There’s a new Mercedes-Benz flagship.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been revealed in all its glory, ready to assert itself in the face of strong competition from the BMW 7 Series and Audi A8.
Of course, the S-Class is more than just an executive limousine. It’s the pinnacle of the Mercedes-Benz range, a sneak peek at the convenience and safety technology that’ll gradually filter down to the E-Class, C-Class, and A-Class.
The car’s smooth new look will inform the next generation of Mercedes-Benz design, and the vertical screen dominating its dashboard will become the new norm across the range.
A new S-Class is a big deal – not just for Mercedes-Benz, but for the motoring world. Here are all the details.
The new S-Class is the latest step in the Mercedes-Benz push to cut extraneous creases and lines from its cars. With a long bonnet, short front overhang and prominent front grille, there are plenty of classic S-Class cues on hand.
But the sides are smoother, the corners more rounded, and the lights slimmer than before, setting the direction for the next E-Class and C-Class sedans.
The (optional) flush-fitting door handles aid with aerodynamics and make for cleaner flanks to boot, and wheels ranging from 18 to 21 inches will be offered.
Lighting has turned into a battleground for the big German carmakers, and the new S-Class aims to raise the game with its new Digital Light technology.
Mercedes says the (optional) flagship lights are capable of projecting warning signs or markers onto the road, thanks to the combination of three powerful LEDs and 1.3 million micro mirrors.
The system has more than 2.6 million effective pixels to play with, making it a very capable billboard.
The outgoing S-Class debuted the dual-screen infotainment setup that now features across the Mercedes-Benz range, from the entry-level A-Class hatchback to the Sprinter van.
The new model is still incredibly screen-heavy, but takes a different approach. The driver is faced with a landscape-oriented 12.3-inch display with 3D imaging – yes, without glasses – and an augmented reality head-up display.
Sitting proudly atop the transmission tunnel is a new vertically-oriented display measuring 11.9 inches as standard, and 12.3 inches with the right options boxes ticked. The larger screen features haptic feedback, and a higher resolution than the more basic unit.
Aside from a small strip of hard buttons at the bottom of the screen, the new S-Class does away with almost all the buttons on its transmission tunnel. Climate controls, audio functions, and all the menus are housed in the giant MBUX display.
Central to MBUX is voice recognition, allowing drivers to control the car’s main functions using the natural ‘Hey Mercedes’ prompt. That functionality now extends to the rear seats, too.
Back seat passengers are also treated to their own infotainment screens, provided the right option boxes are ticked. Over-the-air updates for more than 50 functions mean the S-Class will be able to stay fresh throughout its life.
With the right options fitted, the new S-Class even features a camera capable of keeping an eye on the cabin. If the passenger doesn’t have their seatbelt done up, the car will see and remind them naturally, not with an incessant bong.
As for the seats? The fronts can be home to up to 19 motors (no, that’s not a typo) with 10 different massage functions, including a hot stone massage. Even the headrests are heated, an option which extends to the rear seats as well.
No S-Class is what you’d call raucous inside, but the latest iteration should be quieter than ever thanks to the dark art of aerodynamics. The slinky new body has a drag coefficient of just 0.22, aided by a raft of details scattered throughout.
There’s aero strakes on the mirrors, diagonal struts on the panoramic sunroof, and aerodynamic wheel designs – and the taillights are now horizontal two-piece units because the taller one-piece setup on the older S-Class simply caused too much drag.
Along with the aerodynamic changes, there’s even more sound deadening than before.
The first S-Class on offer in Australia will be the S450, set to touch down in the second quarter of 2021.
It’s powered by a 3.0-litre inline-six petrol engine with 270kW of power and 500Nm of torque, backed by an EQ Boost mild-hybrid system capable of adding an extra 250Nm under load. Torque is sent to all four wheels through a nine-speed automatic transmission.
The 48V starter/generator also makes for smoother start stop, and allows the car to coast on the highway with the engine turned off.
A plug-in hybrid with 100km of electric range is coming, as is a V8 engine option with 48V mild-hybrid assistance. At launch though, the entire range will be powered by inline-six engines. The global line-up is below:
The new S-Class adds “semi-supporting hydropneumatics” to the active air suspension. While the air suspension is still on hand to bear the car’s weight and cushion from impacts, the hydropneumatic system actively supports the car at each corner.
