The measure of luxury used to be amenities – things like climate control AC, power everything, leather seats (heated, even) and, of course, power everything.
The problem – for luxury car makers – is that everyone else has those things. Even $20k cars usually come standard with most of those things. At the $30k point, they’re almost a given – as hubcaps being a part of the deal were . . . 30 years ago.
Today, luxury cars are defined as much by their technology – and just redesigned Mercedes S-Class sedan has more of that than almost any other car.
What It Is
The S500 – and its bigger-engined sibling, the S580 – are the ultimate in luxury – and technology – available from Mercedes-Benz.
Well, shy of the ultra-luxury Maybach Benzes . . .
Both versions of the S-Class sedan are full-size sedans that come standard with items that aren’t generally optional in lesser cars, including door pulls that flush mount until the car senses your approach – and then surface to meet your hand – as well as offer amenities such as a 30 speaker Burmester audio system with 4D resonators and rear-wheel-steering.
The main difference between the S500 – which stickers for $109,800 to start – and the $116,300 to start S580 is their powerplants.
If you opt for the S500 you’ll get a twin-turbo V6/mild hybrid combo; the S580 comes with a turbocharged V8, also paired with the mild-hybrid system.
Both cars come standard with Mercedes’ 4-Matic AWD system.
The S-Class gets subtle styling revisions and major technology revisions, including a new 12.8 inch Organic LED touchscreen, through which most of the car’s secondary systems are controlled. Many of these can also be voice-controlled, as by asking the car to perform the function desired – such as turning on the massaging seats or finding the type of music you’d like to hear the Burmester 30 speaker stereo play.
There is also a new Head Up Display (HUD) option that functions almost like virtual reality goggles. Instead of the usual cheesy-looking speed display hovering just ahead of the windshield, this one almost holographically projects your speed and other data in a big (and wide) display that appears to float about ten yards ahead of the car.
Both the standard V6 and the optional V8 engine are paired with the 48 volt flywheel starter-generator system that’s used in other Benz models, such as the E-Class. There’s not much mileage gain, but power is up, considerably, vs. the previous-generation S-Class engines without the “EQ Boost” system.
The formerly optional 4Matic AWD system is also standard now and – for now at least, the previously available V12 (in the AMG S 65) isn’t available.
It may, however, make a comeback later in the 2022 calendar year.
There will also be an updated plug-in hybrid version that can travel about 60 miles on a charge
Lots of tech to justify the price.
More power – without less mileage.
Traditionally stately elegance that manages to look modern, too.
What’s Not So Good
Only a six – in a six figure sedan?
Hybrid gear adds to the cost – and may add more to it, down the road.
Compact-sized (12.9 cubic feet) trunk.
The new S is a bigger car than it was previously, but its standard engine – a 3.0 liter in-line six – hasn’t gotten any larger.
But it is stronger.
Without being thirstier.
These two seemingly mutually exclusive attributes having been reconciled by adding a flywheel-mounted starter/generator to the back of the engine – in between it and the nine speed automatic transmission – that’s used to gently and unobtrusively cycle the six off when its power isn’t needed.
As when decelerating or coasting.
Then just as gently and unobtrusively, cycle it back on when power is needed – plus more, via the electric boost of the system – which ups the total output to 429 horsepower from 362 previously. There is also a slight – a trivial – bump up in fuel efficiency, to 20 city and 29 highway from the previous 19 19 city, 28 highway.
What’s not trivial is that no more gas is burned to make a not-trivial increase in total power.
Also not trivial – for Mercedes – is that the system makes it feasible to get the six past the increasingly daunting array of emissions regs that beset anything that still burns gas, ever.
By burning less, you emit less. So Mercedes can still offer a six.
And an eight.
The optional engine is also the same engine as last year’s optional engine – a 4.0 liter V8, augmented by turbocharging. But this year, supplemented by the same flywheel starter/generator system and 48 volt electrics used with the six.
Even more power is summoned – 496 horsepower now vs. 463 from just the V8, last year. The V8’s mileage also stays about the same, in spite of the power uptick – 17 city, 25 highway now vs. 17 city, 27 highway previously.
Which is pretty good, regardless – for a sedan that weighs close to 5,000 pounds with a driver and passenger aboard.
With the 3.0 six and the 48 volt boost, the new S-Class can hustle to 60 in just under 5 seconds. Armed with the 48-volt-boosted V8, that drops to 4 seconds flat – which is very close to the quickness of a new Mustang GT that weighs a third less and uses a lot more gas.
It used to be a given that if you paid six figures for a luxury sedan, you were going to get at least a V8 – if not a V12. The status conferred by displacement being a facet of luxury – since few could afford such an indulgence.
