New Mercedes S-Class aims to redefine the luxury saloon for 2020 and beyond

Level 3 autonomous driving promised from 2021 in technologically pioneering seventh-generation Mercedes S-Class flagship

This is the all-new Mercedes S-Class - the seventh-generation of the Mercedes’ flagship model and answer to the new Audi A8, the updated BMW 7 Series and upmarket Bentley Flying Spur

Mercedes makes a simple but bold claim about the latest S-Class, that it is ‘‘the best car in the world’. It goes on sale in Europe in December, with market launches in the USA and China following in February 2021. 

New 2020 Mercedes S-Class: design and platform

The new S-Class is the first Mercedes to be based on a new generation of the firm’s MRA platform for saloon cars. It means that alongside the model’s traditional fastidious approach to luxury and comfort, this new car is an important milestone for the company - it comes with a technological revolution inside the cabin, that will set the tone for the next-generation versions of the C-Class and E-Class

Mercedes has confirmed two versions for the European market - standard wheelbase and a long wheelbase. The standard car sizes up at 5,179mm long, meaning it has grown by around 54mm. Step up to the long wheelbase model, and the car measures 5,289mm nose to tail. In both cases, the benefits of the growth spurt are found in the back, with both cars fielding more legroom and headroom than before, as well as bigger boots, both up by 20 litres to 550 litres. 

Mercedes says the new S-Class is the most opulent expression of the brand’s latest saloon design language; the grille is larger and more upright than before, and is now flanked by new Multibeam LED headlights, which are now available with projector beams as part of the new Digital Light system. The setup can project shapes and symbols onto the road ahead, warning the driver of hazards such as roadworks, traffic lights, pedestrians, and capable of projecting lane guidelines too.

The sides of the car are smoother, while flush door handles are available as an option. The rear end is defined by a pair of triangular tail lights, linked by a chrome strip; the whole shape is more aerodynamic than before, not only aiding fuel economy, but reducing wind noise significantly too. 

This time round there will be no Coupe or Cabriolet versions, with the S-Class to be kept strictly in limousine form factor. Alongside the standard and long-wheelbase versions of the car, an extended wheelbase Maybach badged variant will appear later, described by R&D boss Markus Schafer as “very differentiated” and a big step forward for the brand’s Maybach models. 

Interior and technology

The most radical design changes are reserved for the cabin, where the S-Class features an all-new interior architecture centred around a new, second-generation MBUX infotainment system. 

It’s impossible to ignore the new central display, using smartphone quality OLED screen technology and haptic feedback. It’s 12.8-inches in size and portrait in orientation, flowing directly into the new-look centre console and sitting on top of a dashboard with a new, flat plane surface running from one side of the car to the other. It comes with a new user interface and is compatible with over-the-air update technology to the S-Class. 

A new digital instrument panel with real 3D effect graphics sits in front of the driver, alongside a new-look steering wheel with touch-sensitive functions. Behind it all is a new head-up-display capable of augmented reality technology. This means warning symbols and prompts, such as directions from the navigation, can appear as if they are being projected in 3D directly onto the street. A standard HUD without this technology is available. Altogether, the new screen-based tech means Mercedes has removed 27 buttons from the previous model’s dashboard. 

Up to three displays can be fitted in the back of the S-Class. Two 11.6-inch touchscreens fixed to the seat backs of the front seats allow rear occupants to surf the web, check emails or watch television, while there’s also a removable tablet, stored in the folding centre arm rest in S-Class variants with three rear seats, or in a dedicated slot on the centre console in two-seat rear bench cars. 

Mercedes’ Energizing comfort programmes return too - these are selectable profiles that automatically control the interior atmosphere, changing the ambient lighting, air temperature, audio level and massage feedback depending on the profile selected. A new mode even teams up with the massage function and a 30 speaker audio setup from Burmeister to create ‘4D’ sound, with additional vibration in the seat for low bass tones. There are six Energizing programmes for occupants to choose from.

MBUX Interior Assistant is a new feature, too. It uses cameras in the car’s overhead panel to interpret the head, hand and body movements of those on board and automatically enable corresponding vehicle functions and provide contextual prompts. For example, if the driver reaches over to the passenger seat to grab something at night, the light above the passenger seat will automatically switch on. Looking at a side mirror also allows it to be adjusted without the need to operate a physical switch. If an occupant attempts to exit the car as another vehicle approaches, the ambient lighting will pulse red as a warning.

S-Class engines and autonomous driving

Mercedes aims to take a step forward with semi-autonomous driving technology with the new S-Class, introducing Level 3 capability for the first time. The company says that from the second half of 2021, the new S-Class will be capable of ‘hands-off’ autonomous driving on motorways and in traffic jams. The driver will be able to check emails or browse the web, and the vehicle - in certain conditions - will be capable of responding to all traffic and any potential collisions. Remote parking assist means the car can park itself or be summoned from a short distance via smartphone. 

New chassis technology arrives at the double, with rear-wheel steering and 48-volt controlled air suspension; Mercedes says the new rear wheel steering system reduces the turning circle of the S-Class to that of a family hatchback. Optional E-Body Active Control suspension can raise one side of the car by up to 80mm before a side-on collision, reducing the impact. Airmatic air suspension with continually adjustable damping is standard equipment. 

As for engines, Mercedes has confirmed a launch line-up consisting entirely of 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six options, with two 48-volt assisted petrols and three diesels to choose from. All cars use the same nine-speed automatic gearbox and are electronically limited to a top speed of 155mph. 

Petrol power kicks off with the S 450 4MATIC with all-wheel drive. It develops 362bhp and 500Nm torque, propelling the S-Class from 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds. The S 500 4MATIC ups the power to 429bhp, reducing 0-62mph to 4.9 seconds. 

The popular S 350 d returns with or without a 4MATIC all-wheel drive, developing 282bhp and 600Nm torque. Mercedes claims that rear-wheel drive versions cover 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds, with the 4MATIC system reducing it to 6.2 seconds. Fuel economy of up to 44.1mpg is claimed for the S 350 d. Above these two options is the 325bhp S 400 d, with 700Nm torque and a 5.4 second 0-62mph time. 

Elsewhere, the brand has confirmed that V8 power will come to the S-Class in 2021 with 48-volt mild hybrid assistance, and a petrol plug-in hybrid version capable of up to 62 miles on electric power only is also in development, but a diesel plug-in - as is available in the E-Class - seems off the cards, with R&D boss Schafer explaining that such a model is not relevant in the S-Class’s huge Chinese and American markets. A high-performance AMG version is also planned, but no details have been confirmed. 

Mercedes S-Class: ride review

Our brief encounter with the S-Class from the passenger seat reveals that Mercedes' flagship pushes boundaries once again.

Chief engineer Jürgen Weissinger is sitting at the wheel of his final project before retirement. In the past, he’s been responsible for Merc’s Maybach limousines, but the new S-Class is his farewell present.

He starts by demonstrating the new rear-axle steering, hauling the limo around in near-impossible fashion and heading off down the road. The S-Class is eerily quiet – Merc has even gone as far as finding a new vulcanisation process for the rubber window seals in search of perfection.

Our ride is short, but we can sense the craftsmanship that has gone into the car. The interior tech dazzles; the seats feature 17 motors for adjustment and massage, while the MBUX infotainment sets new standards. As for the plug-in hybrid? Weissinger claims he’s managed more than 73 miles on battery power alone.

Now read our in-depth review of the current Mercedes S-Class here

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