Battling with a bureaucracy gone mad
Some governments are worse than others and we don't have to worry about secret 'police' banging the door down in the middle of the night and wiring our genitals to a car battery. But they all metaphorically kick us in the nuts given half the chance.
So it is in Europe, as emissions regulations strangle the tuners' best efforts and force Carlsson to start from scratch with the S500. Standing in minus-five degrees, the case against global warming never seemed so flimsy.
See, the new S-Class is Euro IV compliant and is increasingly difficult to tune without kicking it back to Euro III regulations, which wouldn't sell in Germany. So Carlsson has had to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new set-up for its supercharged five-liter V8. They'll make it work, but it's going to take time.The ML500 still benefits from the old kit, but the S-Class was barely out the cellophane wrapping by the time I arrived at Carlsson's Merzig factory. So they'd only had time for a basic boost, mainly from a new manifold, a remapped ECU and a new air filter. So the fact they've massaged the power figures up to 433 bhp from the 388 bhp and the torque up to a heady 443 lb-ft isn't bad going at all.
This gives a new top speed of 183 mph-once the artificial limiter has been ripped from proceedings-and the car will now hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. For a machine that weighs well in excess of two tons, it's still physics-defying stuff, but even as Carlsson's Stefan Mueller talked me through it, the bitterness about the new rules made itself felt.
The car is still silent, from inside the well-damped interior at least, but pedestrians risk being blown from the pavement when the engine is revving towards its top end. As for the handling, the S-Class has always been admired for being comfortable without getting sloppy. Carlsson's C-Tronic suspension system lowers the car by 30mm, crisping up the handling and giving the car a slightly more sporting feel. It's still a cushion, and will raise back to the standard height when the roads get rough, but on smooth tarmac it helps rein in the understeer and, let's face it, the car looks better.
That's largely down to massive 21-inch 11-spoke wheels filling those bulging arches, clothed in nine inches of Dunlop SP Sport Maxx at the front and 10 inches at the rear. These new designs were launched at Essen last year and are subtly different to the standard spec, an S-Class isn't the right environment for grotesque spinners, despite what the rap community might think.
Aero mods have been kept subtle too. A front lip spoiler and new rear apron help this leviathan at speed, and the flush-fitted lip spoiler will further press the rear to the deck at 180 mph and beyond.
Thankfully the grille is far more stylish than on previous models. The huge Carlsson medallion has been replaced with a straight-cut number and reflective inserts. It's far sexier than the old set-up; elegant, as a Mercedes should be.
Inside, it's pretty hard to go more over the top than Mercedes as there simply isn't space for more pointless technology. So Carlsson opted for its quilted leather-and-Alcantara seats, combined with the piano black varnish trim for the opulent approach. There's an optional sports steering wheel to complement the kickplates and aluminum pedals.
It could have been faster, and it will be. But we shouldn't blame Carlsson, just the Eurocrats. -Nick Hall