The 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is finally here. After an exhaustive campaign that included dozens of teaser videos and photos, and some vague details, the company has pulled the cover off its latest full-size luxury sedan at last. And there's a lot to like.
Though it may not look all that different on the outside, the flagship four-door debuts with a laundry list of new engineering and technological innovations that promise to make this icon even better. Some of the most important new features include two hybridized engine options, a massive central touchscreen with the latest MBUX infotainment setup, and more active safety technology than ever before.
Exterior: Aerodynamic Design
Minor exterior changes bring the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class into the modern age. The hood is longer, the headlights and wheels are sharper – some shoes measuring in at 21 inches – the C-pillar flows more smoothly into the rear shoulder, and for the first time in three generations, the S-Class gets horizontal taillights.
The door handles are now completely flush with the body, and there are new 'aerostripes' on the insides of the mirrors that help improve airflow. All of it helps yield a drag coefficient 0.22, making the S-Class one of the world's most aerodynamic cars. By comparison, the sleek Tesla Model S has a drag coefficient of 0.24.
In terms of size, the new S-Class is longer than its predecessor by up to 1.3 inches (in the long-wheelbase model), wider by up to 2.0 inches, and it stands about 0.4 inches taller. But to keep the class S-Class' proportions in check, Mercedes also extended the wheelbase by 2.0 inches, the front track by 1.4 inches, and the rear track by 2.0 inches. So the 2021 S-Class maintains its athletic proportions, with a short front overhang, a modest rear overhang, and a sculpted profile, while offering more cabin space.
Interior: A Modern Take
Obviously, the Benz's new 12.8-inch touchscreen is what immediately draws the eye – it floats up and out of the center console. But look beyond the new hardware and you'll realize just how much the inside of the S-Class has changed. The 2021 model has 27 fewer knobs and dials (mechanical switches, essentially) than the previous model – nearly all of those functions move either to voice or touch controllers.
Four horizontally oriented sleek new air vents sit on top of the dash, just above the screen – replacing the four rounded vents on the previous model – and depending on the trim, Mercedes offers full-length dash finishes like carbon fiber and piano black wood with pinstriping. There are also 30 loudspeakers and eight resonators available part of the Burmester high-end 4D surround sound system. Also new is the steering wheel, which has updated capacitive controls.
The S-Class has a new generation of steering wheels with capacitive hands-off recognition thanks to a two-zone sensor pad in the steering wheel rim. The sensors on the front and reverse sides of the rim register whether the driver's hands are on the wheel. No steering movement is necessary to inform the driving assistance systems that the driver has control.
Some of the same high-quality aluminum fixtures and shiny black trim pieces from the previous model do carry over, only now the latter are more prominent on the center console (again, depending on the trim) and around the seat controls on the door. The seats maintain the same high-quality, quilted Nappa leather finish, available in a few different colors. Those chairs also offer heating, ventilation, and 10 different massage functions, as well as new "Energizing" options accessible via the touchscreen.
The optional Energizing features are a carryover from last year, and users can choose from six different Energizing options: Refresh, Warmth, Vitality, Enjoyment, Well-Being, and Training. Each one adjusts things like music, ambient lighting, seat positioning, and air conditioning to create the desired effect. And now for 2021, those same options extend to second-row passengers as part of the optional Energizing Rear package.
Thanks to its stretched wheelbase and improved proportions, the 2021 S-Class also boasts a bit more interior room than its predecessor. Front headroom (42.0 inches) and legroom (41.0 inches) are about the same, but front elbow room grows by a solid 1.5 inches. And in the second row, there's an extra sixth tenths of an inch in headroom, 1.0 inch in legroom, and four tenths of an inch in elbow room. The trunk space grows by 0.8-cubic-foot, as well.
