2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class: First Drive Review

Even though American car owners have adopted the SUV in place of the classic 4-door sedan, when it comes to a conveyance that exudes pure luxury, a large sedan still commands attention. And even as Mercedes-Benz meets the needs of SUV shoppers, the luxury brand continues to embrace the sedan with the introduction of an all-new S-Class. The flagship of the German automaker’s lineup, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class raises the bar for luxury cars once again with a beautiful blend of premium materials, powerful engines and an impressive array of high-tech features and displays.

Technology Is the New Luxury

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUltimate Automotive Luxury
“For our customers, the S-Class has always stood for the ultimate in automotive luxury. This also encompasses innovations that make their life easier and safer, while also saving time, observed Britta Seeger, member of the Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz AG boards of management for sales. “It is precisely in these areas where the new S-Class sets standards: for safety and comfort. We are confident that our customers will be excited by the intelligent beauty, exceptional standards of safety and the intuitive operation and handling of the new S-Class,” Seeger noted.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFresh Styling
The messaging of the latest Mercedes-Benz design language is more evolutionary than revolutionary, incorporating subtle yet important updates. Maintaining its classic sedan proportions, the new S-Class gets a fresh face with a longer hood, reshaped grille and stylish new LED headlights. Wider and longer than its predecessor, the new S-Class has shorter overhangs and a wide stance for a more purposeful look.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSlippery Design
Despite its robust proportions, the new S-Class has a low 0.22 drag coefficient that makes it one of the most aerodynamic cars on the road. Door handles remain hidden when the car is in motion or locked, which contributes to the visually clean design. As the driver approaches, the door handles automatically extend.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear View
The C-pillars of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class flow into sculpted rear fenders, the aforementioned exterior door handles sit flush with the bodywork, and reshaped taillights are wider and visually connected by trim at the upper edges.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSafety
Mercedes-Benz equips every 2021 S-Class with a range of advanced driver-assistance systems that include active distance assist DISTRONIC adaptive cruise control, active stop-and-go assist, active steering assist, active brake assist with cross-traffic function, active blind-spot assist, active lane-keeping assist and active parking assist.

© Mercedes-Benz USAPRE-SAFE Impulse Side
A standout feature of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is its PRE-SAFE Impulse Side system, which protects occupants in the event of a side-impact collision. If the system detects an imminent side impact, the E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL raises the vehicle body by 3 inches in a few tenths of a second to reduce the crash load on the door, directing the energy of the collision into the vehicle structure rather than the occupant cabin.

© Mercedes-Benz USARear-Seat Airbags
In a first for Mercedes-Benz, the new S-Class offers frontal airbags for rear-seat passengers. An innovative tubular structure rapidly inflates and positions the airbags yet also deploys them gently. During severe frontal collisions, the rear airbags can considerably reduce the impact on heads and necks of occupants in the outer rear seats.

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© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceModel Lineup
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is initially available in two trim levels: S 500 and S 580. Both vehicles have essentially the same feature set — the main difference lies in the powertrain: a turbo six versus a Biturbo V8, respectively. The S 500 starts at $109,800, with the S 580 priced at $116,300. Both versions are available with a range of options, as well as an AMG Line Package. Mercedes-Benz offers an Executive Line Package exclusively on the S 580.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceStandard Equipment
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has an extremely long list of standard features. Highlights include leather-trimmed active multicontour front seats with heating, cooling and massage (Nappa leather on S 580); 64-color ambient lighting; wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; wireless phone charging; Air Balance with active fragrance; a Burmester 3D surround sound audio system; a 360-degree surround view camera with 3D view assist; soft-close doors; 6 USB-C ports; a panorama sunroof; AIRMATIC air suspension and 19-inch wheels.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAMG Line
An AMG Line package gives the S-Class a more aggressive look with AMG body styling, AMG wheels, stainless-steel sport pedals and AMG floormats. Unfortunately, this package does not add any AMG-level performance, but fear not — a high-performance Mercedes-AMG S-Class will be coming soon. The AMG Line package is priced at $4,300.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceExecutive Line
Adding $10,850 to the S 580 base price, the Executive Line package brings an even higher level of luxury to the S-Class. The package includes active multicontour rear seats, rear-seat passenger airbags and beltbags, 4-zone climate control, rear wireless charging, an MBUX rear tablet, a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear armrests, and 10-degree rear axle steering. Also included is the MBUX rear-seat entertainment system with two 11.6-inch high-resolution touchscreens with full HD cameras and microphones.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceTurbocharged Engines
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is available with two turbocharged engine options. The S 500 is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine producing 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque, while the S 580 draws motivation from a 4.0-liter biturbo V8 engine producing 496 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. The 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission and 4MATIC all-wheel drive are standard on both variants.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceEQ Boost
Both engines are equipped with a 48-volt electrical system and an integrated starter-generator that provides EQ Boost and energy recovery. EQ Boost adds an additional 184 lb-ft of torque and 21 horsepower for short periods, keeping power delivery smooth and strong. According to Mercedes-Benz, the S 500 4MATIC can reach 60 mph in 4.8 seconds — the more powerful S 580 4MATIC does the same in 4.4 seconds. Both are electronically limited to 130 mph.

