Of Mercedes-Benz’s many car lines, the S-Class is special. Not just because it is referred to as the best car in the world or because it is the brand’s flagship sedan. But also because, often, it is the first to get new safety and performance tech, which later trickles down to the smaller vehicles in Merc’s portfolio.
The S-Class must have also been the toughest to sell to younger buyers, given its historical preference among most older buyers who wanted to stay cosseted at the rear seat. In fact, the S-Class is still probably chauffeur-driven in many of the markets that it is popular in. So, a couple of weeks ago, when I was handed the keys to the 2021 S 400d 4MATIC, I was genuinely in a dilemma. Would it be better to stretch out on one of the two business-class style rear seats or should I get behind the wheel first? My itchy palms directed me to the driver’s seat.
One of the first features of the new 2021 S-Class that strikes me is its size. This is one long car (5.3 metres), and its wheelbase at a little over 3.2 metres was intimidating when I thought about some of the Mumbai roads I was going to have to negotiate. But, knowing that adaptive air suspension and four-wheel steering are part of the package puts my mind at ease. This new generation S-Class, internally named V223, has grown on all sides. It is longer, wider and taller; it is also more spacious in the cabin with even more headroom than the outgoing model. Of course, what you are staring at is the long wheelbase S-Class, which is particularly popular in this part of the world.
The design of the S-Class remains understated and follows classic Merc design lines. The long bonnet, the extended passenger cell with the humongous rear door and the coupe-like graceful lines that adorn the rear-end are classic S-Class design elements. It continues to exude the same minimalist, yet elegant side profile that the previous generations have also been known for.
The changes that make a statement in the 2021 model are the retracting grab door handles and the new 20-inch AMG alloys. The headlamps and the tail-lamps have become smaller overall, but have gained massive tech inputs making them formidable in functionality; especially the front digital light lamps. These basically behave like a compact projector of light beams with multiple forms and functions integrated into an ultra compact form. These are future-proofed for other functions including projecting warnings on the road and lighting up only specific sections of the road for alerting the driver.
The interior of the new S-Class gives off a vibe of sophistication without even trying too hard. It is a clean cabin that is dominated by one huge 12.8-inch OLED touch screen in the centre stack that has eliminated 27 hard keys, and yet, it doesn’t make the dashboard look like that of a domestic appliance. The dash layout is neither minimalist nor busy. But, a classy mix of materials like piano lacquered, black poplar wood trim, aluminium and leather come together to give the entire cabin a warm and luxurious feel. The stitched, perforated leather seats look absolutely inviting; of course, even at the rear. There is an electrical, motorised adjustment for literally every conceivable control element in the cabin. Even the aircon vents feature individual buttons to control air flow.
The active ambient lighting, the flat-bottom, leather clad steering wheel, the 3D instrument cluster display and the Burmester sound system with 31 speakers and 8 exciters (for tingling the spines of the occupants) are all features worth experiencing. There is an extra long list of other features, including every creature comfort that you can think of; but I’m going to have to let you discover them if you are in the market for a flagship luxury car. The S-Class is a 4-seater really, even though it has a seat belt for the middle occupant in the rear seat. The rear seat is where the true ‘S-perience’ can be had. With massage functions and energising packages, which activate multiple features including perfume dispersal via the aircon vents and soothing music through the speakers, the rear seat experience in the S is unparalleled. There are five screens including the two rear seat entertainment screens, the rear armrest control touchscreen, the central screen and the digital instrument cluster. The new S-Class also gets a bunch of connected car features and the new 7th generation package for the MBUX infotainment system.
The new S-Class is offered with one diesel and one petrol engine. The S 450 4MATIC features the 3-litre, 6-cylinder petrol engine that generates 367hp of peak power and 500Nm of torque. The S 400d variant sports the 2,925cc, in-line 6-cylinder diesel engine that we have seen in the S-Class before. This has been updated, and delivers 330hp of peak power and 700Nm of peak torque from a really low 1,200rpm. This engine is very refined, and very quiet until one is revving hard or doing double downshifts at high speeds. The diesel doesn’t get the 48-volt, parallel-assist system that the petrol engine gets. Both engines are paired to Merc’s 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission.
The S-Class is not meant to be thrown into corners and driven at the edge. Though its steering is precise and it has Sport, Sport+ and Individual drive modes to choose from (altering suspension, steering and gearbox characteristics), it is not built to tackle track level performance like an AMG would be. Instead, the ‘S’ is best experienced at a leisurely pace, wafting over potholes and broken tarmac. The only time I was braking hard and slowing down was when I had to drive gingerly over speed breakers. Yet, the new S-Class can still pack a punch with its acceleration in the straights. Late for that board meeting? Floor the pedal and the S 400d’s acceleration can sink you further into that recliner style rear seat while it does a sprint to the ton in 5.4 seconds. In addition to the cabin being so focused on pampering the rear seat occupants, Airmatic suspension takes the game a notch higher. If you are sitting behind the wheel and fretting about those tight U-turns in crowded streets, rear axle steering, which can turn the rear wheels by upto 4.5-degrees, can help miraculously lower the turning radius. It will also come in handy if you intend to have a bit of fun on a winding hilly road.
The new S-Class is so loaded with motorised controls, and sensors that constantly monitor the surroundings of the car, that I was left wondering often if the car was warning me to protect ‘itself’ from damage. But, the new S-Class also tops the lists with its range of active and passive safety equipment, which includes rear seat airbags that release from the backrest of the front seats. It also gets a big list of other Merc Pre-Safe features and driver assistance systems.
The new S-Class retails for about ₹2.2 crore (ex-showroom). It is packed to the gills with new technology and luxury features. The first batch of allocations are already sold out. But you could be among the few that net one next time.