The Mercedes S-Class Is a Tech-Laden Luxury Icon, Born Again for 2021
The newest version of Mercedes-Benz's flagship sedan pushes the brand's boundaries for comfort, design and technology once more.
Mercerdes-Benz takes every new car seriously — but that's doubly so for a new S-Class. The model formerly known as the Sonderklasse has been the standard-bearer for the brand for decades, and it's earned a place in the hearts and minds of the world as a result; when people think Mercedes, odds are good they think of a long, imperious sedan with a three-pointed star standing tall on the hood.
As such, it's no surprise that the all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class seen here — unveiled, after plenty of teasing, on September 2nd — is a tour de force of technology, design and engineering. The S-Class exists to move the ball down the field for Mercedes as a whole, so every time a new version hits the street, Daimler aims to outfit it with the best features it can manifest.
The new model comes laden with high-tech features that make the car more efficient, more powerful and closer to that dream of self-driving cars — and, of course, a remarkably comfortable place to spend time.
"Sensual purity," in case you didn't know, is the name of Mercedes-Benz's current design language — one that favors sleek, elegant curves and surfaces over sharp lines and angles. For the new S-Class, the design team worked to add a bit of visual tension to the design, in order to intrigue the eye.
The three-bulb headlamps (an S-Class signifier) are subtly three-dimensional; out back, the horizontal tail lamps' triangular shape breaks up the smooth surface of the rear. Along the flanks, just below the windows, what Mercedes calls the "catwalk line" connects the two, creating an optical illusion that the car is lower than it is. (It's actually taller than the previous model, but you wouldn't know that to look at it.)
Here in America, the 2021 S-Class launches with two engines, both mild hybrid units paired with a nine-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive. There's the S500, which packs a twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline-six and makes 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque; pay a little more (pricing is still TBD), and you can level up to the S580, which has a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 making 496 hp and 516 lb-ft.
Other powertrains are soon to follow, of course. A plug-in hybrid called the S580e should arrive next year, combining a 28-kWh battery with the aforementioned inline-six to whip up more than 500 horsepower and offer a claimed 60-plus miles of EV range. A V12-powered model will return, albeit as a Maybach, not an AMG. AMG buyers will have to satisfy themselves with a new V8-powered S63 and a new PHEV V8 model, believed to be called either S73 or S63e.
The centerpiece of the new S-Class's interior, as you can see, is its infotainment screen — a mighty 12.8-inch OLED touchscreen with haptic feedback. Thanks to its capabilities, Mercedes was able to strip close to 30 buttons out of the interior, giving the designers more freedom to craft the elegant, yacht-inspired layout seen before you.
That screen is also the key to accessing many of the S-Class's advanced technological features. Biometric identification can identify drivers and load their profiles via fingerprint reader or facial recognition using the cameras that monitor the driver's face. (These also enable the new 3D instrument panel, which pops on when the driver is looking at the screen.)
Mercedes-Benz is all about making its cabins into sanctuaries, and the new S-Class takes that further than ever. The LED ambient lighting that stretches far and wide across the interior not only pulses and shifts with the car when you enable one of the "Energizing Comfort" modes that are designed to relax or invigorate with light, air, sound and massage. (Speaking of massage: the seats now offer 10 different massage programs.)
There's a new Burmester sound system that packs 1,750 watts of power and 30 speakers, as well as two resonators in each seat to give you that full Jurassic Park vibration when you crank the Eart, Wind and Fire. (That vibration enables them to call it the "4D" system.) The system also enables users to tune each of the four seats' audio stream the way they like it, fine-tuning the different levels almost as though they were in a recording studio.
Obviously, most of us who love driving will prefer the front-left seat, but the back thrones are also spectacular places to wile away the hours. The MBUX system's voice-activated "Hey Mercedes" system now works with the back seat occupants, enabling them to control their personal climate, media and other functions with a spoken command just by saying the name of the car. (We suggest referring to it as a "Benz" in casual conversation otherwise, to avoid triggering the system unintentionally.)
Opting for the Executive Line packing, which only comes on the S580 for now, brings with it a host of options designed to improve the backseat experience. Two 11.6-inch touchscreen displays are there to serve up content, while a rear tablet and wireless headphones make it easier to control and enjoy. The seats offer heating, ventilation and massaging functions; plus, opting for this package brings the new rear passenger airbag, which pops out of the back of the front seats to protect those in back in a crash.
Choosing the Executive Line package is also one way to get the new 10-degree rear axle steering system, which, as you likely guessed, enables the rear wheels to turn up to 10 degrees in the opposite direction of the front at low speeds, giving it a turning circle of less than 36 feet — roughly equivalent to that of a compact car. (The rear wheels also steer the same way as the front at high speeds, albeit to a smaller degree.)
While we'll have to wait for the AMG versions to see just how athletic the 2021 S-Class can really be, the optional active suspension system known as E-Active Body Control should serve up a delightful balance of a smooth ride and agile handling. In addition to the usual plethora of drive modes, much like in the GLS-Class and GLE-Class, the setup offers a Curve mode that lets the car lean into turns like a motorcycle. (No word yet on whether it'll also offer the pogo stick mode those SUVs have, but we doubt it.)
The list of active driving assistance and high-tech safety features runs too long to list here (even the section in the "Quick Reference Guide" dedicated to it runs nearly two pages), but the new S-Class is effectively as close as a car comes today to being able to drive itself. It can keep itself within its lanes, brake itself to a stop in an emergency, sense oncoming traffic from almost every direction, park itself, and even jack the car up in an instant if an unavoidable side crash is detected so the body of the car takes more of the brunt of the impact.
Of course, you can option your new S-Class up with all sorts of fancy features, but even the entry-level model should be quite a treat. The giant OLED touchscreen and the 12.3-inch instrument panel, 64-color ambient lighting, heated and cooled front seats with massage, pop-out door handles, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 360-degree cameras, soft close doors, fragrance dispenser, active air suspension, a (slightly lesser) Burmester sound system, a gaint moonroof, and more. Almost all of the active and passive safety systems come standard, as well.
How much will it cost? Well, Mercedes isn't saying yet, but figure on a starting price close to $100,000.