Mercedes S-Class review - Interior, design and technology
The S-Class cabin offers up a technological feast, but it’s not quite the usual masterclass
The interior of the S-Class is the real talking point, but the exterior warrants attention too. The lines have evolved gently, but details such as newly sculpted flanks and reshaped lights give the car an elegance not all S-Class generations have enjoyed.
The front is eye-catching and imposing, and should undoubtedly turn more heads than the previous S-Class. Details such as the more expressive grille design, complex projector headlamps, and door handles that sink flush into the bodywork add to a welcome sense of expensive exoticism.
First impressions on opening any of the four doors are favourable, too, because the trim and upholstery look equal to anything in the class. The diamond-pleated leather of our test car was soft and inviting, and only the agoraphobic could fault the opportunity each one of the seats presents for serious sprawling.
Mercedes is pitching the S-Class hard as a technological marvel, and it certainly seems appropriate to wonder at the extent of the features which have been crammed in. All cars get the latest MBUX operating system that runs on a big central touchscreen on the dashboard. Mercedes has opted not to give drivers a mechanical interface for selecting menus, which is something you will find with the BMW 7 Series with its easier-to-operate iDrive system. There are no hard controls for climate control, which some will find frustrating.
You get a complicated array of touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel, and a slim strip of touch controls under the central touchscreen. They look flimsy and cheap, offering none of the reassuringly tactile pleasures we’re accustomed to enjoying when aboard one of Mercedes' finest.
Car group tests
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In our clumsy hands, the steering wheel controls often needed several swipes to create the desired reaction. We also have some misgivings about the 3-D driver display and the augmented reality navigation. They both feature graphics that make the tech feel dated instead of cutting edge, and overlaying squadrons of flying blue arrows on an image of the road ahead seems more of a distraction than an improvement on existing functionality.
The criticism doesn’t stop there because some cabin finishes have a less premium feel. Whether it’s cheap-feeling plastics around the seat bases or inside the lidded central console cubby, rough edges on the touchscreen display sides, or a full-width aluminium-look dash moulding strip that might look more at home on an old kitchen cabinet, this S-Class doesn’t quite convey the ‘best or nothing’ feel we’re conditioned to expect.
Luckily, there are plenty of technologies aboard the S Class that do. The facial recognition system means the car can automatically recognise who’s driving, and adjust preset settings, such as seat adjustment, for whoever’s behind the wheel. At the same time, the Digital Light headlamp pack features projector headlights with more than one million pixels per side. It can project messages such as speed limit info onto the tarmac ahead of you.
A suite of semi-autonomous features includes the DISTRONIC distance assist upgrade that now can prevent collisions at up to 80mph, Traffic Sign Assist that warns of running a red light or stop sign, Lane Keeping Assist and Evasive Steering Assist that can keep you out of the way of cyclists or sudden tailbacks in your lane on the motorway. You can also play with the lighting inside, thanks to the ambient system providing 10 colour schemes with 64 colours, and the car even uses the system to warn you of external hazards.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The MBUX operating system in the S-Class includes a voice recognition function from every seat. There’s also the option of storing profile info in your Mercedes Me cloud account so that you can take your favourite settings from car to car.
The touchscreen features haptic feedback, an augmented reality feature for the sat-nav, plus a fingerprint scanner. The main infotainment system is straightforward to use, with attractive and intuitive menus, and it’s easy to switch between the car’s screens and your phone apps when using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Unchecked, the impressive head-up display projects so much info it’s like having a party in your windscreen, but you can configure it to a less distracting mode by reducing what’s presented. As mentioned above, we’re not big fans of the optional 3D driver display or the augmented navigation at least from a graphical perspective, and both currently seem a little gimmicky.
If you want the removable tablet in the centre armrest at the back (it mirrors some of the main touchscreen functionality but can also be used away from the car) you’ll need to specify the Premium Plus Executive trim line.
In this review
- 1Mercedes S-Class review The once imperious quality of the Mercedes S-Class may have slipped a little, but the technical highlights are typically eye-catching
- 2Engines, performance and driveOnce impressive performance pales beside electric rivals, but ride and handling are typically well-composed
- 3MPG, CO2 and running costsAll engines offer reasonable economy, but the plug-in hybrid S 580 e is the best option for company car drivers
- 4Interior, design and technology - currently readingThe S-Class cabin offers up a technological feast, but it’s not quite the usual masterclass
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe S-Class provides all the comfort and space you’d hope for from a Mercedes flagship
- 6Reliability and safetyThe S-Class is laden with safety tech, and should be bullet-proof mechanically