CORRECTION 6/22/21: This story has been updated to correctly state specifications of the S500’s six-cylinder engine.
It might have been the moment we were choosing between the Mobilizing massage or the Classic massage, but we missed a turn. A new S-class brings with it a ton of new tech, and we were so busy playing with all of it that we ignored the navigation system directing us to the Jersey Turnpike and the George Washington Bridge. The new route took us through the Holland Tunnel, landing us in Tribeca. After driving the length of Manhattan, through the Bronx, and into Westchester County, we arrived in Connecticut to rejoin the prescribed drive route.
Along our improvised route, we passed multimillion-dollar lofts, high-rent apartment buildings, and suburban estates with lawns that must take weeks to mow. The S-class is exactly the kind of automobile you expect to see purring along these roads. Act like you belong, the adage goes. Mercedes’s latest version of its flagship sedan makes you feel like you do.
There will undoubtedly be AMG-tuned versions, but at launch U.S. shoppers will choose between a 429-hp turbocharged and supercharged 3.0-liter inline-six in the S500 and the S580’s 496-hp twin-turbo V-8, both equipped with 4Matic all-wheel drive. Under foot, the 496-hp V-8 seemed a bit sluggish at first, but then we hit the Dynamic button on the large central display. The darn thing was set to Eco mode, which attenuates your most immature wants with gas-saving reluctance. We skipped over the other options and went straight to Sport Plus, which lowers the body height 0.7 inch, increases steering effort, alters shift points, spruces up the engine response with a livelier throttle map, and engages a less intrusive stability-control program. A 48-volt electric motor eliminates delivery delay of those abundant horses, contributing as much as 184 pound-feet of torque to the 516-pound-foot peak as well as 21 extra horsepower for short bursts. We liked Sport Plus, and the change revealed the sports sedan hiding in the sedate cruiser. Like the last two generations of the S-class, the bolsters get into the act by inflating and deflating to counteract cornering forces, a reassuring “I got you” from the car if you choose to engage the dynamic seat mode.
On less exciting roads, we took advantage of the car’s semi-autonomous driving function. By letting the S-class deal with the exigencies of traffic, we were able to fully explore the differences between 10 massage experiences, the cloud-soft headrests, and the optional 30-speaker Burmester audio system’s 1750 watts, including the in-seat resonators that deliver the bass to your backside.
Our vehicle had swashbuckling red leather upholstery set against piano-black trim, but we were instantly drawn to the 12.8-inch OLED central touchscreen display and the 12.3-inch customizable screen in front of the driver. Calling up the navigation screen on the smaller display brings a convincing 3D image of the car moving through space. It works in concert with the huge head-up display that overlays turns and directions onto the reality that exists outside the windshield. It’s one of the best navigation systems we’ve ever used and gives plenty of good reasons to choose the Benz system over navigation apps run through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Passengers get their own toys, too. The optional Executive Line package fits the back seat with two 11.6-inch touchscreens, infotainment system controls, and ventilated, heated, and outboard massaging seats that recline to 43.5 degrees. Even the headrests are heated. Since a reclining rear-seat occupant may submarine (slide under the lap belt) in a collision, the Executive Line seats come with an airbag at the base of the bottom cushion that deploys to align their torso with the lap belt. There’s an inch more legroom back there, too, thanks to the 126.6-inch wheelbase, which is 2.0 inches longer than before.
If the new S-class styling strikes you as too anonymous, know that the drag coefficient is a low 0.22. If you want an even more striking look, there’s an AMG Line option that adds more visual panache via 21-inch AMG wheels and more aggressive-looking exterior trim.
If the standard 19-inch wheels don’t look as good as the larger AMG wheels, at least the smaller wheels improve the car’s turning radius. Fitted with the optional rear-axle steering, one of our favorite new-to-S-class features, the 19- and 20-inch wheels allow for up to a 10-degree steering angle at the rear axle, which makes it easier to park by reducing the turning circle to a tight 35.8 feet, 4.6 feet fewer than before. Opting for the 21-inch wheels limits the rear-axle turning radius to 4.5 degrees and yields a 39.0-foot turning-circle diameter. With all four wheels steering, the big sedan enjoys new levels of maneuverability. We cut through Manhattan traffic with the deftness of a bike messenger. At speeds of more than 37 mph, the rear wheels begin to turn in phase with the front wheels instead of the opposite direction, which increases stability by virtually increasing the car’s already long wheelbase.
We made all the turns on the way home, but we did get stuck in some nasty traffic. Normally, this would turn us inside out with paroxysms of frustration. Fortunately, we were in a high-tech mobile living room with features and technology designed to make us as comfortable as possible. All of life should be this easy. While the tech can distract you enough to miss a turn, it will also take care of the worst parts of driving.
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