2015 Design of the Year: Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe
A distinguished distillation of all they know in Stuttgart.
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Well-to-do Americans have always loved big, fast,
comfortable coupes, even more than big convertibles. Think of Packard Twelves, Lincoln Zephyrs, Cadillac Coupe de Villes and Eldorados, Buick Rivieras, and Oldsmobile Toronados, all of them gone now. Recall the excitement Cadillac's Elmiraj concept created when it appeared in 2013. It was what many people had been hoping for. But it's not available and isn't likely to be for years to come.
If you want a big coupe today, there's no alternative: You have to go to European luxury manufacturers. The Rolls-Royce Wraith is one, the Bentley Continental GT another. But the one company that has remained consistently committed to big, no-compromises luxury coupes is Daimler-Benz, and its newest Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe is truly spectacular, in both appearance and performance.
When the concept version of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe was shown at Frankfurt in 2013, most observers thought it would surely be toned down and simplified for production, but apart from bigger, more realistic rearview mirrors, and a few changes to the rear diffuser, the production exterior is as first shown. The concept's 21-inch wheels are gone, its marvelous pleated white-leather seat trims have been simplified, and door trim panels have less handwork, but overall the $120,000-plus car on sale now is very close to the "concept." Which, as is so often the case with show cars, was in fact more of a teaser, created only after the production design was finished. A key to both versions is that there really is room for four adults in the sumptuous cabin.
Pushing the grille more upright allowed a longer hood, emphasizing the car's classic, rear-wheel-drive proportions. Keeping the sides clean not only enhances the impression of length, it reduces aerodynamic drag. The top mechanical specification, a 6.0-liter V-12 in the S65 AMG, provides better than 620 horsepower and more than 700 lb-ft of torque. Every chassis feature of the S-Class sedans, almost certainly the most comfortable and quietest vehicles in production today, is carried over to the lighter, shorter-wheelbase coupe. Additionally, the coupe debuts the astonishing Active Curve Tilting, a system that—responding to a forward-looking radar's signals—leans the chassis into turns, reducing side loads on the driver and passengers. Unfortunately, the feature cannot be packaged with 4Matic all-wheel drive, which is standard on the U.S.-market S550 and S63 AMG versions, so we will see it only on the S65 AMG, which remains rear-wheel drive.
We particularly liked the "hot stone" massage function built into the seats when we tried an early example of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe in Germany, however over-the-top it may seem. Yes, we know that some—no, many—of the fancy features are superfluous to serious driving, which the near-incredible powertrains permit, but there's a true sense of luxury in the car. Mercedes chief designer Gorden Wagener says, "Luxury is something you don't really need, but you really want." And when the ambient cabin lighting gives a subtle glow, when perfume is wafting through the filtered and temperature-controlled air circulating silently as you're driving at the really high speeds the car—if not governments—encourages, you know you're in something really special.
We have come to expect characteristics that once were as exotic as leaning chassis and hot stone massages. The lowly microchip may be the principal agent of this happy circumstance, the technical enabler that has given us all easy starting, excellent drivability, low emissions, stability control, antilock braking, and dozens of other advantages. But someone has to have the courage to be first with them, and that has often been Mercedes-Benz, living up to that admirable slogan, "The best or nothing."
The price of superiority may be high, as is frequently the case with the cars we select as Design of the Year. But being first, being able to stand apart and above other designs, justifies the cost and makes this car worthy of our respect. And we hope that this exceptional design will inspire others to bring more big, fast, comfortable coupes to market.
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