It is said that the most precious commodity amuốn the upper echelon of America"s working class these days--more valuable than diamonds, Berkshire Hathaway shares, or even a full head of natural-looking hair--is time. And the net worth of every millisecond of "free time" will continue to skyrocket as our workdays lengthen, as urban sprawl extends commuting distances, và as traffic mật độ trùng lặp từ khóa chokes the existing road system. Road rage is a reaction to these pressures, và now multitasking is being proffered as a solution. Keep drivers busy enough, & maybe they won"t shoot one another. Behold the poster child for vehicular multitasking: Mercedes-Benz"s flagship sedan, the S600. For the hands-on plutocrat who refuses khổng lồ be driven, there is no better self-propelled, land-bound way to get somewhere quickly while simultaneously keeping tabs on a corporate empire. Like all 2001 Mercedes-Benzes, the S-class comes standard with a Tele Aid cell-phone links lớn keep the driver in touch with the factory or emergency services. But Mercedes was first lớn market with an "Internet on wheels" telematics system, available for 2001 on all models equipped with a COMAND navigation system (standard on S- and CL-classes, a $2035 option on C-, CLK-, & E-class cars). CNN Interactive beams the Web nội dung lớn the car for an annual fee of $125, plus air time.


Customers can have sầu their own personal Web page on the site, and it can be personalized lớn traông chồng stocks of interest, news topics, sports, weather, etc. Text can then be downloaded and displayed on the screen at the touch of the "SVC" button in the COMAND cluster.

Calendar reminders are also available for the harried exec on a tight schedule. COMAND admonishes Mr. Big lớn wait until the car is parked to lớn read the text, but it can be displayed on the fly. Expect many upgradable Web-related features lớn be added throughout the useful life of a new 2001 Mercedes, but for now all data transmission comes across at the protracted pace of 9600 bits per second.

File attachments and photos are therefore out of the question (eliminating a whole category of naughty driver distractions). Ah, the question does come up--vị human beings, especially those who"ve sầu circled the sun enough times khổng lồ amass the wealth required lớn acquire an S-class, really have sầu the excess mental processing capathành phố lớn manage steering, acceleration, braking, and Web surfing tasks simultaneously? Perhaps not, but never fear--Distronic intelligent cruise control offers to temporarily relieve his or her highness of the tiresome tasks of accelerating & braking khổng lồ keep pace with the ebb và flow of rush-hour freeway traffic, for just $2800 plus tax.

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The Technical Highlights sidebar examines the guts of this gizmology, but suffice to say that we were able to enter the freeway outside Hogbaông xã Tower, engage the cruise control at 75 mph, & commute 40 miles along four different freeways through moderately thiông xã evening traffic without touching the pedals. Distronic slowed us khổng lồ 30 or 40 mph following traffic around the various cloverleafs. It braked indignantly when oblivious SUV drivers swerved in front and then surged silently bachồng up to cruising tốc độ when the coast was clear.

The system can be set khổng lồ follow between one and two seconds behind the car in front, which means the distance lớn the next oto varies with speed. We found the minimal distance khổng lồ be most effective sầu in thiông xã 40-to-70-mph traffic, as it left insufficient space for any but the most aggressive sầu lane jockey to jump in front. Applying the throttle to drive inlớn the "safety bubble" and around an obstruction countermands the braking function.

On an evening drive across the laser-infested Ohio Turnpike to Cleveland, we set Distronic khổng lồ its maximum following distance (và the maximum mix speed of 110 mph), và then latched on, tractor-beam-like, to lớn whoever was driving fasdemo. We never hit 110, but we were traveling as fast as possible without making a target of the big blaông chồng Benz. At 70 mph, one has about three seconds to react if the warning beeper sounds for an object within 300 feet, so paying attention is still a good idea, particularly considering the system occasionally loses traông xã of a target oto that is still very much in view. (This tends to happen mostly on curves, và for that reason, the system won"t accelerate khổng lồ resume a phối tốc độ on a curve sầu.)

For the record, during Distronic cruising we devoted our otherwise loafing foot-control brain cells not khổng lồ the boredom of the Web but khổng lồ glancing frequently at the "DTR" screen in the center of the instrument cluster. It shows a cartoon of the S-class"s nose on the right edge, while another cartoon oto moves baông xã and forth to lớn show the speed và position of any vehicle within 300 feet in front, plus the boundary of the prephối safe following distance. Distronic is available across the S-class lineup, so it"s the 362-hp, 5.8-liter 36-valve sầu V-12 that makes the S600 the ultimate executive commuter car.

Acceleration is as smooth, silent, và swift as a ngân hàng window"s vacuum tube. Sixty mph flashes by in 5.4 seconds, the quarter-mile disappears in 13.9 at 103 mph--quicker than a Porsbít 911 Tiptronic. And Porsche-svào brakes are part of the package, vented all-around, cross-drilled in front. They stopped this 4439-pounder in 164 feet from 70 mph, time and again. The active-body-control system (ABC), standard on S600s, maintains a very even keel when phối lớn "sport" mode & contributed khổng lồ the 0.82-g skidpad grip.

