Between the Lines: Motor Trend on the Mercedes-Benz S500

It s hard to believe a German car maker would follow the advice of Winston Churchill, but there it is. If you re going through Hell, Winnie admonished his admirers. Keep going. Translation: If your flagship suffers from an overdose of kludgy electronics, add some more. To its credit, Motor Trend s undercapitalized, unattributed, parenthetical (first test) mercedes-benz s550 grasps the electronic nettle from the git-go. To its shame, the buff book never once uses the r word. But if questions about Mercedes s reliability remain unexpressed, at least Motor Trend is willing to tackle the big issues surrounding electronic intervention. Like who actually needs this shit?

TRAFFIC ON the Hollywood Freeway is moving as slowly as salmon swimming upstream after watching a salmon documentary, and for once that s a good thing. The relentless stop-and-go is the perfect opportunity to let Mercedes-Benz brand-new flagship sedan, the 2007 S550, show what it can do. You can read about the dragstrip and the slalom cones later; right now, the big Benz is putting on a truly unforgettable performance: It s driving by itself.
There s something fishy about this lead. Why would a salmon who s watched a salmon documentary be reluctant to swim upstream? Bears? Natural mortality? Hey, you re a fish. Shit happens. Deal with it. Even if we can be bothered to imagine a fish smart enough to comprehend a nature documentary, why would this clever salmon be immune from the genetic imperative to spawn? And here s another creative conundrum: why did MT s CREATIVE DIRECTOR (notice the caps) Andy Foster start the review with capitalization when all the headers throughout the entire magazine are in lower case?

Anyway, we get the picture: traffic-compatible cruise control. And if we don t, we get a second paragraph assuring us that the driver still has to steer and trumpeting the fact that the car of the future has landed. (Well finally!) Strangely, we re also told that HAL 9000 s real name is Distronic Plus. Does the fact that the fictional HAL 9000 computer murdered a bunch of astronauts bother anyone else?

As is the way of these things, the lame opening graphs somehow managed to avoid the delete stage of the editing process to spawn in MT s glossy pages. Literary fertilization actually begins in paragraph three:

Mercedes is making one giant leap with this flashy, technology-packed new edition of its iconic sedan. Not only does the 2007 S-Class represent a significant advance in automotive wizardry, it s also a radical departure from the stoic, conservative big Benzes of yesterday. Call it engineering chutzpah, call it engineering arrogance, but Mercedes is boldly going where no automaker- no even BMW- has gone before. The market will ultimately decide whether the company is going in the right direction, but after living with the car for two weeks in L.A. and conducting an extended round of detailed instrument testing, our impressions are decidedly mixed.
Before I lambaste MT for once again wimping-out on a critically import issue for both manufacturer and customer [see: BTL on the new Tahoe s mileage], please note the little phrase explaining that chutzpah means arrogance. If you were wondering why magazines hire sub-editors, or why they shouldn t bother, there s your answer.

Now, I wouldn t have minded if MT had saved their judgment on MB s latest gizmology for the end of the piece. I wouldn t even have minded a waffling conclusion. But to start a tech-oriented review by saying you couldn t make up your mind about the wisdom of MB's tech love after two weeks with the beast makes me wonder who made these guys experts in the first place. Fence straddling may be an art, but it s not one I like spending $12 a year on — even if the payment is tax-deductible and I save 74% off the cover price.

My subsidy also helped pay for the next three graphs, which damn Merc s COMMAND uber-controller with faint praise ( It could well be the best of the lot ) and threaten to Thomas Dolby my retinas (14-way power seats, DVD-A flashcard compatible stereo, 20-gig hard drive sat nav, Drive Dynamic seats, thermal imaging system, etc.). It s ironic; MT s Merc review is as technology-intensive as the S550 itself.

When MT finally gets round to a quick scan of the German luxobarge s performance and handling, a couple of surprises await. First, the car is quick but a few ticks slower than factory claims. Second, as the S550 approaches its limits its optional ABC (Active Body Control system) reduces handling feel and control." You d be forgiven for wanting to know a bit more. MT will not be forgiven for instantly forgiving Mercedes. Screw the accelerative inconsistency. Nobody s going to want for power . Tricky on the limit? "A sign, perhaps, of Mercedes marketeers targeting a broader, more comfort-driven audience?

Perhaps is a popular word over at MT. (Something to do with advertising perhaps?) It s no surprise, then, that they deploy it for their please sir, can I have some more? summation.

The new S550 is a superb automobile and a techno wonder, sure to generate ooohhs and aaahhs wherever it goes. But we can t help wondering if perhaps Mercedes-Benz, in its bid to out-tech BMW, has handed over the reins to the wrong driver.

You can say that again.

RF

[Jalopnik s Between the Lines column parses the rhetoric of the automotive industry, and the media that covers it, from the point of view of that kid at the back of the class with ADD, a genius IQ and a thirst for mayhem.]

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Between the Lines: Motor Trend on the Chevrolet Tahoe [internal]