A representative speaks to one of the industry’s biggest selling points.
Daily headlines prove that Europe in the 21st Century is not exactly experiencing one of its golden epochs.
The Greeks are throwing their wine glass economy over the shoulder; Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy are acting more Carte Blanche than the French; subsidized, jobless Londoners have discovered smash-n-grab shopping (group-on the aisles?); and the thrifty, disciplined Germans are ready to spank their Euro-mates into fiscal obedience.
But while this otherwise adorable cradle of Western Civilization behaves more like a baby basket case, the adults on the continent — the Germans — can still pull off an exportable toy for grown-ups. Enter the 2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 sedan. It’s a clean, green, fuel-lean machine for the global luxury scene. It arrived in the U.S. in September as the first diesel S-Class Mercedes-Benz here since 1995.
And it’s well-suited for the challenges facing the Western world. The S350 offers 31 mpg advertised fuel economy and a BlueTec V-6 clean engine, combined with a solid tank-like frame with refined interior details. That makes it a chauffeured car ideal for global turbulence — high gas prices, climate change fears, debt dramas, value-added demands, and a luxury consumer mindset that involves a penny pinch or two.
LCT’s recent evaluation of the S350 reveals a chauffeured vehicle with ample rear seat legroom and enough black leather upholstery and trim to make it the dominatrix of vehicle interiors. The sturdy rear seat lumbar support and soothing black leather surfaces ease any comfort concerns and instead focus the attention on performance matters, such as acceleration, engine noise, and ride vibrations. In all of those categories, the S350 proves agile and adept.
You only hear that grinding diesel “clack” when the car accelerates at slow speeds, but even then it is muffled and hushed compared to the diesel rattler-road reptiles of 30-plus years ago (during the Jimmy Carter era). Accelerations at higher speeds and cruising speeds are as quiet as those in gasoline vehicles. A “sport mode” allows for faster acceleration for tight mergers and quick bursts on the freeway. As painful as this is to admit, the era of the V-8 is over, although the V-12 era of big government shows no signs of abating.
The S350 ride resembles a smooth cruise — shut your eyes and it feels like a Ritz-Carlton mattress stuffed into a bunker. The car behaves in such a responsive and safe manner that a driver could easily be seduced into a teen-age swagger of invincibility.
The trunk space is, well shall we say, “European.” Not too small, but not Texas-big like the Town Car, the DTS or the MKT. Europeans, who generally don’t like Texas unless watching “Dallas,” consume smaller food portions than Americans and reside in less square-footage per household. So it only follows that trunk space and vehicles are sensibly moderate. We were able to fit in a complete Samsonite luggage set, with big roller case and two carry-on roller suitcases; an oversized gym duffle bag; and a set of golf clubs. There was room to spare for a few more items such as a briefcase, a laptop, and/or a few shopping bags. Two clients with complete luggage sets and golf club sets would not be able to fit all. But that’s why chauffeured fleets should include SUVs and CUVs.
Compared to the Lincoln Town Car Executive L, the S350 obviously has less trunk space and legroom. One of our LCT staff members reports the ride in the backseat is a little firmer than in the hunky-boaty-floaty Town Car. But the Town Car is going away, along with Ford’s E-chassis sedan platform, so making such comparisons going forward is pointless.
Thanks to its fuel economy, the S350 does roll with some profit potential. After all, Europeans, despite disfiguring their private sector with excessive government taxes and rules, have managed to keep E- and S-Class chauffeured Mercedes-Benzes profitable for years. If they can do it, so can Americans. A complete numbers-crunch on this S350 accompanies this article.
Overall, the S350 — just like the Lincoln MKT Town Car, the MKZ Hybrid, the anticipated Cadillac XTS, the Hyundai Equus, and the Toyota Avalon — safely belongs in that new “Generation Y” of practical, high-tech, low-key luxury vehicles. It had better, since they will be driving the luxury transportation industry through an American decade that looks to being economically lost.
FACTS & STATS NEXT PAGE
Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTec FACTS & STATS
LCT recorded the following dimensions on the S350. In chauffeured vehicles, it’s all about legroom and trunk space.
OPERATOR ROI CALCULATOR ON S350 NEXT PAGE
Crunching The Numbers On the S350
How much revenue would the S350 would have to generate in one month to break-even on all costs AND deliver a 10% net profit margin to the operator? A sample calculation was made based on operating the S350 in the Washington, D.C./Northern Virginia chauffeured transportation market. The complete “live” tool and footnotes can be found online at www.AGoffLimo.com/Affiliate where visitors can enter specific variable numbers to test the economics of the S350 for a particular fleet.
The S350 cost/revenue calculator was designed for LCT Magazine by Dan Goff and Barry Gross of A. Goff Transportation in Virginia, and Bruce Heinrich of Leader Worldwide Chauffeur Service in Kansas City, Mo. Complete footnotes, explanations, and qualifiers can be found in the online version of this review at www.lctmag.com/vehicles.
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