The penalty is a bit more pothole harshness--even in normal mode--than we expect in a car of this caliber. The numbers indicate a twisty-road proficiency that the S600 has little enthusiasm for demonstrating. The variable-assist steering provides artificially high effort and minimal feedbachồng, & when driven hard, the car"s body toàn thân language seems khổng lồ say, "Hey, pal, where"s the terrorist pursuit?" Rather, this big beast is built for comfort. Four adjustable heated seats, quad-zone climate control, extra leather & wood trim, & an Alcantara headliner are all part of the S600 bargain, and at just $119,063, it is a value, priced $21,200--ahem--"cheaper" than the 1999 S600, before taxes. Money-to-burn types will be comforted to learn that $16,125 worth of options remains available, though, including our car"s $450 power opening and closing trunklid. Now, we ask you, what more could you possibly want than a self-driving oto that even opens and closes its trunk?

Distronic: The "eyes" of this space-age cruise control are a three-beam radar gun mounted behind the center of the grille. The overlapping beams are three degrees wide, and each covers a lane"s width 100 meters (328 feet) in front of the oto. The radar will not set off oncoming detectors & is claimed lớn penetrate fog and dust better than the laser-based units employed by Lexus and Infiniti. When a vehicle is detected, the system checks with the steering, yaw-rate, & wheel-tốc độ sensors lớn determine if it is in the Benz"s path. If it is, the brain decides how much deceleration is required & sends orders lớn the electronic stability program, which then cuts power, downshifts, or engages the brakes, or all the above, with up to 20 percent (roughly 0.đôi mươi g) force. If 20-or-more-percent braking is required, a beep và a red caution symbol alert the driver. The computer disables the brake lamps during very light Distronic braking & suppresses downshifts for smoothness at wide-open-throttle acceleration when resuming the phối tốc độ.

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The system is phối and controlled as on any other Mercedes, with the addition of a thumb wheel on the center console to lớn adjust the following distance from between one và two seconds. A second button on the console allows the driver khổng lồ enable the warning beep and icon even when Distronic is not engaged. V-12 cylinder deactivation:

Whenever the driver is not accelerating or climbing a hill, chances are this V-12 engine is running like a straight-six. When conditions dictate, the engine controller directs hydraulic pressure through the left-ngân hàng rocker-arm shaft khổng lồ a series of pistons that decouple the rocker arms from their roller followers, closing the valves on six cylinders full of hot exhaust gas. A diminished spark continues to fire, & the fuel is switched bachồng on briefly once every four minutes to keep the engine warm.

As one bank is shut down, the throttle is opened and fuel delivery lớn the other bank is increased khổng lồ provide equivalent torque. A valve sầu in the exhaust crossover pipe is also closed to lớn maintain a smooth sound quality. The changeover is imperceptible, so we wired up a light to tell us when we were running on six cylinders. On a 40-mile commute at 70 mph across Michigan"s seasonal salt flats through morning traffic, we ran on six pots for 28 minutes of the 38-minute drive sầu, achieving 23.2 mpg, lending much credence khổng lồ Benz"s clalặng of a 20-percent boost in fuel economy.

AARON ROBINSONDistronic performs marvelously on a lightly traveled highway but takes on the personality of an amphetamine-addicted cabby in denser traffic. The S600"s silibé cerebellum is rabidly protective sầu of its personal space, so the throttle and brake pedals are in constant tango as they work lớn keep others at the perimeter of the zone. The incessant braking earns you laser-beam looks from fellow drivers while your passengers scramble for the barf bags. To be perfect, the S600 needs a supercomputer powerful enough khổng lồ predict traffic"s ebbs và flows & intelligent enough khổng lồ know when khổng lồ bend its own rules for the sake of comfort. Oh, wait a minute. It already has one--behind the wheel.

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CSABA CSEREWith semiactive sầu suspension, radar-assisted cruise control, a motorized trunklid, và many other innovations, the S600 is clearly Mercedes" technological flagship, but the component that most impresses me is the one that has 12 pint-sized cylinders arrayed in a neat V. Although this 5.8-liter V-12 weighs a mere 490 pounds, it generates 362 horsepower that silently và smoothly slingshots the S600 through the quarter-mile in less than 14 seconds. Moreover, thanks to its clever cylinder-deactivation system, this V-12 achieves virtually the same fuel economy as the 350-pound lighter--và less swift--S500"s V-8. Such công nghệ is what I expect in a luxury chariot for the 21st century.

TONY SWAN As C/D"s resident Luddite, I tend lớn resist techno-enhancements that require several hours of study khổng lồ operate successfully, & devices that intercede between driver and driving summon up the Berserker in my soul. Okay, khổng lồ be fair, the Distronic system is a remarkable achievement--generally effective, unobtrusive sầu, and even occasionally entertaining. But it stops being effective sầu if you"re overtaking a slower car in a curve, because it can"t "read" that car"s presence until the road straightens out. And the main reason most people will want lớn acquire this device--$2800, please--is so they can concentrate more fully on their cell-phone conversations. Hey. Is this progress?

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