1999 Mercedes-Benz S Class Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Ian Norris Ian Norris Editor
August 24, 1998

Mercedes-Benz won't take the wraps of its new super-luxury S-Class sedans until the Paris Auto Show in late September, but the company is tempting potential buyers to wait by revealing some of the technological wonders the new car will bring with it. Among the host of new marvels is a radar-controlled cruise-control system, seats with air-cooling, and "magic fingers" that will massage a driver's back while on the road. And, oh yes, you can jettison the ignition and door-key. Those features are all in addition to the normal S-Class qualities of power, luxury and general engineering excellence.

Mercedes' new cruise control, called Distronic, uses a radar unit mounted behind the radiator grille. This feeds a powerful computer that measures the distance to vehicles ahead, up to a distance of almost 500 feet, and across three lanes of freeway traffic. The driver sets the distance to be maintained between the S-Class and vehicles in front by means of a rotary switch on the dash, which selects a gap of between one and two seconds. Normally, the distance is set at 1.5 seconds, which corresponds to a distance of about 130 feet.

Distronic does it all

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A graphic display on the dash shows the S-Class and the vehicle ahead of it, together with a read-out of the space between them. If the gap drops below the pre-set distance, the brakes are applied gently to slow the car and open the space up again. If the gap continues to decrease, the brakes are applied more, until they are operating at 20 percent of their maximum. At that point a warning sounds and a light flashes on the dash, warning the driver to take over control.

During normal use, this rarely happens, and the Distronic, which uses a new form of cruise control that has been available on some Mercedes models for months now, slows and accelerates back to the pre-set speed almost imperceptibly. Mercedes has tried the system on Germany's Autobahn, and the company says drivers taking part in the tests found that when Distronic was being used, driving was noticeably more relaxing and less stressful.

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