2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Sets New Luxury Tech Benchmark

Kyle Patrick
by Kyle Patrick
New S-Class includes a barrage of high-tech features, and is prepped for Level 4 semi-autonomous driving.

Here it is, the next generation of Mercedes-Benz’ venerable S-Class flagship. Just as it has for decades before, each and every time a new generation debuts, it sets a high-water mark for the entire luxury class. The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is bigger, smarter, and more comfortable than ever before, sure, but it also showcases the sort of tech we can expect to trickle down to the rest of the automotive world over the next decade.

There’s a lot to digest here: the accompanying press release is 83 pages long. Eighty. Three. From augmented reality to plug-in hybrid power, here’s what stands out most about die neue S-Klasse.

Drivetrains and bodystyles

Perhaps the least-interesting aspect of the new S-Class is its initial drivetrain lineup. That’s not a knock on the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six (S 500) nor the 4.0-liter V8 (S 580); they’re both plenty powerful, producing 429 and 496 hp, respectively. Torque figures sit at 383 lb-ft for the smaller engine, and 516 units of twist for the V8. Both also come bundled with Merc’s 48V mild-hybrid system, dubbed EQ Boost, which minimizes turbo lag via torque fill. A nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive are also both standard.

Two different rear-wheel steer systems will arrive on the 2021 S-Class. The Executive Line trim allows up to 10 degrees of rear-axle angle, while others stick to 4.5 degrees. That allows the Executive Line a turning circle on par with the little A-Class, while also aiding high-speed stability.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC Review

Mercedes showed off a plug-in hybrid version of the S-Class at the digital reveal event. This model has an estimated EV-only range of 62 miles (100 km). The German automaker also reiterated that the EQ S is coming, an all-electric full-sizer with a targeted range of 435 miles (700 km). The hard-charging AMG models are surely in the pipeline.

The S-Class will come in standard- and extended-wheelbase forms. Sorry, two-door fans: the coupe and convertible will disappear when this W223-generation car arrives. There’s still the SL for your big convertible needs.

Second-generation MBUX: faster, smarter

Pop inside the hush-hush interior of the new S-Class and it’s impossible to ignore the 12.8-inch screen sitting in the middle. The portrait-oriented, “floating” touchscreen is the main command center for the new car, running the second generation of Mercedes’ MBUX system. It boasts 50 percent more computing power than before, making it even snappier to respond. Not only that, but MBUX 2.0 also allows for over-the-air (OTA) updates for over 50 of the electronic components in the car.

Central to the new S-Class experience are user profiles. The S-Class can store up to seven, tailoring preferences for each person. The system uses the Mercedes Me mobile app, and users can confirm their profile on startup PIN, as well as voice, facial, and fingerprint recognition. It’s some real Tony Stark stuff.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS Review

Leaning into the Iron Man life, the seventh-gen S-Class also allows for gesture controls. Wiggle your fingers at the roof and watch the sunroof open up, for instance. On a similar note, the facial recognition software can respond to your actions and intentions. If the driver looks over their shoulder to start a lane change, the S-Class will lower the second-row sunblind. Parked, and about to open the door? The system will predict as much, and warn you of oncoming pedestrians or cyclists.

Mercedes’ current voice recognition software is one of the better examples of the breed. The 2021 S-Class improves on that, with support for 27 languages and even more natural speaking. Like other digital assistants, it also now includes a small talk feature, which Mercedes is calling Chit-Chat. Ask the S-Class what an elephant sounds like, and you’ll get the appropriate response. Neat.

Tons of tech

Moving beyond MBUX, there’s a dizzying array of additional tech to improve the experience of drivers and passengers alike. Merc is offering not one but two head up displays; the larger unit offers the equivalent viewing angle of a 77-inch TV, and beams augmented-reality navigation arrows over top the upcoming road. These arrows are one of our favorite features in current Mercs, and moving them from the central screen to the HUD should make it even easier to navigate unfamiliar areas.

