Supple leather, exquisite wood garnishments and genuine metal trim covers every inch of the S-Class' interior, creating an air of old-world opulence. Fire it up and bring the electronics to life, however, and it immediately becomes clear that the big sedan has all four wheels firmly planted in the 21st century.
The S-Class is the world's first car to be able to detect and react to bumps thanks to an optional "MAGIC BODY CONTROL" system. This technology uses stereo cameras to scan for imperfections in the road surface ahead and actually prepare the chassis to smooth out any potholes or humps.
Mercedes has also made the sedan available with the closest thing yet to an autonomous driving system. Known as Distronic Plus with Steering Assist and Stop&Go Pilot, what the setup lacks in terms of catchy branding it more than makes up for with convenience: using the aforementioned cameras and multistage radar sensors, it can read the lines in the road and actually steer and brake the car by itself at lower speeds on relatively straight stretches of road. It's just the thing for getting through long traffic jams with one's sanity intact.
While letting the S-Class handle piloting duties, passengers can admire the two mammoth 12.3-inch TFT screens that sit in front of the driver and atop the center stack. The left-hand unit replaces a conventional analog instrument cluster, while the right-hand screen displays climate, entertainment and Google maps-integrated navigation info.
A touch-sensitive telephone keypad with 12 customizable memory settings lets users access more complex functions without having to move their hands around the dashboard. In addition, Mercedes' Linguatronic speech recognition system allows "one shot input" commands to be spoken, and text message and email reading are part of the package.
The standard mbrace system includes a host of cloud-based goodies, including a concierge service, location-based traffic and weather updates, stolen vehicle location assistance, automatic collision notification and more. Available apps add internet browsing, Google local search with street view, Yelp reviews, Facebook access and news reports. Owners can even use an mbrance smartphone app to remotely lock, unlock or locate their S-Class.
The S-Class can be outfitted with the buyer's choice of a rear bench seat or executive-style reclining rear seats that, like the front thrones, can be outfitted with heating, ventilating and "hot stone" massaging systems. Further coddling rear seat occupants are available features such as individual TFT screens with wireless AKG headsets, pillow head rests, cooling/heating cup holders and fold-out trey tables. Topping it all off are industry-first heated center and door panel-mounted armrests.
Two different high-end Burmester Surround Sound systems are on offer for the ultimate in concert-quality audio, but the S-Class doesn't stop at providing a feast for the ears: it also seeks to create an optimal olfactory experience with an active perfuming system that discreetly emits a choice of four different scents to cover up any undesirable odors from the outside world.
Style and Power
Outside, the S-Class combines traditional touches like a formal, upright version of the corporate Mercedes grille with flowing surface detailing borrowed from the automaker's rakish four-door-sedan models. Notably, the lighting system is comprised entirely of LED units - in fact, there's not a single incandescent lightbulb to be found inside or outside of the car.
To save weight, each and every exterior panel is made from aluminum, helping to trim weight by roughly 300 lbs. compared to the previous model.
For now, the S-Class is offered in three forms - S550, S550e, and S600.
The S550 is powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.7-liter V8 with 449 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque from just 1,800 rpm all the way up to 3,500 rpm. The sedan scoots to 60 mph from a stop in just 4.8 seconds before topping out at a limited 130 mph.
Rear-wheel drive is standard, and buyers can order Mercedes' 4Matic all-wheel drive system at an extra cost.
The S550e is a plug-in hybrid model. It teams a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that shifts through a seven-speed automatic transmission with a small electric motor. The system's total output is 436 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. It's capable of driving at speeds of up to 80 mph on battery power alone.
The S600 a powered by a twin-turbocharged 6.0-liter V12 engine that sends 523 horsepower and 612 lb-ft. of torque to the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission. 600-specific trim and wheel designs help the 12-cylinder-powered S stand out from lesser models.
The default chassis setup consists of a comfy and sophisticated full air suspension with adaptive dampers, while Magic Ride Control swaps in coil springs.
