On the surface, it’s hard to tell if Mercedes Benz S 680 is different from the regular S Class. There are very few giveaways like different alloys, steel brakes and, of course, the S 680 badge. But from the moment I opened one of the car’s 250kg doors, I knew this Mercedes-Benz was different. The Mercedes-Benz S Guard is a car that business leaders and heads of state use. It can survive the high-octane scenes we see in action movies. This is the armoured Mercedes-Benz and I was lucky enough to get an exclusive drive.
On a snowy day in Tyrol, Austria, I am taking the Mercedes Benz S 680 out for a spin on a test track. But before I start, I decide to learn about the car and the tech used inside it.
The car weighs about 4.2 tonnes, which is why we are on a closed track. In Europe you need a special licence to drive a car over four tonnes. What makes this car weigh more than twice the regular S class? Earlier, guard vehicles had the safety features integrated into the regular body shell. This model has a specially constructed body shell and comes with other gizmos that you see in Bond films. Small wonder then, the S 680 comes with a VPAM VR10 rating, the highest ballistic certification for civilian vehicles. This car is not only bullet-proof, but also resistant to explosive charges. It’s also the first time a guard car is an all-wheel drive.
A layered glass, almost 10 cm thick, surrounds the car with a polycarbonate layer on the inside for splinter protection. That’s what makes the doors so heavy, apart from the protective materials of the body shell. To ensure that body guards can quickly open the doors for their VIP occupants, there are actuators to help haul the weight. Once set in motion, the car will not stop for anything. This is to ensure the safety of the passenger in case of an attempted attack. There’s also a feature that allows the passenger to communicate with the outside world without opening the window: an on-board intercom system operated by the driver via a couple of buttons on the central console. The system would allow you to speak to anyone outside the car, or listen to them.
While regular tyres weigh around 20kg, this car comes equipped with specially constructed tyres that have an additional inner layer to ensure that, when faced with a potential flat or a dangerous situation, it can still continue for another 30km up to a speed of 80 kmph.
Open the trunk and it looks like the normal cavernous S class boot. The backing drops, however, open to display what looks like a veritable laboratory. Tanks and pipes stare back at you. A yellow tank will empty up to 900 litres of fresh air into the cabin in case of a gas attack. This can be deployed by the driver via a button on the central console. The red tank, on the other hand, is a fire extinguisher.
Engineers at Mercedes-Benz worked hard to ensure that despite all the heavy armour, the passenger gets every bit of luxury as expected from an S Class. With the heavy doors shut, it’s like being deep inside a fortress. There is absolute silence. The only real difference here is that the window area is a little smaller and when you drop the central armrest down it’s like a charging hub with a multitude of C-type ports. The rear seat has the chauffeur package for the VVIP to stretch out in utmost comfort, with entertainment screens and wireless charging.
Up front the layout is almost similar but the central console has a few old-school, coloured buttons one would see in a cockpit. They stand out as basic in this otherwise luxurious cabin, but for safety it’s necessary to have these backlit easy access buttons. They allow the driver to operate the intercom as well as the cabin lights, and deploy the extinguisher or the fresh air tank. While these are some standard features built in to ensure the highest levels of safety, the S Guard has a high level of customisation available, especially for communication systems.
A comparative braking test between the regular S-class and the S Guard allowed me to feel the physics of the extra weight, especially under acceleration and the in-stopping distances. What was remarkable is how small the difference was. I expected the armoured vehicle to go sliding a lot longer under braking, especially on the wet snowy track.
Then I drove over a “Kick Plate”, which is a computer-controlled hydraulic-actuated plate, set flush to the road surface and designed to induce loss of rear wheel traction, putting the car into a skid or spin. The driver doesn’t know which way the rear will kick out and the idea is to catch the slide. Now imagine the rear of a 4.2-tonne vehicle suddenly losing it without warning on a very low traction surface while you are behind the wheels. Your reflexes have to be lightening fast to react. What’s remarkable is when you are quick enough with the counter steer, the car regains composure with an ease you cannot imagine.
Mercedes-Benz say that the aim was to make the armoured vehicle dynamically as close to the S-class as possible. They have. Whether it was dodging obstacles on an icy track or driving on split traction surfaces, the S Guard made me feel invincible. Powering the giant is a V12 with 612 hp and 830 Nm of torque. Yes, you have to put your foot down heavily to build up speed, but once you do it is pretty quick. It does a 0-100 in a very commendable 8.3 seconds.
The S 680 guard made me believe in all the action sequences I’ve seen where a car is racing through the countryside, dodging sniper bullets, surviving explosions while the passenger inside is completely safe. This battle tank-like car feels close to a regular S Class. While they can’t bend the rules of physics, I would say Mercedes has warped them enough to offer the highest levels of luxury with the highest level of protection you can get.
Renuka Kirpalani is the editor of Autocar Show.
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