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Thread: My personal car reviews: Update on the Mercedes S-Class ("Distronic Plus")

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    My personal car reviews: Update on the Mercedes S-Class ("Distronic Plus")

    Well, I had an S-Class again over the weekend. Here's a short version of the conversation that took place last Thursday:

    Me: "Do you have a car for me over the weekend?"
    Car rental guy: "Sorry, we're all out. Nothing available".
    Me: "What about my 12-hour-in-advance mobility guarantee of your fancy Gold Card?"
    Car rental guy: "We have ourselves taken out of the reservation system, so that doesn't count now"
    Me: "What about that S-Class there then?"
    Car rental guy: "It's due for maintenance on Monday morning"
    Me: "Oh? What's wrong with it?"
    Car rental guy: "The last customer reported that the rear screen seals make howling noises above 240 km/h"
    Me: "I can live with that. Give me the keys."







    This is the S350, it has the 3.5 liter 6-cylinder petrol engine, which delivers 272 HP. That engine is too thirsty. I got 14 l/100 km (or 17 mpg) and you need to rev it to move fast. It also gets a bit loud when you rev it high. Frankly it's not my favourite engine. I liked the S320 CDI more, even though the S350 is clearly faster, when you floor it, and smoother, when you're driving at slower speeds.

    The reason why I make this update to my S-Class review from last year, is because this one came with some more extras.

    Most importantly it was equipped with the radar-guided cruise control "Distronic Plus", which automatically adjusts your speed and distance to the car in front of you, even to a standstill. And if you stand less than a few seconds, it even accelerates again on its own. If you stand for longer (e.g. at a redlight), it switches into "passive mode" but a short pull at the cruise control lever re-activates it again.

    This works up to 200 km/h, so essentially you can drive this car with hardly ever touching the accelerator or the break pedal.

    And it works nearly perfectly. It has its limitations but those are few and any driver with common sense wouldn't expect it to function there anyway:

    1. Very sharp corners. If the radar loses contact to the car in front of you all of a sudden, the system beeps and switches itself into passive mode, meaning you have to pull the cruise control lever again or slightly push the accelerator to make it resume its program.

    2. Traffic lights. The Distronic Plus only uses about one third of the braking potential as maximum. So if you set it to 100 km/h and come to a redlight with other cars already having stopped, it will not be able to brake in time by itsself.
    But don't worry: Everytime the system believes the driver has to take action, it beeps twice very loudly to remind you. And if you step on the brake then, the brake assistant will apply the right amount of breakforce to make you stop in time. It's quite brilliant and you get used to it in no time at all.


    The radar antenna is behind that cover in the middle of the grill

    I played around with this function all weekend, using it in the city, on country roads and on Autobahns. My verdict is: As long as you are aware of its limitations, you can rely on it. You learn to trust it completely very quickly. It even recognizes bicycles and motorbikes.

    Not once was it fooled by traffic on a parallel lane, not even when driving through narrow lanes in Autobahn roadworks. If I'd have to be picky, I'd say it reacts a little too sensitive sometimes -- for example it warned me about the narrow gate of my company's parking lot -- but that is really just nitpicking. It doesn't do more than beep to catch your attention.

    Here is a short video I took of the "Distronic Plus" in action. I set it to 80 km/h and took the foot off the accelerator. The greyed section inside the speedometer indicates the difference between your predetermined speed and the real speed you're going because of the car in front of you. As long as you see that grey section, the "Distronic Plus" is active, which means that the driver is not doing anything at all. However, the driver can always take back control, when he pushes the brakes of the accelerator. I surely have used it for more than an hour at times without any interferences or problems.
    [YOUTUBE]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiIOub27Bjk[/YOUTUBE]


    The lever of power Moving up is accelerating, moving down is slowing down. Pushing the lever back switches the system off, pulling towards re-activates it again with the speed you set before. You can adjust the predetermined distance to your liking with the ring in the middle.


    Also this car came with the Harman/Kardon surround sound system. It's really quite impressive: Dynamic but never intrusive, with powerful bass. Not the kind of high fidelity I am used to from my home system, though, but kinda perfect for what you need and want in a car.



    The 6-disc auto changer can handle CD's and DVD's but is a bit slow for my taste.

    The whole system and also the sat nav of course work fine with voice commands. And to avoid what happened to Jeremy in an earlier review of the older S-Class, you can teach this system your voice If you speak loud and clearly, it never fails.


    There is a Harman/Kardon demo DVD, which comes with the car. It was still sealed and I left it that way

    So if you put in a relaxing CD (I used "Weltreise" by German trance group Schiller), set the "Distronic Plus" and then go for a ride on some country roads into dusk, you will feel like you're in a rolling chill-out zone, with a minimum of car or wind noises and the music filling out the space.

    Life is good then
    Last edited by MacGuffin; September 3rd, 2009 at 6:32 PM.
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    2 questions:
    1. Why do you rent cars so much?
    2. How much does renting something like that cost on average?

