By Design

Mercedes-Benz Concept S-Class Coupe

If I had to guess at the motivation for creating this concept, I’d say it was because Daimler AG couldn’t accept domestic rival Volkswagen possessing a 200-mph luxury coupe (the Bentley Continental GT Speed) while Mercedes was stuck at 185 mph or so with its
AMG hot rods. Yes, that’s a silly motive, but it drives a lot of the industry: if someone else has a vehicle you don’t, make one. “Monkey see, monkey do” is the industry rule, even among top luxury-car makers. Of course, Mercedes has almost always had a big coupe in its top range, and these cars have almost always been impressive in both appearance and performance. That’s true now, with the CL-class coupe. But that’s a car I really don’t like, don’t think is very good-looking, and wouldn’t want to have.

This concept coupe is different. I saw a model without the interior late in 2012 and was impressed, despite my intrinsic dislike of giant, heavy cars with only four seats, even if they’re seriously aerodynamic. I’m still a bit uncertain about why I liked this car so much then and also when I saw it in more finished form at the Frankfurt show, where it appeared with a lavish yet somewhat restrained interior. Even now, I’m struck more by stylistic inconsistencies than by the overall beauty of the car. In part, that’s because it really does not photograph well, but also because it is not the details of the design that make it desirable, it’s — to borrow a good German intellectual concept — the gestalt, the “wholeness” of it, that does the job.

The S-class coupe is big — bigger than anything I’ve ever owned or am ever likely to possess — but I’m reminded of what the late Bill Mitchell used to say about it being a lot harder to tailor a dwarf than a strapping athlete. The size is part of the appeal, and the design tricks implemented to make it look even bigger — the upright grille allowing a very long hood is the most obvious of these — is part of it as well. More than a century of automotive design has conditioned us to appreciate a very long hood, even if the hood towers far above the engine beneath it. Long ago, that engine might well have been an in-line eight, a configuration chosen as much for the styling it required as for the smoothness it offered compared with the ubiquitous four-cylinders that have been used in most products. V-8 engines were known early in the last century, their virtues were well understood by engineers, but until Henry Ford embraced the idea in the early 1930s, most engineers preferred to arrange their pistons in a long, straight line, thereby bequeathing us a certain sensibility about automotive shapes. So maybe it’s purely visceral, but this car hits all the emotional chords, even if it counters most of the rational design ideas I cherish.


1 The hood is considerably lengthened by making the grille severely upright. Vestiges of the original 300SL’s hood bumps are seen in the ridges along the top.

2 LED running lamps are all but universal now, and each carmaker tries to find a different way of arranging them. Here a rising curve of light reaches toward the rear.

3 An almost vertical wall separates the central nacelle form from the fender below.

4 A curious surface development is the line rising from the headlamp’s upper rear corner that does not quite align with the upper negative crease in the body side.

5 Pure concept-car mirrors, without enough vertical dimension to satisfy regulators in most countries. We can expect the production car to have bigger glass areas.

6 There is not much of a haunch in profile, emphasis being placed on flowing lines descending gently toward the rear.

7 As always, concept cars carry wheels that are much too big for ride comfort. The relatively thin spokes of these 21-inch wheels give a clear view of gigantic carbon-ceramic brake discs.

8 Corner grilles beneath the swept-back lamps are surprisingly large, but they’re likely necessary to adequately cool the biggest engines the car will offer. The upper perimeter protrudes from the fender surface.

9 The shiny-dot-textured main grille protrudes from the base surface as well, making the nose recall past grand prix racers.

10 The hundreds of little rectangles that make up the concave grille allow the three-pointed star and the radar mounted behind it an unobstructed electronic view of the road ahead.


11 The photo-sensitive glass roof is dramatic and adds cabin luminosity unless it is opaqued by the driver.

12 The backlight is flush with the teardroplike upper and does not wrap into the C-pillar for a very clean look. It is usefully big for practical rear visibility.

13 We must assume that this peak’s exact position was chosen primarily by aerodynamicists, but it also visually links nicely to the undercut features on the sides.

14 Mercedes-Benz cars have often had large areas of chrome, but here it is concentrated on the lower tail, with elaborate exhaust outlets incorporated into a single massive piece.

15 This little peak to the lower taillight profile coincides with the deck-opening cutline. A minor detail but pleasant.

16 No cheap-to-make rolled-constant-section trim for this very expensive coupe. As with lovingly handbuilt cars of yore, the trim tapers from thin to thick as it moves aft. Nice.

17 This crease looks to be — and probably is — vulnerable to damage, but its prominence helps reduce the visual height of the lower body.

18 These blade sections just ahead and behind the hollowed sill seem a bit much, but they line up with similar lines ahead of and behind the wheel openings.


19 Shades of Kalifornia Kustoms: rolled, pleated leather seats. Actually, they looked good ages ago, and they look good here. And I suspect these are really comfortable.

20 Flattened bottom of the steering wheel for fattened paunches of the good Burghers who can afford this car. And it looks a bit racy, too.

21 I find this straightforward rectangular information display admirable. If you’ve got to use rectangular screens, why fool around with a distorted perimeter?

22 Here is all the voluptuous curved material you’ll ever need, nicely done in soft white leather. The whole is a bit over the top, but it’s attractive for a car of this kind. The blue color at the edges of the cockpit and seats are Germany’s equivalent to our “green” coding, suggesting ecologically correct design.

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2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

MSRP $168,600 Maybach S560 4MATIC Sedan