Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.
Mercedes-Benz has taken the virtual cover off the next-generation S-Class during an online media event, revealing a redesigned flagship sedan that pushes technical boundaries for comfort, performance, and safety.
Initial specifications point to powerful engines, a keen focus on noise reduction and audio quality, clever safety engineering, and a smarter MBUX infotainment system. Even the production of the S-Class is cutting-edge, with a new facility called Factory 56 in Sindelfingen, Germany. The flexible assembly line previews highly automated car factories of the future, with robots guiding major components around the facility.
The launch of a new S-Class is always an event, because this iconic nameplate has introduced many technologies over the decades and consistently set a high standard in the auto world. The details for new S are still coalescing, but below are the highlights so far.
Once again, the S-Class underscores a key benefit of being affluent: access to ultra-luxury cars that are truly extraordinary. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has long defined automotive excellence, shining bright in our road tests, including having the distinction of the most comfortable riding car we’ve tested. This new S-Class promises to continue the steady march of ongoing improvements and setting the state of the art.
Part of the appeal of the S-Class has been the impressive combination of being far more enjoyable to drive than its massive size and weight would allow you to reasonably expect, while coddling the driver and passengers in premium comfort.
Historic weaknesses have included infuriating controls. This is among the challenges in a vehicle with so many features. The original MBUX carried some promise, allowing spoken commands to substitute for multiple button pushes and screen taps. But the results are a bit mixed with the current cars we’ve tested, requiring a notable learning curve. Perhaps the next-generation system will make this easier.
Another downside of all that complexity has been reliability. The more features a car has, the more there is to go wrong. And with an S-Class, that can mean expensive repairs out of warranty. This is something that we will certainly be watching in our member surveys.
We were critical of the trunk size of the outgoing model. Based on the specs from Mercedes, the new car has slightly more space.
Once again, the S-Class seeks to set the standard, and we look forward to experiencing its many features and innovations.
The evolutionary appearance smooths some of the crisp lines and body sculpting from the outgoing S-Class, giving the new model a resemblance to the current C-Class and E-Class. It looks long, with short front and rear overhangs, although the dimensions are quite similar.
The new car gains an inch in length and 2 inches in wheelbase. The taillights have shifted to a horizontal design, creating a fresh rear appearance.
Despite its formidable size, the new S-Class is among the most aerodynamic cars on the road, with a lower coefficient of drag than even a Toyota Prius. This sleek design, complete with exterior door handles that retract, minimizes wind noise and aids fuel economy.
Inspiration for the first-class cabin was drawn from modern yachts, as exemplified by the use of open-pore wood. There’s also a sense of high-tech minimalism. The instrument panel is a large, reconfigurable OLED display. To the center is a large 12.8-inch screen that houses the second-generation MBUX infotainment system that debuts in the S-Class. The company claims computing power for this self-learning system has increased by 50 percent.
The “Hey, Mercedes” voice assistant has expanded capability, allowing plain-language communication for adjusting car systems, making calls, asking general questions, and even interacting with your home. It can now be controlled from the rear seats as well, helpful for when being chauffeured.
The head-up display works with augmented reality content, overlaying symbols and information with a real-world context. For example, route guidance lines for navigation are applied atop the road, as are distance indicators for adaptive cruise control.
As always, the seats were engineered to be exceptional, with a variety of finishes, stitching accents, and massage features. There are up to 19 motors to provide comfort. And there are 10 different massage programs, including the ability to simulate a hot stone treatment. The rear seat can be had with massage, as well as footrests and heated head restraints.
A camera can recognize the driver and configure myriad systems to match his or her preferences, akin to the traditional memory function triggered by a button on the door or recognition of the key fob. With all the functions and features available, Mercedes explains that the virtual assistant can make numerous adjustments to suit a certain mood, such as relaxing or the need to feel energized.
The optional Burmester audio system is meant to be an audiophile’s dream, adding fine-tuning capabilities and a three-dimensional listening experience.
What Drives It
The S-Class is offered with two engines, each producing more than 400 horsepower, that are supplemented with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system.
The base powerplant is a 429-hp, 3.0-liter inline-six, with the uplevel choice a 496-hp, 4.0-liter turbocharged V8. Both engines are teamed with a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Each engine benefits from 21 additional horsepower on demand, courtesy of the mild-hybrid system. More significant, this electric power provides an added 184 lb.-ft. of torque, which should help at low speeds.
Two electrified versions will be available as well, a plug-in hybrid and a fully electric model.
Safety and Driver Assist Systems
The S-Class will be outfitted with almost every advanced safety feature, plus a few new innovations.
Among its tricks, all S-Class sedans will come with a dynamic air suspension that can adjust the ride height to optimize performance and fuel economy while optimizing ride quality. But it will also be tied in with an optional body-control system that monitors for potential side impact. If a side collision is imminent, the suspension will raise the car within a few tenths of a second to protect occupants better by moving the strong floor’s structure height closer to a typical bumper height.
The parking assists are said to be more sensitive. Combined with the optional rear steer (which can turn the rear wheels up to 10 degrees), the self-parking feature promises to pull off some impressive maneuvers for a car of this massive size.
An optional rear airbag can reduce harmful impact on the head and neck for belted passengers.
The cabin uses 250 LEDs for ambient lighting, creating a futuristic mood as seen in other Mercedes models. Those lights can be used to convey warnings from the advanced safety systems.
A driver attention monitor looks for warning signs that the driver may be drowsy or inattentive. A camera tracks eyelid movements for indications that the driver may be sleepy.
If adaptive cruise control isn’t engaged and the car determines that the driver isn’t actively responding to traffic, it can tighten the seat belts and pulse the brakes as a warning, and ultimately brake the car to a standstill if necessary.
The blind spot warning system can take corrective action if the driver attempts to move into an occupied lane. The sensors also tie into an exit function, warning about a vehicle or bicycle passing by as an occupant attempts to open the door when parked. This goes a step further than systems from other automakers to issue the warning as the driver or front passenger reach for the door handle and signal the warning through the ambient light system.
Another enhancement is with the evasive steering assist, which can help avoid pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicles that are crossing the car’s path or even moving alongside it. The speed for this feature has increased from 45 mph to 67 mph.
More from Consumer Reports:
Top pick tires for 2016
Best used cars for $25,000 and less
7 best mattresses for couples
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2020, Consumer Reports, Inc.