the suspension to soak up bumps and imperfections.
We noted a very smooth ride on the majority of surfaces, but found that the system isn’t foolproof. Speed humps around urban Melbourne would occasionally cause the MBC system to work on the way up, but not down on the hump. This resulted in an almost imperceptible approach of a speed hump followed by a bit of a thump as the back wheels came down the other side.
Other times the system wouldn’t notice the humps at all (always embarrassing when trying to demonstrate MBC to a passenger!).
The car’s ride settings can be further adjusted using the amazing Curves control system which ‘tilts’ the car into corners when driven in a slightly more sporting manner. It’s the best of both worlds given the standard ‘Comfort’ setting is a little too soft for B-Road touring and ‘Sport’ tends to spoil the coupe’s ‘cruiser’ image.
It’s all very impressive and all very capable, but it’s not all that involving. Where the S-Class sedan is a car to be driven in, the S-Class coupe is a car to drive… just not a driver’s car.
The S500 Coupe is a big, beautiful statement to status and success. Despite its mainstream lineage and minor gripes about shared switchgear, the S500 is still a rare and special machine.
For the captain of industry who doesn’t really care about the journey but wants to know they will arrive safely and reliably in both style and comfort, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz S500 Coupe is still the best in the business.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser and James Ward.