Standard and Optional Features
Every S-Class model comes standard with a navigation system, a Burmester AM/FM/CD/SiriusXM stereo system, a panorama sunroof, heated seats, leather upholstery, a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity, full LED exterior and interior lighting, a power rear window sunshade, adaptive highbeam assist and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Premium 1 Package adds active ventilated, active multicontour and massaging front seats, a proximity key, power rear window sunblinds and parktronic with active parking assist.
The Driver Assistance Package builds on the Premium 1 Package with Speed Limit Assist, Distronic Plus with PRESAFE brake, active blind spot assist, active lane keeping assist, PRE-SAFE PLUS, PRE-SAFE Brake and CMS rear (for a detailed break-down of these safety systems, scroll down to "occupant safety").
The Warmth Comfort Package brings power memory rear seats with heating and ventilation, front and rear heated armrests, and a heated steering wheel.
The Rear Seat Package includes rear seat belt buckles that rise up when the rear doors are opened, rear seatbelt airbags, easy adjust headrests, four-zone automatic climate control, an electronically adjustable footrest for the right rear seat and a front passenger seat that can be move forward an additional 77mm for additional rear seat space.
The Sport Package nets a body kit and 19- or 20-inch AMG Twin 5-Spoke wheels. The Sport Package Plus One adds bigger wheels in the form of 20-inch AMG Multispoke rims.
The Rear Seat Entertainment Package brings a rear seat entertainment system with dual TFT screens and AKG headsets.
Highlights from the stand-alone options include a Burmester 3D surround sound system, Nappa leather upholstery, MAGIC BODY CONTROL, Night View Assist Plus and a rear refrigerator box.
Night View Assist Plus
Mercedes engineers managed to improve the S-Class' night-vision system with the introduction of Night View Assist PLUS, which is equipped a special pedestrian detection function. The Pre-Safe braking system has also been improved to reduce injuries in unavoidable crashes. Mercedes says the car can apply maximum braking pressure automatically around 0.6 seconds before what is recognized as an unavoidable accident. The system therefore acts as something like an "electronic crumple zone," Mercedes contends.
In addition to ABS and ESP stability control, the S-Class boasts nine supplemental restraints including two-stage front air bags, a knee air bag for the driver and pelvic air bags which work together with curtain and side air bags to provide extra protection for front occupants in dangerous side-impact collisions. Rear seatbelt airbags are optional.
A standard "ATTENTION ASSIST" system can alert the driver to the first signs of drowsiness, a factor that causes more than 100,000 accidents a year in the U.S.A. A steering sensor is coupled to smart software that uses 70 parameters to establish a unique driver profile during the first 20 minutes of driving. Between 50 and 112 mph, the system identifies the erratic steering corrections drivers make as they begin to get drowsy and triggers an audible warning and a "Time for a Rest?" message with a coffee cup icon in the instrument cluster.
Collision Prevention Assist uses radar to determine whether the S-Class is in danger of colliding with a vehicle or object up ahead. Active at speeds above 20 mph, it automatically prepares the brakes to apply the ideal leveling of stopping power once the driver hits the pedal.
Optional safety gear includes Active Lane Keeping Assist, a new technology that warns the driver if it detects that the S-Class is drifting into an adjacent lane and can apply steering inputs to remain on the proper course. Also available is Active Blind Spot Assist, which uses radar to detect if a vehicle is in the blind-spot area. It provides driver alerts and can also steer the car out of harm's way if the driver accidentally starts to merge into a vehicle.
Pre-Safe Brake detects impending collisions with vehicles or pedestrians and can automatically apply 100 percent of the S-Class' braking force to avoid or mitigate the severity of the crash. It also includes Cross-Traffic Assist, which can detect potential collisions with vehicles approaching from either side of an intersection. Both are part of the Distronic Plus with Steering assist system, an active cruise control setup that can maintain a set distance from the car ahead and also keep the vehicle centered on straight roads or in gentle curves.