Every 2021 S-Class also gets a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel. It’s hugely configurable, but the big new addition is an available 3D option. We’ve experienced this elsewhere before, and the result is subtle. It uses the driver-facing camera to pull off the illusion, meaning quickly shifting your focus from the road and back can sometimes “trick” it, but it’s cool nonetheless. Those that prefer the good old-fashioned 2D display can also disable the feature. It comes bundled with the aforementioned, larger HUD option.

SEE ALSO: 2019 Mercedes A 220 Sedan Review

Speaking of dimensions, there’s an available 30-speaker Burmester sound system, which Mercedes is calling 4D. How come? It features motors in the seats to augment the sound. Naturally every seat can tailor the intensity of this bun-rumbling.

Executive Line models feature a pair of 11.6-inch touchscreens in the back row, and a 7.0-inch tablet nestled in the central fold-down armrest. Back-seat passengers have full control of their own domain, and can send certain requests, like music or destinations, up to the front screen.

More safety, and it’s standard too

Mercedes has traditionally used the S-Class to usher in the next generation of safety systems, and this 2021 car is no different. The full Alpha Bits box of acronyms is here, including the usual automated emergency braking, lane-keep assist and lane-change assist. The adaptive cruise control now allows for up to 60 seconds of the car being stationary in stop-and-go traffic. A speed limit assist, including traffic sign recognition, can also automatically adjust the big sedan’s speed. A 360-degree camera, with full automated parking, joins all the above in the standard safety kit suite.

Also new for this generation is what Mercedes calls Pre-Safe Impulse Side, which inflates the front row side bolsters in the case of an accident, moving the driver and passenger more inboard.

What is optional is a new rear-seat airbag system. The airbags sit within the backs of the front seats, deploying into a “wing-shaped structure” in the event of a crash to cradle the rear passengers. Mercedes calls it the first for a passenger vehicle.

Mercedes is also planning for conditional Level 3 semi-autonomous pilot programs in its home country in the second half of 2021. The new S-Class is equipped to handle Level 4; whether regional legislation allows for that is another question.

Conservative new looks

We’ve gotten this far without really touching on the looks of the new S-Class. It’s certainly more of an evolutionary approach, looking very similar to the existing lineup, just at 120-percent scale. Daimler chief design officer Gorden Wagener called the design “essential purity” at the reveal event. The canvas is larger, with clean flanks and the characteristically strong C-pillar giving the S-Class a graceful stance. It sits on a whole new platform, which is lighter despite the 1.3-inch increase in length (now 208.2 inches). Mercedes stretched the wheelbase by a full 2.0 inches however, shrinking the front and rear overhangs. Standard electronic pop-up door handles help keep the drag coefficient down to just 0.22.

The biggest stylistic shake-up would be the horizontal taillights, the first for an S-Class this century. The triangular shape is similar to other Merc models, but the interior lighting elements are much more complex. A whole array of geometric shapes are lit from the bottom, giving the taillights a unique night-time signature and an appearance of depth we haven’t seen since the original Sonata hybrid and it’s atomic-style setup.

Inside, Mercedes designers have eliminated 27 physical buttons to focus in on that big MBUX screen. The dash design wraps around the front seat passengers and flows through the doors, with multiple trim options. Of course there’s leather everywhere, but Mercedes is also happy to point out the S-Class features twice as many components using recyclates as before (120).

Standard wheels are 19-inches, with up to 21-inch items available.

Pricing and availability

North American Mercedes-Benz dealers will see the new S-Class on their floors in the first half of 2021. Mercedes hasn’t announced pricing yet, but we expect it to start in the six-figure range. Currently, a 2020 S 450 4MATIC rings in at $97,250 before destination or options; given the amount of upgrades on display here, we’re counting on a bump around 10 percent.

We’ve only scratched the surface of what this new flagship will offer, so we look forward to getting behind the wheel and giving you the full rundown soon.

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Kyle Patrick
Kyle Patrick

Kyle began his automotive obsession before he even started school, courtesy of a remote control Porsche and various LEGO sets. He later studied advertising and graphic design at Humber College, which led him to writing about cars (both real and digital). He is now a proud member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), where he was the Journalist of the Year runner-up for 2021.

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