A central control unit manages all four corners of the car with the E-Active Body Control system, pumping hydraulic fluid around the system to better support whichever wheel needs it most.
A stereo camera is used to scan the road ahead, actively preparing the car for what’s to come. It’ll lean into corners, just like the current GLE.
The system sounds similar (in theory) to the hydraulically-linked suspension setup McLaren debuted on the MP4-12C, which can actively send more support to an individual wheel when it’s about to drop into a pothole, or relax one corner when it hits a large bump.
Even the standard air suspension is intelligent. In comfort mode, it drops the car 10mm when the speedo swings past 120km/h, and another 10mm past 160km/h. Flicking into sport drops the car by 10mm automatically, while sport plus drops by 17mm. Ride height can be raised by up to 30mm on command at speeds up to 60km/h.
The new S-Class will feature two rear-wheel steering options, the most advanced of which can turn the rear wheels by up to 10 degrees at low speeds. Mercedes says the turning circle of the S-Class with the system fitted will be less than 11 metres, putting it on a par with the current A-Class.
The full 10 degrees of rear-wheel angle will only be deployed in the opposite direction to the front wheels at low speeds – although the back wheels will turn in unison with the fronts for more stable handling at high speeds, they won’t do so quite as sharply.
What you think is the most exciting news when it comes to safety in the new S-Class will depend on where you sit. If you’re being chauffeured around in the back of a long wheelbase model, the rear airbag should get you excited.
Shaped like a baseball catcher’s mitt, the rear unit isn’t as “aggressive” as a traditional front airbag, making it safe for children, the elderly, and even car seats.
Mercedes-Benz says the outside of the airbag – the tubular structure pictured above – inflates with compressed gas and will give way to obstacles rather than exploding through them. Only the frame of the airbag is actively inflated, while the cushion in the middle is filled with air sucked in through a series of valves.
It can be turned off, but there’s no rear-seat occupant detection when it’s active. In other words, it’ll fire whether there’s someone sitting back there or not.
On hand in a side impact collision is the latest iteration of the Mercedes-Benz Pre-Safe system, which uses the air suspension to lift the side of the car by 80mm to absorb more of the load through the side sill, one of the strongest parts of the chassis.
Up front, there’s a new central airbag that deploys to stop the driver and passengers whacking each other with flailing limbs.
A full range of active driver assists is on hand to make life easier for the driver. The adaptive cruise control system can now predictively slow itself down before speed limits change, and the autonomous emergency braking system is able to brake and avoid stationary vehicles at speeds up to 130km/h, rather than 60km/h like before.
The updated steering assist system is backed by a new camera system, and is designed to be more capable of holding the centre of a lane on the motorway, more useful on country roads, and more aware of situations where the driver needs to sit on the edge of their lane.
Between 60 and 250km/h, the new lane-keeping assist setup in the S-Class can react to road edges that aren’t necessarily painted lines, and Mercedes-Benz says the steering inputs are more natural. The AR head-up display and ambient lighting are also used to warn wandering drivers they’re tracking off course.
The list of driver assists that’s been tweaked goes on. The auto lane-change function has been refined, likewise the AEB system that kicks in when you’re turning across traffic.
Along with the updated active safety features, the S-Class is capable of operating as a Level 3 autonomous vehicle when the road conditions (and local laws) allow it. Mercedes-Benz wants to have drivers browsing the web or replying to emails (in the right conditions) by the second half of 2021, as an extension of the existing Drive Pilot system.
Initially, it will only be available below 60km/h. Audi initially planned to offer something similar in the A8, however it killed those plans because the legal situation surrounding automated driving is so complicated.
Supporting the radar and camera systems required for the suite of driver assists is a LiDAR sensor, HD mapping, and more precise GPS positioning.
The critical challenge with Level 3 autonomous driving is the handover from car to driver and back again. When the car reaches the end of a route where it can drive itself, it’ll prompt them to take control.
If the driver doesn’t, the car will automatically bring itself to a stop on the side of the road, flash the hazard lights, and call emergency services.
Drive Pilot will initially be available in Germany, before rolling out to more European countries and the USA.
Level 4 autonomous driving is also available, but only when the driver isn’t actually in the car. Along with the ability to pull into and out of tight parking spaces with no-one behind the wheel, the S-Class will be able to navigate multi-storey carparks on its own – provided they’re fitted with the right technology, of course.
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