The arrival of a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class is an occasion that has historically heralded a step forward for the automotive world. Since 1972, the Mercedes Sonderklasse has signified not only the best on offer from the three-pointed star, but often the best on offer in the world.
Not that Benz has only been at it for 50-years either, the German brand has lead the world in large, luxury transportation for the best part of a century, using their grandest platform to showcase the peak of luxury, technology and refinement, regardless of the model designation.
To that end, the seventh-generation W223 S-Class is again a step forward for Mercedes and a glimpse of what mere-mortals may expect to see in terms of features and functionality of their ‘regular’ cars in years to come.
Available initially in one variant but with two wheelbase options, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S450 is priced from $240,700 for the standard length and $264,900 for the 110mm longer ‘L’ model.
That pricing is noted before on-roads and options, of which there are a few.
It starts pleasantly enough, with nine of the ten paint options a no-cost choice (only the Designo Diamond White Bright attracts a $2000 premium).
Plus, most of the goodies you see are standard, with the ‘L’ adding powered rear seats to an already expansive list of features in the regular specification. Worth noting that the 'L' also adds a world-first rear passenger airbag, making it arguably one of the safest places to ride, let alone drive (note that despite this, as the new S-Class hasn't been tested by ANCAP our Safety Rating component cannot be higher than 8.5).
|2021 Mercedes-Benz S450 L 4Matic|
|Engine configuration||Inline six-cylinder petrol with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system|
|Power||270kW (+16kW EQ Boost) @ 6100rpm|
|Torque||500Nm (+250Nm EQ Boost) @ 1600-4500rpm|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Power to weight ratio||122.3 kW/t|
|Fuel claim (combined)||8.4L/100km|
|Turning circle||12.5m (10.8m with optional rear-axle steer)|
|Main competitors||BMW 7 Series | Lexus LS | your previous S-Class|
Heated and ventilated seats, all the Mercedes driver assistance functions, a 15-speaker Burmester sound system, sunroof and rear sunblind are paired with soft-close doors, hideaway handles, adaptive LED headlamps and a snazzy new key as part of the S-Ticket.
This means that selecting the $14,500 Business Class package, for a pair of reclining rear seats with tray tables (which probably don’t even need to be stowed for take-off and landing), is down to your specific needs and choices.
You can also add rear-axle steering ($2700) to reduce the big Benz’s turning circle to that of an A-Class (from 12.5m to 10.8m) and the very clever MBUX Augmented Head-Up Display ($2900) to further enhance your new wheels. We didn’t have a chance to try the four-wheel steer, but one of the cars was fitted with the HUD option, and believe me when I say you need to tick that box!
The Rubellite Red car in the photos is also fitted with the $6500 AMG-Line pack, which adds some subtle vents on the body, a nappa leather steering wheel, bigger brakes up front, 20-inch AMG wheels and the requisite AMG floor mats.
|2021 Mercedes-Benz S450 L 4Matic|
|Wheels/tyres||255/40 R20 front / 285/35 R 20 rear - Bridgestone|
Under the bonnet, which retains the classic Mercedes-Benz star ornament, is the 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six with EQ-Boost mild-hybrid support we know from the long-term Mercedes-Benz GLS450.
Outputs are the same as in the seven-seat apartment block, with 270kW and 500Nm yours as a base, plus up to 16kW and 250Nm ‘EQ-Boost’ from the electric starter generator up your sleeve when needed under heavy load.
Mercedes-Benz claims a combined-cycle fuel thirst of 8.4L/100km, which from our experience with the GLS, is certainly achievable at a cruise. We saw around 10L/100km on our launch drive loop, which is still pretty impressive given the 2207kg mass of the S450 L.
While a twin-turbo V8 mild-hybrid is on the cards for later in the year, and a fire breathing AMG variant will likely follow soon after, the turbo-six in the 450 is more than adequate at moving the big saloon along at a sensible pace.
Power peaks at 6100rpm, but with all 500Nm of torque available between 1600 and 4500rpm, you never even need to rev the car out to enjoy an effortless surge forward.
Response becomes a little sharper in Sport mode, but even left in the regular Comfort setting, there’s no want for any more urgency.
It’s quiet too, so much so that my audio notes taken in the car while driving sound like I’m in an enclosed room, let alone at 100km/h in reasonable traffic.
All cars use a 4Matic all-wheel-drive system and a nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission. We drove on a dry road at very modest speeds, and really couldn’t tell that either was there, so effortless is their operation, and so undemanding was the drive.
It would be good to see what the long-wheelbase S is like in the wet, and how it deals with torque delivery over an extended turning radius, particularly when turning and accelerating into the traffic flow.
I will say though, that occasionally when slowing to a stop the car shudders ever so slightly as it runs back through the ratios. These transmissions tend to ‘learn’ over time though, so it would be interesting to see how a car with a few months of driving experience behaves.
|2021 Mercedes-Benz S450 L 4Matic|
|Colour||Rubellite Red Metallic|
|Options as tested||$6500 (AMG-Line)|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not yet tested|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km|
But enough about driving the new S-Class, so much of the experience of the car comes from simply sitting in it, and basking in the best that Benz has to offer in terms of materials and features.
To be clear quite quickly, the touchpoints are lovely.
There are knurled metal elements, alloy components, and plenty of more traditional leather and wood treatments around the cabin. The vents on the top of the dash reflect sun pretty badly, but it’s the only real gripe for what is a very luxurious and well-appointed interior.
But even with lashings of plushness, you can’t escape the focus on technology.
The console-mounted touchpad has gone, replaced with a new MBUX menu interface on the large central 12.8-inch portrait display.