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    MacGuffin's Avatar
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    1. For two reasons. Firstly it's fun and secondly I not only want to talk about cars, I wanna drive them.
    2. For an Audi A6, a BMW 525 or a Mercedes E350 about 200 Euros for a long weekend (Thursday to Monday), including insurance. I usually get it a bit cheaper, because I'm a regular customer and I usually get cars, which otherwise wouldn't have been rented. The S-Class for example would normally be a lot more expensive but since it would have only stood around for 4 days without me driving it, I got it for the price of a C-Class.

    However, your credit card is checked for a debit of 4000 Euros, before they hand it over to you -- just in case. So your limit should allow that
    Last edited by MacGuffin; September 3rd, 2009 at 6:23 PM.
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    That is insanely reasonable. I need to move to Germany or something.

    US rental prices are getting ridiculous. We were planning a trip to Oregon, and it was around $80 for a midsize POS car. My parents went to vegas the other weekend, and they were quoted for $100 a day for some shitty compact. needless to say, they just took the $7 shuttle.

    and in San Diego, a budget place was charging some people down here $50 a day for an old Hyundai Elantra
    Last edited by nouseferaname90; September 3rd, 2009 at 6:28 PM.

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    You are doing a really cool thing, IMO. You have a passion for testing cars, and you've found a great way to do it as a hobby on the side.
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    MacGuffin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nouseferaname90 View Post
    That is insanely reasonable. I need to move to Germany or something.

    US rental prices are getting ridiculous. We were planning a trip to Oregon, and it was around $80 for a midsize POS car. My parents went to vegas the other weekend, and they were quoted for $100 a day for some shitty compact. needless to say, they just took the $7 shuttle.

    and in San Diego, a budget place was charging some people down here $50 a day for an old Hyundai Elantra
    Well, I was referring to weekend special prices. I wouldn't recommend renting a car here for the regular 1-day charge either... at least not the bigger models.

    Quote Originally Posted by darkshark0159 View Post
    You are doing a really cool thing, IMO. You have a passion for testing cars, and you've found a great way to do it as a hobby on the side.
    Thanks

    How to you like the engine in your 240? I once had it in a CLK-240 and didn't like it much, because you have to rev it like hell to get it going.
    Last edited by MacGuffin; September 3rd, 2009 at 6:39 PM.
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    Made from concentrate Dr_Grip's Avatar
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    One question is left unanswered:

    Do the rear screen seals make howling noises above 240 km/h?
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    Quote Originally Posted by darkshark0159 View Post
    You are doing a really cool thing, IMO.
    You should do what I do. go around and test drive cars.
    Especially at carmax because the only thing they really care about is that you are 18. If you are good at bs'ing, then its easy. But stay in a believable price range (20000-30000). I've gotten pretty good at making up stories, and giving a large enough time window that the salesman isn't pushy. and try to find less crowded dealerships. Carmax doesn't really matter though.

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    MacGuffin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dr_Grip View Post
    One question is left unanswered:

    Do the rear screen seals make howling noises above 240 km/h?
    Yes. Like a kid blowing into a toy trumpet.

    Actually it depended on the wind direction. Sometimes it already started at 230 km/h and sometimes it came around 250 km/h. It was quite unnerving and it isn't the kind of sound an S-Class should make.

    My suspicion is, that the rear window wasn't put in properly and that some part of the rubber sealing didn't fit in right.
    Last edited by MacGuffin; September 3rd, 2009 at 6:53 PM.
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    I like your hobby. Just a pity im only 19 and therefore normally can't rent cars (and definitely not an S-class). What's the required minimum age at your local car rental?

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    I was going to buy an s class tomorrow, but after reading your review I have changed my mind and am going to buy an ironing board instead.

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    Strange hobby...please tell me you at least pose as a rich man and go bar hopping to use your rentals to impress the ladies?

    Its definitely a quality vehicle but not my cup of tea.

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    MacGuffin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by McRae View Post
    I like your hobby. Just a pity im only 19 and therefore normally can't rent cars (and definitely not an S-class). What's the required minimum age at your local car rental?
    21 years and you have to have a driving license for at least 2 years. In case of sports cars or luxury cars (such as the S-Class) it's 25 years and you have to have a driving license for at least 3 years.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jakain View Post
    Strange hobby...please tell me you at least pose as a rich man and go bar hopping to use your rentals to impress the ladies?

