If you have the means, the S-Class is worth every penny.
There's a simple rule in the automotive industry; if you want to know what technology will be standard on cars built 15 years in the future, look at the current Mercedes-Benz S-Class. So as we drive past Taylor Swift's North East getaway mansion receiving augmented reality navigation directions and a massage that uses speakers in the seats to send vibrations deep into our muscles, we can affirm that the future looks pretty great. Now in its seventh generation, the 2021 S-Class arrives sporting a clean new design, radical new interior, and groundbreaking technology that should push the automotive landscape forward.
CarBuzz had the opportunity to drive the all-new S580 4MATIC in the North Eastern United States, traversing the best country roads in New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The journey was long, scenic, and often bumpy, but it was made better by the pinnacle motoring experience known as the S-Class.
Mercedes will only offer the US-spec S-Class in long-wheelbase guise, measuring 208.2 inches from bow to stern and 126.6 inches between the wheels. This hefty size gives the S-Class an imposing stance worthy of flagship status. Mercedes kept the styling conservative, keeping true to classic sedan proportions with a stretched hood, sweeping C-pillar, and bold front end with the three-point star mounted on the hood. Overall, the design is tasteful, but the taillights look too similar to less expensive Mercedes models like the CLA and CLS.
We think the latest S-Class looks more curvaceous than the outgoing model, and the numbers agree. With a 0.22 drag coefficient, the S-Class is among the world's most aerodynamic cars. The S-Class achieves its impressive aerodynamic efficiency thanks to improvements in and around the front bumper, revised wheels, and pop-out door handles that retract while the car is moving. Mercedes will offer the S-Class in Luxury Line, AMG Line, and - exclusive to the S580 - Executive Line, each receiving subtle exterior distinctions with either19-, 20-, or 21-inch wheels.
The S-Class sports two engines at launch, both sending power to 4MATIC all-wheel-drive through a nine-speed automatic transmission. The base S500 gets a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six with a mild-hybrid assist, dishing out a velvety smooth 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. Our previous experience with this engine in the AMG GT 53 was positive, and in the S-Class, the inline-six can achieve 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.
Mercedes wanted us to experience the full brunt of the S 580 with its 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 masterpiece. This is the same motor found under the hood in various AMG products, but here it is near-silent with a soothing baritone rumble when you really step on it. 496 hp and 516 lb-ft let you waft past the proletariat effortlessly in traffic.
The V8 delivers breathtaking acceleration without breaking a sweat - 0-60 mph takes only 4.4 seconds - but we have a sneaking suspicion the inline-six might be nearly as good to pilot on a day-to-day basis.
Buyers who demand greater performance might hold out for the upcoming AMG variants, rumored to produce over 800 hp. If it were our money, though, we'd think about the plug-in hybrid, which pairs the inline-six to an electric motor to produce more power than the V8 model with an estimated 61-mile driving range. This variant hasn't yet been confirmed for the US, but for many, it might be the necessary bridge between the S-Class's luxurious combustion engines and the fully electric EQS that many will find ideal.
The S-Class is the flagship product from Mercedes, so we expected perfection here. Spoiler alert, Mercedes delivered yet again. We've already mentioned the astonishing power, but the S-Class impresses even more with how it delivers that grunt. This car gets up to speed in such a relaxed way, never disturbing the driver or passengers by straining its muscles. Even at triple-digit speeds, the cabin remains silent enough to hear the ventilated seats keeping your tuchus cool.
Standard AIRMATIC suspension allows the car to float over the rough pavement as if such disturbances were too pedestrian for someone important enough to be driving an S-Class. In the 2022 model year, a more advanced E-Active Body Control suspension will be available with the ability to adjust up to 1,000 times per second. It's difficult to imagine this car getting any more comfortable but our previous experience with the E-Active suspension has us giddy with excitement.
As expected of a cushy luxury sedan, the controls such as the throttle and brake pedal feel light and effortless. The steering is the lone exception; it feels nicely weighted to make the S-Class feel substantial. In addition, this car boasts some of the best semi-autonomous driving features available, keeping the vehicle centered in its lane with minimal pressure on the steering wheel; these features help keep the driver relaxed and more energized when they arrive at their destination.
