UPDATE 9/13/21: This review has been updated with test results.
CORRECTION 6/22/21: This story has been updated to correctly state the specifications of the S500’s six-cylinder engine. Also, the AMG Line option does not include 21-inch wheels, as previously stated.
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. The latest version of Mercedes’s flagship sedan makes you feel like you do.
There will undoubtedly be AMG-tuned versions, but for now U.S. shoppers can choose between a 429-hp turbo- and supercharged 3.0-liter inline-six in the S500 and a 496-hp twin-turbo V-8 in the S580. Both are 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 lb-feet of torque to the 516-lb-foot peak as well as 21 extra horsepower for short bursts. We liked Sport Plus, and the change revealed the sports sedan hiding in this sedate cruiser. Let it rip and 60 mph comes up in 3.9 seconds, with the quarter-mile passing in 12.5 seconds at 114 mph. Like the last two generations of the S-class, the seat 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 10 massage experiences, the cloud-soft headrests, and the $6730 30-speaker Burmester audio system’s 1750 watts, including the in-seat resonators that deliver the bass to your backside. Taking it easy also resulted in a decent 20-mpg fuel-economy average—spot on with the S580’s EPA combined estimate—as well as a frugal 32-mpg return on our 75-mph highway test, beating its federal rating by a big 7 mpg.
Our $143,240 test car 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 3-D image of the car moving across the landscape. 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 native systems we’ve ever used, offering plenty of reasons to rely on this Benz system instead of navigation apps run through Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
Passengers get their own toys too. The $15,150 Executive Line package fits the back seat with two 11.6-inch touchscreens, infotainment system controls, and ventilated, heated, massaging, and reclining outboard seats. 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 a passenger’s 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. And all occupants will appreciate the serenity afforded by the big Benz’s confines, which allowed only a muted 65 decibels of noise into the cabin at a steady 70 mph. Even at maximum thrust, the S580’s sound level rises only to a subdued 71-decibel hum—a four-decibel improvement over a previous-generation S550 model.
If the new S-class styling strikes you as anonymous, you can spice up the exterior with the $4300 AMG Line option that adds more visual panache with aggressive-looking trim.
The standard 19-inch wheels may not look as good as larger AMG options, but at least they keep the turning circle tight. Fitted with the $1300 rear-axle steering option, one of our favorite new-to-the-S-class features, up to 4.5 degrees of steering angle is available at the rear, which translates to a turning circle of 39.0 feet. Opting for 21-inch wheels and Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer tires requires an additional $1950.
With all four wheels steering, this 4992-pound sedan enjoys new levels of maneuverability, plus a respectable 0.87 g of skidpad grip on its summer rubber. 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. Stand on the brakes at 70 mph and the action comes to a halt in a decent 168 feet.
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, so we weren’t stressed. As it has been for generations, the S-class remains a self-contained bubble of the good life.
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