    Its definitely a quality vehicle but not my cup of tea.
    Actually I dress in very casual clothes, such as jeans and a t-shirt/sweater and go to a McDrive

    A recommendation: The ambient lighting of the S-Class at night is quite a show, with thin bands of light in the doors and on the dashboard
    Last edited by MacGuffin; September 3rd, 2009 at 9:25 PM.
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    Made from concentrate Dr_Grip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacGuffin View Post
    21 years and you have to have a driving license for at least 2 years. In case of sports cars or luxury cars (such as the S-Class) it's 25 years and you have to have a driving license for at least 3 years.
    Ten years ago at least Europcar rented cars out to unter 20-year-olds. Only "compact" vehicles (which, back then, in 90% of the cases meant "Ford Ka"), though. Don't know how their policy is today as i am over 21 for almost nine years by now
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacGuffin View Post
    How do you like the engine in your 240? I once had it in a CLK-240 and didn't like it much, because you have to rev it like hell to get it going.
    I wouldn't say you have to rev it like hell, but it certainly isn't instantly powerful in the low revs either. I suppose it depends. A lot of times it has no problem accelerating, but sometimes, usually when some idiot is going 15mph under the limit and then all of the sudden decides to take off half way up a hill, then I'll need to get it revving ~5000+ to get going myself. I certainly think I'll try to buy a more powerful car for my next vehicle, but right now the 2.6L is fine considering my small petrol budget and long daily drive to school.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacGuffin View Post
    Me: "I can live with that. Give me the keys."
    Genius.

    Nice review, as always! I also test-drive cars alot, but I only bother taking them out for a couple of hours, which is usually enough to give a clear picture of the car and its habits. It's kinda cool that you make the effort of renting out the car just out of pure interest.

    I think I'll concentrate on buying and fixing up old cars though, much more interesting than these brand new wheelie bins.
    Last edited by frankiess; September 4th, 2009 at 1:40 AM.
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    MacGuffin's Avatar
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    I once talked to one of those oldtimer fans and he said: "An old car brings me into closer contact with to the road".

    I wonder how he meant that?
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    Wankel Wanker frankiess's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacGuffin View Post
    I once talked to one of those oldtimer fans and he said: "An old car brings me into closer contact with to the road".

    I wonder how he meant that?
    Besides the obvious (lying in a puddle of mud under the car, hands in blood, face in oily sweat, trying to reattach the gas line, which came loose after trying to change the spark plugs, which had been rusted tight after not having been changed for 20 years), he could've also been talking about the way old cars are actually held together by bolts and not just bubblegum wrappings, so they feel just a bit more mechanical to drive.
    Last edited by frankiess; September 5th, 2009 at 6:20 PM.
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    Amy Macdonald?

    Yep this is cool, hopefully in a few years I'll be working out in Germany so maybe I might take part in a bit of this
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    Yet another S-Class Update

    Third time is a charme.

    So I went by the car rental today and saw another S-Class parked there. It was rented for a wedding over the weekend as the bridal car. Since they didn't drive on their honeymoon with it, it was available. So I took it.

    This time it's the S350 BlueTec, which is Merc-speak for the latest incarnation of the 3.0-liter 6-cylinder diesel in the S-Class.

    It now has piezo injectors, which is partly responsible for some additional grunt. The upgraded version has 258 HP and 620 Nm of torque from 1600 - 2500 rpm. Also it now comes with the 7G-Tronic Plus automatic. All this now results in the car accelerating in 7.1 seconds from 0-100 km/h and an electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h.

    Frankly it's hard for me to tell the difference to the S320 CDI I drove in the summer of 2008, because it's been more than 2 years. But I can definitely say, that the new S350 feels more alive, than the BMW 730d I drove earlier this year.

    The rest is business as usual. Except for one thing: This is the first time I have the S-Class with the "Airmatic" suspension and "Active Body Control (ABC)". And that makes a huge difference.

    To cut a long story short: I have never driven a more comfortable car. It's practically a flying carpet on wheels. Yet it is still planted and stiff enough to not be wobbly or too soft. The ABC system obviously learns from your way of driving and adapts accordingly.

    It's a bit strange, though, because the steering feels very light and sensitive but nevertheless the car still goes like on rails, even -- and that is really fascinating -- when there are strong crosswinds.

    I mean, we had a rather windy day today, with strong squalls all the time and even at high speeds I felt absolutely nothing of them. Usually you get a good woosh, after you overtook a lorry, and have to correct strongly. But not in this car. No crosswind sensitivity at all. It goes straight without you having to correct the steering wheel. Not even a twitch. That's quite amazing.

    And then there's the phenomenon that is the S-Class. It's hard to put in words but no matter what car you have driven before, you always get the feeling that you are now back in the real thing and not the imitation, when you sit down in the S-Class.

    There is that special flair, that overall feeling of sophistication and relaxation, which you do not get in one of the competitors. In a BMW or an Audi, you always feel the need to prove yourself, to compete with the rest of the world. The S-Class is simply... calming: You know you can go fast, if you want to. But you never get the feeling you have o prove it.

    A 7-Series is like a cocktail bar with neon lighting. The S-Class is an open fireplace and a glass of brandy: Maybe not so exciting but more mature. I like that state of mind.

    It's not only subjective feelings and impressions but also a question of style. For example at night the interiors of a 7-Series, a 5-Series or an Audi A6 are colourful assortments of lights and LED's, which make them look like a fairground attraction. Very bling.

    The S-Class, however, looks like this at night:









    That's the "Polar" colour scheme by the way. The ambient lighting has two more settings: "Solar" and "neutral" but I prefer the cool glow of "Polar"
    Last edited by MacGuffin; November 22nd, 2010 at 11:29 PM.
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