As recently as 2017, the S-Class sedan can standard with a 4.7 liter, 449 horsepower V8 and the optional engine was a 6.0 liter, 523 horsepower V12. But that was four years ago and much has changed since then. Orange Man is gone and the new man has made it clear that combustion bad – and that is why the S now comes standard with a much smaller in-line six, its optional V8 is a lot smaller than it used to be and the V12 is either gone for good or will be offered only in a future Maybach or AMG-iteration that will cost so much – probably close to twice six figures – that its availability will be a near-irrelevance.
Mercedes has moved engineering mountains to bridge the gap between the underhood prowess rightly expected by people who buy cars like the S and the government’s relentless demands that engines be made smaller and smaller – with the end goal being (it ought to be obvious by now) to make them nonexistent.
But battery power will only take you so far – literally. And while cost of batteries is much less relevant in this class than lesser classes, people who spend this amount of money expect to have the luxury of not having to stop – and wait – every less-than-200-miles or so.
Mercedes’ solution is to make the engine stop – as often as possible. But without the driver noticing it.
The flywheel-mounted starter/generator system (and 48 volt electrics) is the achievement of lots of brain sweat. Both the six and the eight are shut off automatically whenever their services aren’t needed – as when you’re decelerating, coasting or “idling” – in which case, you’re actually not. When the services of internal combustion are wanted, the extremely high torque and extremely fast-starting flywheel-mounted starter spins the engine back on with imperceptible immediacy.
There is no obnoxious paint-shaker effect of the traditional start-up, using a traditional starter – powered by 12 volt electrics.
Many lesser cars still use the latter to “stop-start” their vehicles’ engines – and tout this as “technology.” Which it is, of course. But so is a stone hammer. Stop-start “technology” is comparably crude technology. It is the antitheses of luxury to have to hear and feel the car’s engine collapsing into silence whenever the car rolls to a stop – and with it, the noticeable shutting-off of the AC and other engine-driven accessories – and then hear (and feel) the engine being defibrillated back to life . . . over and over and over again.
You will feel and hear neither thing in the S.
It works like an electric car that doesn’t need to stop – or wait. The combustion engines not having the recharge issues that beset electric cars. The combustion engines also rejuvenate the 48 colt electrics, without having to be plugged in.
The S500 can travel some 640 highway miles on a full tank of gas – easily twice as far as the farthest-traveling electric car – and when it runs out of range, the wait to get going again is less than five minutes, practically anywhere vs. at least 30-45 minutes, if you can find what are hilariously styled “fast” chargers.
If not, the wait will be several hours – which isn’t very luxurious.
There are other aspects of luxury worth covering besides not having to stop – and still being able to go (these mild-hybridized S sedans are still nearly as quick as their bigger V8 and much bigger V12 -powered antecedents).
One of these is the first not-gimmicky Heads Up Display systems installed in a production car. The Mercedes HUD projects pertinent driving info well ahead of the car, rather than the usual seemingly floating over the hood deal. It is much more line of sight and also much larger – without in any way being distracting or obscuring.
Another – and this is the one Mercedes is touting most – is the near elimination of physical knobs and switches to operate secondary functions, almost all of which are now engaged – Star Trek Next Generation-style – via a large flat screen tablet that is the new center stack (rather than just a part of it or projecting from it).
You swipe and tap to make it so.
Or, just say so.
The new S also has the newest version of Mercedes’ voice-command system. It is meant to operate like a personal assistant. Tell her – the voice is pleasantly female – to turn on the heated steering wheel, for instance. Or the seat massagers. Or find you Bozz Scaggs and the Lido shuffle (really).
It’s a nice redundancy for people not as fluid with swiping and tapping as well as . . . luxurious. Recall the opening of Downtown Abbey and the way the Earl of Grantham would summon for tea by ringing a bell. It works like that – without even having to ring a bell.
Other luxuries include fluffy head pillows and the exceptional (available) 30 speaker Burmester audio system, which surrounds you with sound, undistorted even at maximum volume. Sound you can feel, even – via the 4D system.
And, of course, those massaging seats – which come standard. These are almost worth six figures, by themselves. If you’ve ever sat in one of those massaging chairs that cost as much as some cars they have at high-end furniture stores, you will know what I mean.
Naturlich, there is more tech – including flush-mounted door pulls that rise in anticipation of your presence (the key fob sends a signal to the car) and a built-in dashcam that records the road ahead and – potentially- someone cutting you off or brake-checking you. Which might be helpful after the fact, if there’s an accident.