© Mercedes-Benz USARear-Axle Steering
Measuring more than 17 feet long, the S-Class is no small car, so at times parking and maneuvering can be difficult; however, Mercedes has a solution. The new S-Class has available rear-axle steering that can turn up to 4.5 degrees or up to 10 degrees, depending on the option package. With the 10-degree turning option, the S-Class reduces its turning circle by as much as seven feet, putting it close to the same radius as the compact A-Class.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInner Space
As mentioned earlier, the exterior changes to the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class are evolutionary, while the interior transformation could be called revolutionary. Instead of a single widescreen across the dashboard, the new focal point of the S-Class is a 12.8-inch OLED center touchscreen that flows downward into the center console and seems to float above the clean, stylish dashboard. Almost all physical buttons have been eliminated — occupants interface with the car via the touchscreen, by voice or via steering-wheel controls. The display provides haptic feedback, so selecting an item is almost like pushing a button, making the screen much easier to use.

© Mercedes-Benz USAHey Mercedes
The infotainment system in the new S-Class employs the next-generation of MBUX, which uses a natural-language interface. Saying “Hey Mercedes” receives an instant response of “How may I help you?” and there are countless requests that can be made to adjust temperature settings, get directions, turn on massagers or change the radio station, to name a few. The system can now respond to any occupant in the car. Drivers can also set up a profile to store seat position, climate settings and audio preferences — accessed via fingerprint, facial recognition or voice recognition.

© Mercedes-Benz USA3D Instrument Cluster
The S-Class features a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a new steering wheel with capacitive touch control buttons. The available 3D instrument cluster provides 3D warning for the driver-assist systems and can display a 3D representation of the vehicles surrounding the car. The system uses a stereo camera integrated into the display to precisely determine the viewer’s eye position, presenting a different image to the left and right eye to create a 3D view. The display can also be customized to one of several themed styles.

© Mercedes-Benz USAHead-Up Display with Augmented Reality
The available head-up display in the S-Class projects onto the windshield and gives the appearance equivalent to a 77-inch monitor with images appearing virtually at a distance of 32 feet. The augmented reality is arguably one of the coolest features in the new S-Class. While using the AR navigation system, the display indicates direction with arrows that literally hover over the intended route, moving in the direction of the planned turn. The driver simply follows the arrows.