One of the bigger standouts of the cabin is the new ambient lighting feature, which has an LED within an optical fiber every 0.6 inches. The goal, Mercedes says, is for the new ambient lighting fixtures to create a single continuous line of light throughout the vehicle. Lining everything from the door panels and the dash to the floorboards (even extending to the rear seats), there are around 250 fiber optic lights throughout the cabin.
Technology: Bigger And More Advanced
Inside the new S-Class, the 12.8-inch touchscreen comes standard, replacing the previous model's 10.3-inch screen. It's an OLED setup – like what you get in the new Cadillac Escalade – and compared to a traditional LCD, it offers crisper graphics, deeper blacks, and more natural colors, all while consuming 30 percent less energy.
That touchscreen runs an updated version of Mercedes-Benz's lauded MBUX infotainment system, which means features like the "Hey, Mercedes" voice assistant carries over. But now "Hey, Mercedes" is a bit more intuitive; it can explain basic functions like Bluetooth connectivity, answers to commands like "accept call," and even understands up to 27 different languages. Plus, now even second-row passengers can use it.
Another carryover of MBUX is the augmented-reality navigation feature, and much like voice command, it also receives some updates. The AR navigation now projects a crisper readout onto the head-up display – which corresponds to a massive 77.0 inches diagonally – instead of the central screen, and can project an image virtually at a distance of up to 33 feet (10 meters).
Joining that massive central screen are up to four other screens strategically placed throughout the cabin. The first is a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that combines both a digital LCD and practical elements to create a 3D-like effect that tracks the driver's eye movement – and like the previous version, this one is highly configurable and customizable. The digital cluster has four different settings: Discreet, Sporty, Exclusive, and Classic.
There are also three optional screens available in the rear: two 11.6-inch entertainment displays mounted to the front seatbacks and a third removable 7.0-inch tablet in the center console as part of the Business Center Console package that controls the rear two. Both the driver and rear passengers can access personal profiles on the center screen and those rear seat screens via voice command, each with their own music and multimedia options. And each screen can hold up to seven different user profiles.
Performance: EQ Boosted
The base Mercedes-Benz S500 gets a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine with an integrated starter-generator with EQ Boost – a 48-volt mild-hybrid system – similar to what you get on other modern Benz. That setup is good for 429 horsepower and 384 pound-feet, an improvement of 67 horses and 15 lb-ft over the previous model's base turbocharged six-cylinder. Power travels to all four wheels and EQ Boost offers an additional 184 lb-ft and 21 hp over short bursts.
Up from there, the S580 gets the automaker's twin-turbocharged V8 good for 469 hp and 516 lb-ft – an improvement of six hp. Mercedes hasn't released 0 to 60 times, but the S500 and S580 both come paired to the same nine-speed automatic and have an electronically limited top speed of 130 miles per hour and five different drive modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus, and Individual.
Also new for 2020 is the addition of standard E-Active Body Control – the same hydropneumatic dampers from Mercedes SUVs like the GLE and GLS that lift the vehicle up, down, and to the side. The S-Class also gets a new four-link up front suspension and a multi-link independent rear suspension to accommodate rear-axle steering. With the help of rear-axle steering, the 2021 S-Class has a 15-percent better steering ratio.
Safety: Added Security
As you'd expect, the new S-Class comes with virtually every safety feature that Mercedes-Benz currently offers. The list includes automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, active steering assist, lane-keep assist, lane-change assist, traffic sign recognition, front and rear cross-traffic alert, and active blind-spot monitoring. Brand-new for 2021 is hands-off recognition, which means you don't need to move the steering wheel for the car to know you have control – simply put your hands on it. Also new for 2021 is the addition of standard Pre-Safe Impulse Control.
A carryover from SUVs like the GLE and GLS and a facet of the E-Active Body Control adaptive suspension (essentially active anti-roll bars that draw on the 48-volt system to eliminate body roll), Pre-Safe Impulse Control can detect an oncoming vehicle from either side and raise the S-Class slightly to lessen the brunt of a potential collision.