We get behind the wheel of the S Guard at the Buddh International Circuit and find out what’s under its armour-plated skin.
What is it?
Meet the Mercedes-Benz S-class Guard, an armoured vehicle engineered to shrug off bullets fired from an AK47, withstand landmine blasts, wolf down a couple of HG85 grenades, and still keep its passengers safe. It is exactly as fascinating as it sounds – the S-Guard is built to VR9 standards, the highest level of protection a civilian can ask for in an armoured car. There is very little to distinguish it from the ‘ordinary’ S-class inside or out, save for a few VIP-oriented details like the blue LED flashing lights inside the grille, mounting points on the fenders for flags, and a special array of buttons hidden in the centre console, but more on this later.
A generous amount of metal and kevlar has gone into this armoured car to cover every bit of sheet metal and further reinforce the body. The result is its humongous 4.16-tonne kerb weight, which is twice as much as a regular S-class. To cope with the additional mass, there are strengthened axles made of steel and tailor-made air suspension. And the Michelin PAX run-flat tyres used in this car get a unique rim that supports the central rib, which in turn allows the car to be driven for 30km with deflated tyres. The good chaps at Mercedes even demonstrated this – the car was put through a slalom course with deflated tyres, with no marked change in the way it handled.
The old cliché of German cars being ‘built like a tank’ couldn’t be truer in this case. It takes a lot of muscle power to open the door, which according to a company official, weighs over 140kg. The thickened windows are made of five layers of glass that use polycarbonate to prevent them from cracking. The rest of the cabin though looks like just any other S-class, until you flip open the cubbyhole in the centre console. One of the cupholders has been sacrificed for an array of buttons that we were asked to keep away from. These buttons have functions like unlocking individual doors, activating the underbody fire extinguisher and you can also release fresh air inside the cabin in case the atmosphere outside becomes less than desirable; like, for instance, in the event of a tear gas attack.
In a presentation we were shown the gruelling test these cars go through. The underbody of the car is set ablaze, there’s an explosion test that literally engulfs the car in flames, and finally, test cars are showered with as many as 500 0.44-grade bullets, from different ranges. Consider this, a 0.44-grade bullet can penetrate eight doors of a regular car with hardly any change in its velocity by the time it digs a hole in the last one.
So why are we driving a four-tonne luxury tank through a slalom and around the Buddh International Circuit? Well, apart from the fact that Mercedes says the S-Guard isn’t difficult to drive, these left-hand-drive cars were flown in from Germany, and it would have been illegal to drive them on public roads.