What's New for 1998
The uber-Mercedes are not changed much in anticipation of the cars' imminent replacement. BrakeAssist and BabySmart appear in the lineup, but the S320s don't receive the V6 engine that now powers the E320, instead, continuing with the inline six.
Big Mercedes sedans have always been the ultimate automobiles. They scream success, are engineered to be driven hard, and keep the general public at bay. The S-Class projects confidence, prestige and a certain amount of cold indifference.
Starting at just under $70,000 for the surprisingly speedy S320 six-cylinder sedan, and topping out at double that price for a S600 12-cylinder behemoth, the S-Class doesn't seem much like a mega-buck automobile on the inside. The switchgear feels relatively chintzy, the flimsy dash panel above the central vents is totally unacceptable in a car of this caliber and the cheesy terry cloth fabric covering the lower dash feels and looks low rent.
Ergonomics are slightly marred by a plethora of confusing pictographs. Otherwise, the dash layout is perfect, as is the seating position. Step out and close the door; the thunk as it shuts exudes quality craftsmanship. The exterior styling is slab-sided and massive, making the car look fat. Aside from the traditional grille, the S-Class is devoid of exterior character, more so than the pedestrian Lexus LS400, and in startling contrast to the BMW 7-Series.
For 1998, Mercedes has limited changes to whatever could be pulled out of the parts bin. That means BabySmart airbag technology and Brake Assist. Brake Assist is designed to give drivers maximum braking power in a panic situation by detecting a panic application of the brake pedal and increasing braking power to its highest limit. We've not tried this new system yet, but we are somewhat hesitant of a car that thinks it knows more about our impending doom than we do. The BabySmart airbag system works in conjunction with a special Mercedes car seat, allowing moms and dads the option of putting little Suzie in the front passenger's seat without having to worry about the front airbag deploying in her face.
The S-Class costs more than just about anything printed in this book, and although the car is nice, we don't think it is quite that nice. If you've got this much money to spend, take a look at the new Jaguars or the BMW 7-Series; they might just make you happier.