The Sonderklasse. For decades, it’s been the pinnacle of German luxury, the chariot of choice for divas and diplomats alike.
It’s long been said that whatever tech shows up in a new S-Class will be on average family cars in ten years and with Mercedes-Benz pulling the wraps off an all-new model, we can get a glimpse into the future of the motor industry.
Upon first glance, the S-Class doesn’t appear to have changed much. While the grille is still roughly the size of Oakville, it now bulges slightly more prominently out from the bumper. Some will like it, some won’t like it, most won’t notice. A bit more noticeable are new flush-fit door handles that keep the bodylines smooth. Taking an overall look at the design, there’s actually less linework than on the outgoing model. The relationship of light and shadow is primarily played with using compound curves which create drama without visually breaking up the metalwork too much. It’s a highly-evolutionary design that took the old model, sanded off all the coarse bits and polished it to a mirror sheen. Presence in spades, a signifier of a true flagship. Worth particular mention are the remarkably crisp lighting units, slim devices up front and more angular lamps out back. Newly available are what MB calls DIGITAL LIGHT headlamps which work a bit like cinema projectors. Shone onto the road by each headlamp are 1.3 million pixels, through which indicators and symbols can be projected.
The inside of the new S-Class is where evolutionary tweaks get binned in favour of revolutionary changes, starting with the ramped OLED infotainment screen. Roughly the size of a 1970s television, it protrudes from the console quite proudly, features the latest version of MBUX software and has more computing power than the average office building. It will also likely infuriate anyone with any fondness for traditional controls. There isn’t even a volume knob, a truly odd omission given the age of the average S-Class buyer. More still, the orientation of the screen forces the central air vents into one pod on the top of the dashboard that looks like a bit of an afterthought. Oh dear. Fortunately, this is still an S-Class and so it has absolute acres of gorgeous leather, metal and alcantara to make up for such curious decisions. The shining beacon of a Sonderklasse has always been craftsmanship and this new one does not appear to disappoint. Potentially more marvellous than the materials is the bewildering array of comfort technology on offer including no less than ten different massage programmes, three-stage heated armrests and two brand new interior colognes to set the mood. Worth mention is the optional Burmester 4D surround sound system packing 1,750 watts of juice. Featuring thirty speakers and eight ‘exciters’ (phrasing, Mercedes), it’s expected to offer superior staging and range that runs the gamut from scintillating highs to spleen-shattering sub-bass.
Ahh, power. Now, Canada gets two choices of S-Class motivation at first. The short-wheelbase model will be the S 500 with a 429-horsepower inline-six and the long-wheelbase model will be the S 580 with a 496-horsepower V8. Both engines are mild hybrids and come hooked to a nine-speed automatic gearbox, all of which is mostly a bit boring. The details of propulsion on a true executive sedan don’t matter so long as they provide sufficient thrust. What really matters is how the new S-Class wafts. And to provide a more cosseting experience than ever, Mercedes-Benz has developed a whole new bag of ride and handling tricks. This will be the first S-Class ever equipped with four-wheel steering for increased agility, stability and maneuverability. In addition to standard air suspension, the new S-Class is also available with something called E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL. Powered off the 48-volt electrical system, it promises a truly silky ride by ironing out everything from potholes to body roll to forward pitch under braking. Going a step further, it actually uses stereoscopic cameras to read the road ahead and predict bumps, and in Curve mode it can lean the body of the S-Class into curves like a motorcycle. On paper, this big sedan should truly waft indeed.
Adding to the sensation of bliss is a suite called DRIVE PILOT which offers SAE Level 3 autonomy. Under certain conditions, it can operate the vehicle autonomously, although the driver must be ready to take control should the system request it. While this may be touted for safety, an arguably more meaningful safety feature is the addition of frontal airbags for rear seat occupants. Previously unheard-of in a production car, they should offer meaningful protection for rear seat occupants and are likely to trickle down to other models.
Overall, the new S-Class looks like a solid, evolutionary effort on Mercedes-Benz’s part. Pricing has not yet been announced, but don’t be surprised if it starts at over $100,000. While we aren’t ready to declare it the new boss just yet, we’re definitely looking forward to testing it. Expect a full verdict in spring 2021, when the new S-Class is expected to roll into dealerships and onto the press fleet.