It uses an updated and revised implementation of MBUX and does again represent a big step forward. The images are clear and slickly designed, and if you can get past the sheer depth of complexity to the system, it is very easy to use.
As the major interaction point to the car, everything you need is accessed from this screen, which is good in terms of centralisation, but bad in terms of fingerprints and smudges. In bright sun, the large glass area provides a clear evidence trail of what you’ve touched swiped and tapped, so you’ll need to keep some glass wipes in the door pocket for regular cleaning attention.
The steering-wheel interfaces too are now all touch-sensitive, and while ergonomically designed, they do take a bit of getting used to and can quickly lose their efficiency if you have even a slightly oily touch. Better add some handy-wipes to that door bin too.
You can always talk to the ‘Hey Mercedes’ virtual assistant, who now understands even more commands, and is getting better at picking up variances in accent and command delivery. It’s still not perfect though, as when I needed to demonstrate a function for the video review, 'she' wouldn’t answer, despite working properly up until that point.
Some techno stage fright perhaps?
The 12.3-inch display in front of the driver hasn’t been left alone either, as it too offers a refreshed MBUX interface, but takes things up a notch and displays key information in 3D.
I’ll admit, it is pretty gimmicky (you can easily switch it off) and like when you went to see Avatar at the cinema, it does take a few moments for your brain to figure out what it is trying to do, but I’m not shy to stick my hand up and say I think it is pretty cool.
Navigation is shown as an isometric view, with topographical information represented in three dimensions. The driver-assistance screen looks more like you are playing Sega Outrun than an instrument cluster, with the road and other traffic clearly shown as dynamic obstacles moving in three-dimensional space.
I’ll note that with sunglasses on it was perhaps a little dark (even when set to maximum brightness), but through a tunnel (and I’d imagine at night) it looks amazing.
Things go further too, in that the car is looking at you while you look at it, and along with adjusting the display to match your eye line (it even offers handy alignment tips so you can position the driver’s seat perfectly to give you the best effect), it knows what you are looking at.
For example, with a finger over the d-pad to move the wing mirrors, you simply look at the passenger mirror to select that, then at the driver’s mirror to choose that.
It’s not just your eyes either, you can casually wave your hand near the sunroof to command the blinds open or close, or simply turn your head to look at the rear window and the car will lower the blind.
All this is well and good, and very slickly implemented, but if you’re looking for a show-stopping piece of ‘gee whiz’ about the W223, then the optional augmented reality head-up display I mentioned earlier ($2900) is just the ticket.
Without overselling it, this is the closest you can get to having a Hollywood style sci-fi live AR feed without being a time-travelling robot or fictional billionaire-playboy-philanthropist.
At first glance, the size and placement of the projection feels like someone mounted a 50-inch TV about 10-meters in front of you. The display is crisp and bright, and after the ‘holy cow’ moment has passed, feels perfectly positioned so as to assist rather than distract your driving.
All the regular information like your current speed and the posted limit are present, and of course, you can configure the specifics, but the system offers its penny-drop moment when you are using the navigation or the adaptive cruise control functions of the S.
Directions are projected in an animated and clear form, that grow and pulse with urgency as you near an intersection. Big blue arrows enter your field of vision, and yet don’t obscure the real environment beyond, a little marker shows you the exit point of a roundabout, specific lane choices are highlighted, street names are shown.
Double down and activate cruise control, and a glowing green blob appears under the car in front to note you are following this vehicle with a radar-controlled gap. Elements show to note you are close or crossing your lane marking, highlighted panels appear when you adjust your following gap.
Even after playing with the system on a short drive, the quote from the movie couldn’t be more apt. Quite simply, with this, "I am Iron Man".
Tech isn’t the only currency of the S-Class though, and given some owners may baulk at a full-day tutorial just to understand the depths of personalisation of the ambient lighting choices, more tangible capabilities of the big Benz are still crucial to the car’s market positioning.
Air suspension (Airmatic) is standard on all variants, and if you need to be ferried about in plush comfort like the captain of industry you know you are, then the W223 delivers here too.
In the default comfort setting, the car floats grandly as you motor along. Yes, you sense imperfections and bumps along the road, and the car moves around accordingly, but any impacts are dulled and the overall sensation of sharp movement is somewhat muted.
Dialling up Sport or Sport Plus gives you a little more control over the car’s wafting comfort, but despite being capable of an energetic pace, the S-Class just feels a bit more ‘right’ when trying to be as cosseting as possible.
That’s not to say you slosh around in your seat though, especially with the active-front seat bolstering which snuggles you in at the mere hint of a corner.
Plus, those delicious suede pillows on the headrest don’t exactly encourage you to punt the big S like a touring car.
Should you wish to turn up the pace a little bit, the big Mercedes handles its size well and feels flat and well behaved through winding country roads.
The air suspension height adjusts to your speed and drive mode, working out the best solution for the problem you throw at it, calmly and efficiently.
It’s the first car to use the new MRA2 platform, which flows down to the just-revealed C-Class, and it’s this that makes the new S even more enticing.
From the W116 in 1972, through each successive generation (W126, W140, W220, W221, W222) to the latest W223, the S-Class has been a pioneer of what is possible, as well as providing a window to the future of more ‘ordinary’ transportation.
The new S-Class is rightly impressive, and yet perhaps a little staid, showing that subtly is still an attraction to big Benz buyers. It is a car that meets the expectation set by its predecessor in a time and market where said expectations are already high. The new S-Class does what you want, when you need it, without fuss or fanfare, perhaps becoming proof that the growth curve of fiction to fact is now all but flat.
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is still the platform for the ‘best car in the world’, even in a world where the gap to ‘normal’ is closing every day. It is impressive across the board, but it is supposed to be, and so perhaps the most exciting feature of the S-Class is what it means for everything else.