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Behind the Wheel

A Mercedes That Outruns the Adjectives

April 29, 1999|PAUL DEAN

PHOENIX — Mercedes-Benz has cast Ernest Hemingway, Laurence Olivier, Edgar Mitchell on the moon and Jackie Robinson at bat as silent stars of a television commercial that claims mute images work best when words seem hopelessly inadequate.

Wrong. A picture is worth 10,000 words only if it is a magnificent picture. Should words fail, or cannot begin to describe, stay out of the writing business. Certainly stay away from the literate, elegant, exuberant and fluent Mercedes-Benz 2000 S-Class, which could wring scriptures from a rock.

Here is perfection that will never perish; a thing of steel and rubber, wood and leather that at precious moments contains a thinking presence. It purrs and sings and howls to your mood. It is a finer side of life that adds respectability to affluence, even acceptability to personal indulgence. And when light fades from day, when worldly things quiet the music of our spheres, the S-Class will forever remain a muse.

Words adequate enough for you, Ernie?

It is also easy to see why the new S430 (with a 4.3-liter, 275-horsepower V-8) and the S500 (with a 5.0-liter, 302-horsepower V-8) contain sufficient power to stir poetry and quench cynicism. Forget, if we can, whopping prices of $69,700 for the S430 and $77,850 for the S500, even if they are $5,000 and $10,000 less than last year. Quell envy that makes us Saturn andPathfinder owners see Mercedes drivers as enemies of the state. Stop thinking of status implied, fragile egos, penis envy, class distinction and nouvelle richness, which have been underlying points to the three-pointed star for too long.

Here's the bald truth: Study the daring technology of the 2000 S-Class, consider the value of its offerings, its quality, comforts and engineering, and you just might ask how such a car can be made for only $77,850.

*

At that price, however, is it really twice as much car as a Cadillac Seville SLS, Acura RL, Volvo S80, Audi A8 or a Lincoln Town Car? Without question. Maybe even triple when measuring the S-Class for systems innovations, safety equipment and plain old driver and passenger conveniences.

Read it as a car of the future, on sale right now:

* While other builders are bragging about progressing to four front and side air bags--pity the unprotected schnooks in the rear when a Hummer comes through the backdoor--eight, count 'em, air bags are standard equipment on the S-Class.

There's the relatively conventional complement of four, plus a brace of rear side pillows and a pair of curtain bags covering both sides of the car. Hit a light pole head on, roll the car, and you and the family will be viewing survival from inside a giant marshmallow with heads and bones where they should be.

* A Global Positioning Satellite navigation system--a $2,000 option on lesser vehicles--is standard equipment on the S-Class. Punch an SOS button on the rearview mirror and your position, even model and color of the car, are transmitted to emergency central. There is immediate voice contact from a dispatcher who--depending on the crisis our souls are to be saved from--will send out a tow truck, vegetarian pizza, local gendarmes or the U.S. Cavalry. If voice contact is not established, if a heart attack on an empty interstate leaves one speechless, if an air bag is deployed and nobody says why, the dispatcher will roll every emergency service except animal control.

There are also two dashboard buttons for summoning nonemergency services, such as a Mercedes-Benz mechanic or someone who might know 5 Across, a seven-letter word for "devouring greedily."

* Coming to a Mercedes dealership near you, sometime in September, will be an S-Class with the world's first smart cruise control. Radar sensors keep an eye on the car in front, and if it slows, or another car cuts in, the system will back off on the throttle, even apply braking, and there goes your excuse for being thumper in a collision.

* The factory presumes that an S-Class will be used on journeys longer than the range of a biz jet, so Mercedes engineers have developed seating better than first class on Lufthansa. Headrests can be repositioned into pillows. Seats have 14-way adjustments to accommodate every lump and contour of our uncommon bodies.

An optional package includes 10 fans within seat cushions and backrests to cool Arizona afternoons when shirts and shorts stick to the Nappa leather upholstery. And air cells in the front seats deflate and inflate twice a minute to massage the long-distance aches from spine and back muscles. Mercedes Magic Fingers, as it were, with no quarters required.

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