The Ponton of 1954. The Fintail of 1959. The, er, W108 and W109 of 1965. They all formed the early lineage of a vehicle that, when it arrived 'officially' in 1972, became a sector-defining, technological showground over its following generations. This, then, is what its parent company is calling the 'most digital car' yet launched - it's the all-new, seventh-generation, 'W223' Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Complex cabin cleverness
The new S-Class has a big act to follow, because more than half-a-million examples of the W222 S-Class were sold worldwide between its introduction in 2013 and its demise this year. A crucial market for the S-Class will be China, as more than a third of those W222s were sold there, and the long-wheelbase (LWB) model should continue to be the top seller - fully nine out of every ten sixth-gen S-Class models sold was the stretched version. Such a special car is it, too, that Mercedes cites very high customer loyalty: in western Europe, 80 per cent of S-Class buyers will go on to purchase other Benzes, while the corresponding number in the US is 70 per cent.
So, that's a high bar set for the new Mk7 version. Visually, it's the usual themes for the latest 'Sonderklasse', which means a long, graceful four-door body (which is stretched, wider, taller and has a longer wheelbase when compared to the old model) on the outside and a sumptuous, capacious cabin within (+38mm front and +23mm rear of additional elbow-room, as well as an extra 16mm of headroom for back-seat passengers). It's therefore perhaps worthwhile simply focusing on the technology advancements, of which there are (as usual with an all-new S-Class) very many.
Primarily, you will have noticed the interior is all about screens. Screens, screens, screens, and up to a possible five of the things if you spec the S-Class right. This is the debut of the second generation of the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) and it is a heavily digitised human-machine interface: the German company is citing a reduction of 27 hard buttons on the dashboard as one of the benefits. The 12.3-inch digital driving cluster continues but it's now three-dimensional in appearance and it is bolstered by a head-up display above it that features augmented reality - it's also projected as if it were some distance ahead of the car, so Mercedes says it is equivalent to having a 77-inch television floating along ten metres in front of the S-Class.
Moving to the centre console, a 12.8-inch, more portrait-like screen is rendered in OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology and is 64 per cent larger in its display area than the screen in the outgoing W222. With a memory bandwidth of 41,790MB/s, a 320GB solid-state drive (SSD) for storage and 16GB of RAM, MBUX v2.0 has half as much processing power again as the previous MBUX set-up, making this a serious piece of kit. For instance, the Mk7 S-Class's voice assistant (Hey Mercedes) is 'even more learn- and dialogue-capable', said to be able to understand instructions fluently in 27 different languages. Cameras in the overhead control panel learn body movements of the occupants to predict their wishes and activate the relevant onboard technology in readiness. And second-row passengers get their own OLED screens that can be individually configured to their hearts' desires, this personalised media for each chair coming courtesy of MBUX high-end rear-seat entertainment. The ambience of the interior is also enhanced with 250 LEDs as part of the interior lighting, with an LED positioned every 16mm around the cabin.
Safety is paramount
So, elsewhere, there are further innovations. Four-wheel steering is an optional extra and while having the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the fronts isn't a new thing for the automotive industry, on the new S-Class they turn a long, long way. With a steering angle of up to ten degrees (leading to easily visible results, have a look through the associated image gallery to see what we mean), that reduces the turning circle of the new S-Class (LWB and 4Matic all-wheel drive) by 1.9 metres when compared to the model being phased out.
Safety is covered by a Driving Assistance Package with the inclusion of predictive compliance with speed limits, while an optional cylindrical rear airbag (which, when deployed, rates a full 70 litres) can mitigate head and neck injuries to occupants in the second row of the car. Meanwhile, the E-Active Body Control air suspension, which monitors the driving situation up to 1,000 times a second and which Mercedes says is so comfortable for ride quality that 'only floating is better', can also raise the entire body of the S-Class up in the air by 80mm in just a few tenths of a second if it detects an impending side impact.
Inside, the Burmester high-end 4D surround sound options features 30 loudspeakers and eight exciters, while up front illumination is handled by Multibeam LED or full Digital Light systems. The latter of these allows new functions, such as the projection of marking aids or warning symbols onto the road ahead, and Digital Light has a three-LED-light-module in each headlamp that is refracted by 1.3 million micro-mirrors - meaning the resolution is more than 2.6 million pixels per vehicle. These lighting systems, as well as the MBUX infotainment and more than 50 electronic components in total, will be capable of being updated with software in an over-the-air (OTA) format. Finally, it is also expected that in the second half of 2021, the S-Class will be able to drive in a 'conditionally automated mode' with the optional Drive Pilot, allowing the driver to perform other tasks while the Mercedes looks after itself in heavy traffic or tailbacks, or on certain pre-agreed sections of the German Autobahn.
So, let's conclude with some more quick facts and figures about the W223 S-Class, as well as the engine line-up. On the former score, the boot space is up by 20 litres on the old model to a new maximum of 550 litres. The seventh-gen's coefficient of drag figure is down to 0.22, making it one of the world's most aerodynamic cars. Its four-zone Thermotronic climate control has 17-step motors to control temperature and air distribution up front, with 20-step motors in the back, while more than 98kg of components in the car are made from resource-conserving materials - with a further 120 parts containing recyclates, twice as many as in the W222, and another 40kg made from renewable raw materials.
So, to motive power. From launch, all engines will be inline sixes: the diesels being the 2.9-litre turbocharged unit and the petrols the 3.0-litre straight-six, both of which are augmented by EQ Boost mild-hybrid technology (adding an additional 16kW, or 22hp, and 250Nm of electrical assistance on top of their stated outputs). Therefore, choose from the 367hp/500Nm S 450, the 435hp/520Nm S 500, the 286hp/600Nm S 350 d or the 330hp/700Nm S 400 d. All of these are 4Matic all-wheel-drive models, although the S 350 d alone can be specified with just rear-wheel drive, making a fifth variant from the get-go. The slowest, that S 350 d, accelerates from 0-100km/h in 6.4 seconds and the quickest, the S 500, takes just 4.9 seconds for the same benchmark - top speed on all cars is limited to 250km/h. But, while the eco-stats are pretty decent across the board - with fuel consumption from 6.4-9.5 litres/100km (44.1-29.7mpg) and CO2 emissions ranging from 168-216g/km - the real green champ of the range will be the as-yet-unspecified but already-confirmed plug-in hybrid model. A follow-up to the S 560 e, all Mercedes says at the moment is that the new hybrid will have an all-electric range of up to 100km; this is more than double what the S 560 e could achieve in zero-emissions mode, so we can't wait to hear more about this particular W223 S-Class.