In The Cabin
Two major specification improvements are standard across the 2003 S Class range: Pre-Safe and COMAND.
Pre-Safe is a system which can detect when an accident is about to occur. Using the car's ESP® (electronic stability program) and BAS (brake assist) sensors, Pre-Safe pre-tensions the front seat belts, closes the electric sunroof, and repositions the passenger seats to better-protect the occupants in the event of an impact. If no accident occurs, the system resets itself. It's the first time a significant re-usable safety system has been fitted to a road car.
The system was demonstrated in three different accident scenarios: the crash stop; the oversteer accident; and the understeer accident. Since the seat was reclined to a sleeping position for the last of these I closed my eyes to better stimulate a real life experience. Sure there was a sudden lurch of the car that would have woken the dead. But the seat went upright, the sunroof closed and the seatbelt grabbed me so I didn't get flung about at all. If I'm ever going to be a passenger in an accident, please let it happen in a new S Class.
COMAND is the familiar Mercedes Cockpit Management and Navigation Display System. Combining a new wide-screen GPS satellite navigation and a revised audio system (with the option of a television tuner), COMAND was previously only standard on the S500 and above. Now it's standard across the range and, combined with Pre-Safe, helps to justify the small price increases.
Other revisions for 2003 include subtle styling changes. The headlight lenses are now clear polycarbonate. The rear lights have clear horizontal lines across. The bumpers and grilles are subtly changed. And the quality of interior trim has been upgraded.
Under the bonnets, in addition to the S600 V12, and S500 V8 there is a new 3.7 litre S350 V6 petrol engine, a more powerful 320 straight six diesel, a 400 V8 diesel (left-hand drive only) and, coming soon, a S55 AMG V8 offering a ‘sportier' 500ps from the S600 V12, but 100NM less torque. The S280 and S320 engines continue as before.