Mercedes-Benz isn’t Apple, but its latest S-Class sure is like a new-generation iPhone.
The big sedan looks much like the old one on the outside, but there’s an awful lot of new, very advanced and possibly quite exciting stuff going on inside.
The portrait-oriented OLED touchscreen in the centre of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class’s gorgeous instrument panel is as luscious as any high-end smartphone. And much of what you see and do on the slanted display is enabled by better electronic hardware and smarter software.
Smartphone-style tech, it seems, is now an essential component of automotive luxury.
Mercedes-Benz doesn’t put it this way, of course, but the press information pack for the new S-Class provides solid evidence of the company’s priorities.
This document runs to 75 pages; only two of them are devoted to the car’s powertrains. Four times as many pages describe what’s new with the S-Class’s second-generation MBUX infotainment system.
Take it from me that an in-detail exploration of everything new with MBUX isn’t going to be an entertaining read.
What is interesting is how Mercedes-Benz is adopting smartphone strategies to boost the power, user-friendliness and flexibility of MBUX and some other systems in the S-Class.
Over-the-air updates will be possible for 50 or so systems in the car, including MBUX.
As the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz line-up, the company promises the S-Class will take some significant steps forward in automated driving over its lifetime.
By the second half of 2021 the big sedan will be able to drive itself.
Don’t get too excited. The new Drive Pilot system will be an optional extra, and though it is SAE Level 3 autonomous, it will be licensed, initially at least, to operate only on suitable sections of German autobahn... at speeds up to 60km/h. It’s specifically designed to take over only in very heavy, slow-moving traffic.
It’s capable of self-parking too, with the demonstration in a multi-storey carpark highlighting the new S-Class’s optional rear-wheel-steering system.
With the ability to swivel up to 10 degrees in the opposite direction to the front wheels, it really tightens the big sedan’s turning circle.
The need to install rear-wheel steer is just one of the reasons the S-Class’s multi-link rear suspension is all new, and very compact.
The primary objective with the redesign was to make space for the large battery pack of the plug-in hybrid version, due towards the end of 2021.
Even though it’s a long way from launch, Mercedes-Benz brought the S580e PHEV to the car’s international media intro.
Also present were some of the six-cylinder petrol and diesel variants that will be first into production, plus the petrol V8 that will quickly follow.
First of the new S-Class line-up to reach Australia, in March, will be the S450. It has the 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine with low-voltage hybrid system introduced in the current S-Class back in 2017.
The hybrid system’s 48-volt battery also powers the electric compressor that forces air into the engine until its conventional turbo is delivering meaningful boost. The S450 is likely to be followed by the S580, which has a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 combined with a newer version of the 48-volt hybrid system.
Mercedes-Benz Australia is also keen to include the S-Class PHEV in the line-up when it becomes available. Confusingly, the power unit of the S580e is based on the six-cylinder engine.
It seems likely the entire new S-Class range in Australia will be hybrids, with either EQ Boost low-voltage or EQ Power high-voltage plug-in power units.
Senior executives said Mercedes-Benz will not produce any petrol-burning versions of the S-Class without hybrid tech.
While diesel S-Classes without hybrid will be built for markets that want them, these are yet to be confirmed for Australia.
As the S450 wasn’t brought to the German intro, we tried the closest thing. The S500’s power unit is essentially identical, but with extra boost lifting power and torque.
All the cars at the launch were loaded with optional-in-Europe equipment: OLED centre screen, rear-seat screens, brilliant augmented-reality head-up display, rear-wheel steering.
Some of this equipment will possibly be standard in Australia, where specification and pricing decisions are still to be made.
That this is a better S-Class is obvious from the second you settle into the driver’s seat.
The cabin is not only luxuriously classy, but deliciously tasteful too. Button clutter has been greatly reduced with the shift of many functions to the instrument panel’s centre screen, so the look is cleaner.
And the interior redesign somehow makes the new S-Class’s interior feel cosier and more compact.
That feeling of compactness extends to the way the car drives. Though it’s longer and wider than the outgoing model, the new S-Class feels agile and precise for something so large.
This hefty sedan clearly has a depth of chassis talent hiding beneath the layer of pillow-soft comfort provided by its standard air suspension.
Both the S500 and S580 low-voltage hybrid power units are S-Class worthy. They’re ultra-quiet and super-smooth providers of propulsion. But the S580e PHEV in electric mode is even better.
Its 29kWh high-voltage battery pack stores more energy than earlier versions of EVs like the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3, so this is a PHEV with a reasonable electric driving range.
Official electric range of at least 100km is expected.
The maximum outputs of the electric motor sandwiched between its six-cylinder engine and nine-speed automatic aren’t huge; 110kW and 440Nm.
While top speed is restricted to 140km/h in electric mode, the low-speed punch of the electric motor means the S580e surges from standstill with real eagerness.
Wafting along without noise or vibration, the S580e feels the easiest S-Class of them all.
It’s much more than just an iPhone on wheels.
Mercedes-Benz S580e specs
Engine 2999cc 6cyl, dohc, 24v, turbo + electric compressor
Motor single (within transmission)
Battery 29kWh lithium-ion
Max power 380kW (combined)
Max torque 750Nm (combined)
Transmission 9-speed automatic
Weight 2200kg (estimated)
0-100km/h 5.0sec (estimated)
Economy 1.3L/100km (estimated ADR)
Price $260,000 (estimated)
On sale Q4 2021