Words: Calvin Chan
Published: September 2, 2020
Many have tried to imitate the global success of the S-Class, but the silver-star’s luxury sedan has consistently set the bar with a cosseting, opulent, and presidential driving and riding experience. We have put the S-Class through multiple test drives and reviews, and even compared it to the Porsche Panamera and Jaguar XJ, and it firmly stood above them all. It’s not just a one-dimensional product either. Throughout its years of success and growth, the S-Class has been offered in short- and long wheelbases, with a mix of hybrid, V8, and even monstrous V12 powertrains. It was also the vital host to the Maybach sub-brand revitalization, representing the epitome of Teutonic luxury.
But rather than rest on their laurels, the new 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, codenamed W 223 (short wheelbase) and V 223 (long wheelbase), comes with a testbed of brand new technology, aiming to be more efficient, more luxurious, and more comfortable than ever before. There’s a lot to unravel, so let’s dive right in.
For the Canadian market, the S-Class will launch with two models, with more to come later in its product cycle. First up is the S 500 short wheelbase that utilizes a 3.0-litre inline-six (M256) and should produce around 429 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, but these figures have yet to be confirmed. It also gains an additional but temporary 21 hp and 184 lb-ft via the mild-hybrid EQ Boost system which we have seen before on the CLS and GT 4-Door models. The S 500 runs its output through a 9-speed automatic transmission with standard 4MATIC all-wheel drive, and will sprint from 0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds.
Next up is the S 580 long wheelbase, taking the same 4.0-litre twin-turbo engine (M176) as today’s S 560 but uprating it from 463 hp to about 496 hp (again, not confirmed) plus an additional 20 hp from the EQ Boost hybrid system. Torque is rated at 516 lb-ft, with a top speed of 250 km/h, and it also uses the same 9-speed gearbox with 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The S 580 is only available in long wheelbase (LWB) format, and with nine out of ten customers around the world opting for the LWB, we have no doubt that this will be the volume seller.
There will be a plug-in hybrid likely dubbed the S 580e coming later in the product cycle, with an all electric range of about 100 kms. And while the top of the range AMG S-class models have yet to be officially announced, rumours are that they will also be plug-in hybrids. We’re going to use our brains to guess there will be an S 63e with over 600 horsepower, and an S 73e with over 800 horses. Maybachs on the other hand will likely carry over the same V12 engine.
To ensure the S-Class rides as smooth and as regal as possible, Mercedes has added rear-axle steering which allows the rear wheels to rotate up to 10-degrees, reducing the turning radius at slow speeds and increasing stability at higher speeds. S-Class models in Canada will also come with the E-Active Body Control suspension for the 2022 model year, not the launch year, and is a clever feature that we’ve already tested in the GLS SUV. This trick suspension uses electronically-driven hydraulics to control the spring and damper forces at each individual wheel, and adjusts the suspension a thousand times per second for optimal ride comfort. E-Active Body Control also serves another purpose. When a side collision impact is detected, the system will raise the vehicle body by up to 80 mm within a few tenths of a second to reduce the load on the door structures, absorb more energy with its higher position, and keep occupants safer and away from danger.
Like the GLS, the S-Class will adopt a new selectable Curve Mode feature, which tilts the entire vehicle into bends like a motorcycle to reduce lateral forces on occupants. The S-Class also makes use of a front-facing camera to scan the road ahead, and it automatically preloads the dampers and selects the optimum gear before hitting bumps or negotiating corners for a smoother ride. Along with the adaptive air suspension, we have no doubt in our minds that the S-Class will hover over pavement like a magic carpet. Whether or not it’s superior to the recently unveiled Rolls-Royce Ghost has yet to be determined, but we think it will be mightily close.
Both short wheelbase and long wheelbase S-Class models have grown in length, width, and height over the outgoing model. The wheelbase has been further stretched by 71 mm and 51 mm, respectively, and have been delegated to expanding rear seat legroom. The exterior design is a clear evolution from its predecessor, with softer contours, a more chiseled front grill, and a more distinctive rear end with a unibrow chrome strip connecting the two new LED taillights together. Its aerodynamic shape provides a sleek silhouette that stretches out its visual footprint, and the S-Class is also the first Mercedes to feature pop-out door handles that remain flush with the sheetmetal when not in use or when travelling. When unlocked, the handles will pop-out just like they do on a Tesla Model X or a Range Rover Velar. Wheel sizes will run from 19-inch to 21-inches.
No matter how you feel about the sheetmetal, the real star of the S-Class has always been the interior. Mercedes promises it to be a haven of new and familiar technology. There are now ten different massage programs, 30 loudspeakers and 8 exciters in the optional Burmester 4D surround sound system, and the second generation of the Mercedes MBUX infotainment system debuts with the new S-Class with a faster processor and quicker load times.
There are up to five digital screens available - two in the front and three in the rear. The new OLED 12.8-inch central display takes the spotlight, is standard on all Canadian models, and is the sole focus of the center console. Mounted in portrait mode, it features haptic feedback and its OLED construction allows for stronger contrasts under heavy sunlight and offers lower energy consumption. The driver is also treated to a new 3D 12.3-inch driver display, which at the push of a button, transforms into a three-dimensional display without the need for 3D glasses. It uses two integrated cameras for facial recognition to create that spatial effect, and we can’t wait to see how this feature performs up close in person.
The new dashboard design is exceptionally clean and the lines wrap around the cabin and effectively accentuate its width and depth. Mercedes has beefed up the head up display and has embedded augmented reality content within, where it used to only be confined to the central touchscreen. The ambient lighting has also been upgraded, now with 250 LEDs garnishing the cabin with colour. That’s 200 more LEDs than the outgoing model, and they are all integrated with the driving assistance systems to act as a visual and colourful cue with driver warnings.
Interior space has swelled up, with more elbow-room for all passengers, as well as 16 mm more headroom in the rear. Trunk capacity has increased by 20 L up to a total of 550 L. Buyers can also spec the rear seat area in five different ways. The first is a static three-seater bench with a center armrest. The seats here cannot recline. The next two are with the Comfort seats that allow for 19 to 37 degrees of backrest angle, with a three-seat layout and folding centre armrest, or a two-seater configuration with adjustable outer seats and a business center console. The last two specs are with the Executive seat and only available with the S 580 LWB model, and they can recline with 19 to 43.5 degrees of backrest angle for a more first-class experience. There are the same three- and two-seater configurations available here as well.
The head restraint cushions are now heatable, and the adjustable angle and range of the front passenger seat in the chauffeur configuration has been expanded. There are thermo-regulated cup holders within the rear center console, the seats come with heated, ventilated, and massage functions, and an MBUX rear tablet offers the same kind of vehicle connectivity as the front occupants.
Mercedes has promised further improvement in interior noise comfort, and states that the new S-Class is even quieter than the last. Not that we complained about cabin insulation in our time with the S 560, noting that it was one of the quietest vehicles we’ve ever been in on the highway going triple digit speeds. Thicker seals in the firewall, additional insulation in the side areas of the A-pillars and the floor area, and acoustic foam embedded within certain body shell sections should let you hear a pin drop inside this luxurious cocoon.
The S-Class has consistently set the standard for luxury sedans and with the 2021 model, it sets the bar even higher with more technology, more safety features, and more powerful drivetrains. The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class will arrive in Canada in the spring of 2021. Prices and exact power output figures have yet to be announced, but stay tuned to this space when we drive and review the new S-Class later in October.