© Mercedes-Benz USABurmester High-End 4D Surround Sound
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class offers a Burmester High-End 4D surround sound system that includes 30 speakers. Each speaker has its own amplifier channel with digital and analog filters for a total system output of up to 1,750 watts, including an output of 400 watts for the subwoofer bass speaker in the trunk. The system uses resonators featuring sound massage, with surround speakers integrated into the seats (the 4D). The Burmester system also includes a personalization function for sound reproduction, VIP seat function to optimize the sound for individual seats, along with multichannel audio formats and five sound profiles: Pure, Live, Easy Listening, Surround and 3D-Sound.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFront Seats
Being chauffeured around town in a new S-Class would be a treat, although sitting up front has its perks. Front seats swathed in soft leather are both stylish and supremely comfortable, with multiple adjustments and an available cushioned head restraint. Heating and ventilation get to operating temperatures quickly for additional comfort. Front seats also feature 10 massage programs that use a combination of inflatable air chambers, vibration motors and seat heating to help reduce fatigue and improve well-being.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRear Seats
The S-Class has a rear bench seat as standard equipment with plenty of legroom and headroom thanks to the spacious cabin. The middle seat is certainly usable, although it is narrow and has less cushion so it is best reserved for short rides. Rear seats can also be equipped with an additional head restraint cushion that can be heated, providing warmth to the head and neck area.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceExecutive Upgrade
For those folks who anticipate being chauffeured in their new S-Class, Mercedes also offers an Executive Rear Seat Package that upgrades to active multicontour rear seats. Not only do the outboard seats get multiple massage options, the right-rear seat can be reclined with a power-operated legrest. The front passenger seat can also be moved forward and out of the way for maximum rear-seat comfort.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceTrunk Space
Even though it doesn’t possess the spacious utility of an SUV, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class has plenty of cargo-carrying capability. Trunk space is slightly larger than the previous generation, measuring up to 19 cubic feet; multiple suitcases or golf bags can be easily accommodated.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
We had the opportunity to spend a few days in Southern California with the all-new Mercedes-Benz S 580 4MATIC. It only takes a few minutes to appreciate how extremely smooth and quiet the ride can be in this new S-Class. The auto stop/start is imperceptible, engine noise is minimal and even in heavy traffic almost any exterior sound is almost completely shut out. In a word (or two), the S-Class ride is simply serene — appropriate alliteration for an S-Class.

© Mercedes-Benz USAPlenty of Power
Despite knowing that the S-Class packs a big biturbo V8 engine under the hood, the rate at which this massive sedan accelerates is still surprising. Full throttle brings a pleasing exhaust note — not the throaty roar of an AMG-prepped vehicle, yet still a powerful sound. And thanks to the seamlessly smooth shifting of a 9-speed automatic transmission, the S-Class increases speed rapidly. When merging onto freeways this big sedan can be into triple digits in no time and cruise all day at that rate, although local law enforcement might not approve of such behavior.

Excellent Handling
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is the ultimate cruiser, yet it can also hold its own when roads aren’t simply long and straight. Driving into the mountains near Ojai, California, we put the new Mercedes into Sport + mode which tightens the steering, adjusts throttle response and stiffens the suspension. During this portion of the drive the big sedan performed surprisingly well with commendable steering feedback and plenty of composure on winding roads. Granted the S-Class is no sports car — given its significant mass, physics eventually wins when it comes to high-speed cornering.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceAugmented Reality
Navigating unfamiliar roads can sometimes be a challenge, even with a nav system. The augmented reality system in the new S-Class makes it almost impossible to miss a turn. When approaching a turn or freeway exit, the system not only provides verbal prompts, it also projects the intended path into the head-up display, placing arrows on the intended path. As the S-Class approaches the turn or exit, the arrows begin to move and eventually lead down the road. The same view appears in the center OLED display, overlayed with video from the front-facing camera — easily one of our favorite features of the new S-Class.

Distronic Cruise Control
On longer stints of freeway driving in the S-Class we engaged its Distronic adaptive cruise control. Although the system is not technically autonomous driving, it comes pretty close. The system keeps the car in the lane and a set distance from vehicles in front. Changing lanes is as easy as activating the turn signal — the car checks for space and then changes lanes automatically. The driver is warned if there is no hand detected on the wheel.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRight For You?
For a long time, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been a benchmark of the luxury sedan segment. For 2021 the S-Class maintains this enviable position with its clean new look, ultra-comfortable and luxurious interior, and smooth, quiet ride expected of an S-Class. Add in those powerful engines and the long list of innovations and advanced tech that further enhance the driving — or riding — experience, and once again the S-Class sets the bar for luxury sedans.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 9.0
Pros: Smooth, powerful ride; advanced, useful technology; ultimate comfort.
Cons: No volume knob; interface can be distracting.
Bottom Line: With advanced technology and extreme comfort, the S-Class continues to raise the bar for luxury cars.

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