ust to assure you that Mercedes-Benz has not gone overboard with its small city cars and off-roaders, the company that made its bones selling to the moneyed crowd has shown the top-o'-the-line luxosedans that will take it into the next century.

Most important is the all-new S-Class, of which Mercedes has just released official photos. The 1999 replacement for the technically (and physically) titanic current-generation car makes its first public outing at this month's Paris auto show (see p.88).

Although it's always expected that Mercedes' range-topping S-Class will be large, the current-generation S, launched as a '91 model, is absolutely gargantuan. Its sheer size exacts howls of loathsome protest from the Green Party, which in 1990 zeroed-in on the car industry, particularly in Germany. Relations between the two factions are somewhat calmer now, but for the new S-Class, Mercedes wants no repeat of such foolishness - so the car has been designed to appear smaller and less profligate.

Mercedes hasn't released much detail, but the new S-Class, like its predecessor, should be another chart-topper in terms of technical innovation (or absurdity, as you like). The car reportedly rides on an ultra-sophisticated, pneumatically sprung chassis that counters all manner of undesirable dynamic effects. The new S-Class' range 6-, 8- and 12-cyl. engines are derived from the newly introduced 3-valve-per-cyl., 90-degree modular SOHC vee engine family.

No sooner had photos of the new S-Class arrived than Mercedes also announces it will indeed build the "super-luxury" Maybach, the concept limousine that debuted at last year's Tokyo Motor Show. Mercedes kills some speculation by disclosing that the Maybach (named for designer Wilhelm Maybach, a colleague of Gottlieb Daimler) will be built in Sindelfingen, Germany, around 2003; it also confirms the Maybach will be sold in the U.S. at a price as yet undisclosed - but you know: if you've gotta ask . . .

Our Maybach sources claim: Bill Gates, Sly Stallone and Ginger Spice already have wired their deposits; Bob Eaton and about 400 of Chrysler Corp.'s most valued execs get one as part of their "package."