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2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a Glimpse of the Future

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 8/4/2020 Jens Meiners
a car parked in a parking lot: A ride in Mercedes-Benz's S-class flagship reveals some new tech and even more luxury than before. © Mercedes-Benz A ride in Mercedes-Benz's S-class flagship reveals some new tech and even more luxury than before.

Mercedes-Benz's S-class has long been considered the ultimate luxury sedan, and every generation seemingly introduces new features, gadgets, safety, and technology that eventually trickle down to its other cars. The official debut of the new S-class happens September 2, but we had an early look and ride in a disguised prototype of Benz's big sedan.

We haven't sat in the Maybach version yet, but the regular model we sampled is quite spacious, the design is welcoming, and everything you touch is soft and supple. Mercedes-Benz is using a new steering wheel with a spherical center that looks particularly good in light colors.

Behind that steering wheel is a large and wide digital screen that displays information, gauges, or maps with impressive clarity. That information is complemented by a vast head-up display that provides the usual information. It also overlays navigation instructions and arrows onto the real world that make it nearly impossible to miss an upcoming turn.

a man driving a car: 2021 Mercedes S-class prototype © Mercedes-Benz 2021 Mercedes S-class prototype

There's a unique feature to the instrument cluster display, too. When the option is specified, the display will change to a three-dimensional view, which enhances readability by prioritizing information. The vehicle monitors the driver's eyes constantly and can adjust the 3D effect accordingly. When he or she is not monitoring the display, it reverts to a two-dimensional appearance to reduce distraction.

Even though it's still covered with camouflage, we can deduce that the S-class has the long-hood, long-wheelbase proportions of its predecessor. Under the wraps, we can make out a grille that looks even larger than before. The door handles are flush, like on a Tesla Model S. The tail rises higher than before, and the overall look appears more angular, with a few pronounced creases. An upcoming Mercedes-Maybach version will follow, and we hear rumors that the AMG derivative will, for the first time in an S-class, have a central star in the grille. The coefficient of drag of the S-class depends on the variant, but the best one begins at a claimed 0.22, which beats the Tesla Model S's 0.24 number.

Equipped with a new and optional all-wheel steering system that can turn the rear wheels an astonishing 10 degrees, the S-class drastically reduces its turning-circle diameter. It can turn with such ease that it entirely takes the stress out of tight parking structures. Piloted by chief engineer Jürgen Weissinger, it maneuvers through a tight course with the ease of a go-kart. For the United States market the need may not have been as urgent, but in Europe's crowded cities and narrow streets, this option makes driving a large sedan much easier. At higher speeds, the system improves high-speed stability by slightly turning the rear wheels in the same direction as the fronts.

a car parked in a parking lot: 2021 Mercedes S-class prototype © Mercedes-Benz 2021 Mercedes S-class prototype

The new S-class comes in three wheelbases—short, long, and Maybach. We suspect that, as with the current generation, only long and Maybach will make it stateside. As we previously mentioned, the door handles are Tesla Model S­­­-like and extend electrically when approached with the key. Regular door handles will also be offered for customers who prefer a more traditional approach. A panoramic roof is optional and lighting effects in the ceiling panel are a possibility for future models, especially the Maybach version.

As always, the S-class pushes safety to the next level. A new autonomous driving system is promised, but when and where it will be offered is mostly a question of regulation. There are up to 16 airbags in the S-class, including seatbelt bags and separate airbags extending from behind the front seat. Those airbags will inflate differently when child seats are detected. And when the car detects an imminent side impact, the body can be raised in fractions of a second by more than three inches in order to expose stiffer elements of the structure, something the Audi A8 also does.

The new S-class will be offered with two chassis systems: a single-chamber air suspension and the optional E-Active Body Control, which includes a "curve" function that can lean into corners like a motorcycle. Equipped with E-Active Body Control, the S-class is remarkably quiet, smooth, and soothing.

a car parked in a parking lot: 2021 Mercedes S-class prototype © Mercedes-Benz 2021 Mercedes S-class prototype

Europe will get all of the powertrain choices, including inline-six diesel engines. American S-classes will offer inline-six gasoline engines as an entry-level option, with a 4.0-liter V-8 step-up option. There will be a plug-in hybrid with around 60 miles of electric range that will pair with the inline-six engine. An AMG version will receive a 600-plus-hp 4.0-liter V-8, while the Maybach will continue to offer an optional 6.0-liter V-12.

If you're wondering about an EV version, Mercedes-Benz's model strategy will keep an internal-combustion engine in all S-classes for now. Fully electric models will fall under the EQ branding of which the EQC SUV was the first. Following the C, E, and S names of its sedans, a large electric sedan will be called the EQS. Although not simply an electrified S-class, Mercedes is planning an EQS sedan, which promises to be spacious, overtly futuristic, and is aimed squarely at Tesla. The company showed a concept version at the end of 2019, and we expect to see the production version some time in 2021.


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