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
It’s the interior of the new S-Class that’s 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 that not all S-Class generations have enjoyed.
The new-look front is eye-catching and imposing, and should certainly turn more heads than the outgoing car. 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, as the trim and upholstery at first glance looks the equal of 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 that have been crammed in. All cars get the latest MBUX operating system that runs on a big central touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard, but Mercedes has opted not to give drivers the option of a mechanical interface for selecting menus. Neither are there any hard controls for climate control which some will find frustrating.
What you do get is 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.
In our clumsy hands the steering wheel controls often needed several swipes to create the desired reaction, and while we’re griping we’ve also got 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 as even some of the 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 adjust settings for whoever gets behind the wheel, while the Digital Light headlamp pack features projector headlights with more than one million pixels per side, and has the capability to 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 has some significant upgrades, including voice recognition from every seat and a new capability to store profile info in your Mercedes Me cloud account, so you can take your favourite settings with you from car to car.
The touchscreen features haptic feedback and augmented reality, plus a fingerprint scanner, and is straightforward to use with attractive and intuitive menus, including 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, which 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 costsWith no plug-in options yet, there’s lots of tax to pay and no big economy wins
- 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