Que the BMW enthusiasts coming up with un-clever insults for Mercedes-Benz and all of the endless taxi references. As a fans of BMW ourselves, even we can admit that the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the king of luxury sedans. The only time when BMW sat atop that segment was when the E38 7 Series was still new. Now, though, the S-Class reigns supreme and this new model just set the bar even higher than we expected.
All-new for 2021, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class takes the luxury segment and moves it forward with so many new tech features, it’s actually frustrating to list them all. It seems that, with this new S-Class, Mercedes-Benz has nailed both old-school and new-school luxury, blending them together in a harmonious way.
From the outside, it’s a good looking car, if a bit predictable. But the S-Class was never designed to be a showstopper, as it’s always been more understated than that. This car continues that tradition, with a classy, handsome and sophisticated design. The only bit of exterior flamboyance is its pop-our door handle design, a la Tesla (though I suspect the S-Class’ won’t ever fail just because it’s wet or cold out). Still, despite its relatively muted design, the S-Class is still a better looking car than 7 Series. It’s likely better looking than the Audi A8 as well but at least the A8 has a high-tech sharpness to it that gives it some style. The 7 Series just has buck teeth.
However, the main selling point of the S-Class has never been its exterior design. Instead, it’s always been about the interior and this new model does not let its family heritage down.
The cabin of the new S-Class is nothing short of lovely. Everything from the seats to the dashboard to the steering wheel looks absolutely lovely. The Tesla-esque center infotainment screen might not be to the liking of some car enthusiasts but to deny that as the way forward is to be intentionally obtuse. Customers want schmanzy screens now and Mercedes-Benz is giving it to them. The upside of it is that having a massive touchscreen in the center of the dash to control almost everything frees up space in the cabin which would otherwise be cluttered with buttons.
Mercedes-Benz has also been quite clever with developing this new MBUX infotainment system. The screen features a constant digital bottom toolbar filled with climate controls and a home button, ensuring that those controls are never hidden in submenus. Underneath that are physical touch-sensitive buttons for drive-select modes, hazards and, most importantly, volume. There’s also a fingerprint scanner that saves driver profiles to different fingerprints. So when you enter the car, you “sign in” so to speak, which allows the car to set itself up exactly to your needs.
As per usual in modern Mercedes-Benz products, there’s a digital voice assistance, which is activated by saying “Hey, Mercedes”. However, it gets a bit of a twist in the new S-Class. The voice assistant can now be operated by four different people, for more specific commands. So each main seat, both front and both rear, is recognized by the virtual assistant and when any passenger says “Hey, Mercedes”, their ambient light zone illuminates and the assistant helps that specific passenger. So if the rear, right-size passenger says “Hey, Mercedes. I’m a little cold”, it will turn up the heat in only their specific zone. Pretty snazzy.
Even the ambient lighting in the car is intelligent. Not only will it flash in specific zones for the virtual assistant but it can also serve other functions. For instance, it can be used to alert the driver of certain self-driving functions and warnings. Let’s say the driver is changing lanes and there’s something in the blind spot, the ambient lighting will flash red to warn the driver, along with the typical blind spot monitor. The lighting can also change color based on the interior mood settings, which is similar to what the 7 Series LCI does, and will even perform an animation while passengers us the virtual assistant, the latter of which being similar to what Siri does on an iPhone.
As for good old fashioned comfort, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class gets a similar suspension system to the Rolls-Royce Ghost, which uses cameras and sensors to read the road ahead and pre-load the suspension accordingly. To be fair, Mercedes pioneered this tech with the last-gen S-Class but this new car takes it to another level.
One of my favorite technologies in this new S-Class is its augmented reality head-up display. Using a 77-inch wide screen, the S-Class can project navigation directions seemingly onto the road ahead, at what looks like a distance of up to 32 feet. So you’ll actually see turn arrows at the turn in what looks like real-life. Very slick stuff.
When it comes to driving dynamics, we’ll go out on a limb and say the 7 Series is likely more engaging to drive. That said, I don’t personally see a reason why a luxury car as big as either the S-Class or 7 Series needs to be engaging. This isn’t the era of E38s anymore, especially when the current 3 Series is almost as big as an E38. Modern luxury cars are enormous and even the best handling ones aren’t actually fun. So comfort, refinement, technology and luxury are far more important.
In those aforementioned endeavors, it doesn’t seem like the 7 Series, or any other luxury car in the segment, can match the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The previous-gen car was still the benchmark at the end of its life-cycle, so we have no reason to believe that this one won’t replace it and set a new benchmark.