Huge sedans like the S-Class often feel cumbersome to drive, but Mercedes gets around this weakness with a new rear-axle steering system. Available with either 4.5 or 10 degrees of angle, the rear wheel can move opposite the fronts to improve the turning circle by up to seven feet. As a result, Mercedes says the S-Class can turn in the same space as the subcompact A-Class; in our limited experience, we turned around on roads that would have required a three-point turn in any other large sedan but took only one motion in the S-Class.
Mercedes played it safe with the exterior styling, but time-traveled to the year 2040 when styling the interior. The cabin features up to five available screens, with the front two as standard on all trims. In the dash, a new OLED touchscreen measuring 12.8 inches replaces the outgoing MBUX infotainment system. Nearly all multimedia controls are housed on the screen, yielding 27 fewer buttons than the outgoing S-Class. The large screen has a slight learning curve for certain functions, but we found this latest MBUX system to be the most intuitive Mercedes has released in a long time.
The menus are far less complicated than before, and you can always say "Hey, Mercedes" to control various functions using your voice. A few physical buttons positioned below the screen provide quick access to the drive modes, cameras, safety features, and volume. Mercedes kept some redundant controls with two small touchpads on the wheel. The right-hand one controls the infotainment screen, while the other changes the 12.3-inch instrument cluster.
A digital instrument cluster is nothing new for Mercedes, but this one now features 3D graphics and new gauge styles. The all-white "Exclusive" theme was our favorite, and the red "Sport" theme was pretty unique. Instead of classic gauges, this screen can project the navigation map, with a new augmented reality head-up display projecting blue lines into your vision as if the real world was a Mario Kart track. This new HUD makes it nearly impossible to get lost with the nav system active.
Included in the Executive Line, the rear of the cabin boasts two 11.6-inch touchscreens with a full-HD camera and microphone, giving riders the same control as the driver. The fifth screen is an ejectable tablet housed in the armrest, which can control various elements in the car.
Outside of the screen, the S-Class interior looks befitting of a flagship sedan. The materials feel top-notch, and the seats lull occupants into a zen state with their supreme comfort. Those beautiful leather chairs possess 19 motors with 10 unique massage programs. An optional Burmester 4D Surround Sound System with up to 1,750 watts and 30 speakers adds two resonators in each seat to vibrate along with the music during certain massage programs. Advanced LED ambient lights stun occupants with a bewildering color array, adding further to the ambiance. As expected, the latest S-Class is a technological tour de force.
Though the S-Class is a relaxing driving experience, this car is best enjoyed from the rear seat. The extended wheelbase accommodates 41.7 inches of legroom in the front and a whopping 43.8 inches in the rear, enough for even a tall passenger to sprawl out in comfort. With the Executive package, the passenger on the right side can kick their feet up using the power ottoman.
As for cargo space, the S-Class can't compete with a large SUV, but it still possesses a sizable trunk with 12.9 cubic feet of storage capacity.
Each time Mercedes-Benz releases a new S-Class, it pushes the entire automotive industry to innovate and play catchup. This new model is no exception. Though the exterior styling is slightly mundane, the interior is anything but. Up to five screens make the cabin feel like Iron Man's workshop, but with more leather. Ride comfort is expectedly excellent, and the standard engine options leave nothing to be desired. The AMG and Maybach variants will build on this excellent starting point for folks who always demand more, adding even more extravagance and extreme performance to the mix, but we're not so sure it even needs it. The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is luxury at its finest, and it once again defines the flagship luxury class.
The only downside to a model like the S-Class is its pay-to-play pricing. The Luxury Line is the least expensive S-Class, starting at $109,800 for the S500 or $116,300 for the S580. Stepping up to the AMG Line adds more aggressive bodywork, a Night Package, Burmester audio, and 20-to-21-inch AMG wheels. This sportier variant costs $114,100 for the S500 or $120,600 for the S580. The Executive Line is only available on the S580, starting at $131,450 and rolling in the impressive rear-seat entertainment features.
Pricing will increase from here, with future AMG and Maybach variants still to come. The Maybach S580 starts at $184,900, while the V12-powered S680 should surpass the $200,000 barrier. Other flagship luxury sedans like the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series are less expensive but don't have the same groundbreaking technology found in the new S-Class.