The S580 adds a rear-wheel steering system that makes parking/maneuvering this big car easier, too. It is bundled with the Executive Line package that also includes rear seat massagers and heaters, rear neck heaters and a rearseat entertainment system.
Another fine line that has to be walked is the maintenance of elegance without tipping over into old.
The target demographic for the current S-Class is affluent middle-aged people, who are people who grew up seeing and perhaps even riding in the stately but less-than-youthful-looking big luxury cars of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Mercedes styled this S to be impressive looking without transgressing into outre-looking, off-putting shapes and without looking like the luxury sedan the fathers of current luxury sedan buyers once drove. It is thus big – but sleek, like a greased killer whale. It sits low and even mean on its standard 19 inch wheels (these can be upgraded to 21s) which it can do without scrub on account of the standard air-adjustable suspension system.
The best seats in the house are – arguably – the back seats, especially if the S is ordered with the above-referenced Executive package. But even if not, on account of their being more room in the back than in the already exceptionally roomy up-front.
The backseat riders have 43.8 inches of legroom (vs. 41.7 up front) and enjoy more luxuries, if he car has the Executive amenities.
Regardless, the experience is similar to the one you’d enjoy in the first class section of a big jet crossing the Atlantic – or a private jet, even. Which is what a car such as this is ultimately all about. Which is to set you apart from the noise and jostling of the world, in a space where it can’t be seen or felt and where everything that can be seen and felt looks and feels intimate, personal and very special.
There is one thing about this large car that’s surprisingly small.
Pop it and you’ll find a mere 12.9 cubic feet of space, which isn’t mush space – especially for a car this large. The S has a trunk about the same size as many compact-sized cars and smaller than most current mid-sized cars, which typically have 14-15 cubic feet, at least.
It’s a small thing but also a big thing in that this car would have trouble carrying everything three or four people needed to travel to the airport with, for instance.
Some of the Benz’s rivals have trunks more appropriately sized. The BMW 7 Series, for instance, has an 18.2 cubic foot trunk. On the other hand, some other rivals – like the Audi A8 – have even less trunk (just 12.5 cubic feet).
The Bottom Line
Luxury is no longer as much about the usual amenities – or engines. It takes something more – and something less – to keep up with the changes.
. . .
Got a question about cars, bikes, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in! Or email me at EPeters952@yahoo.com if the @!** “ask Eric” button doesn’t work!
If you like what you’ve found here please consider supporting EPautos.
We depend on you to keep the wheels turning!
Our donate button is here.
If you prefer not to use PayPal, our mailing address is:
721 Hummingbird Lane SE
Copper Hill, VA 24079
PS: Get an EPautos magnet or sticker or coaster in return for a $20 or more one-time donation or a $10 or more monthly recurring donation. (Please be sure to tell us you want a magnet or sticker or coaster – and also, provide an address, so we know where to mail the thing!)
My eBook about car buying (new and used) is also available for your favorite price – free! Click here. If that fails, email me at EPeters952@yahoo.com and I will send you a copy directly!
A couple of excerpts from NYT’s review of the new SL:
‘As luxury consumer tastes have shifted away from sports coupes in favor of sport utility vehicles, sales for the SL plunged. In 2003, Mercedes sold over 13,000 SLs in America. Last year, it sold around 1,300.’
‘It is the fourth generation that has experienced the most significant increases. According to Brian Rabold of Hagerty, top-of-the-line, V12-powered models have jumped over 150 percent in value since 2016.
‘This surge is due in part to their elegant design and stout engineering, but mainly to the generational whims of the collector car market, which sees each cohort chasing and buying the cars of its youth. With Generation X in its peak earning years, cars of the ’90s are hot.’
Likely V12s are shooting up in value because they will never be made again.
My issue with Mercedes is the invasive technology. In 1998 I had a new S500 that I loved- a land yacht with agility and grunt. BUT I would get notes in the mail “Your 20,000 mile service is due” etc. How TF did Mercedes know my millage I’d ask at the service desk. Answer: The car sends data to MBUSA and that data generated the mailing you received. WELL! If that car sent mileage data what TF else did it send? And how often? Was the built in cell phone listening to me rant about certain “types” that loiter in the left lane? Would I get a letter from the FiB accusing me of hate crimes?
I consulted with a IT engineer pal of mine who’s a car guy. His advice: “don’t buy a car with a hard drive in it”.
My diesel Excursion has no such spyware. I’m safe for now as long as my cell phone stays home.
I agree with you, Barrier –
My ancient Trans-Am may not have massaging seats of gesture control… but what goes in is between it and me!
One good thing about the retirement of the 2G and soon 3G cellular networks is that none of these “phone home” features will work; OnStar (or Tele-Aid and mbrace as Mercedes used to call these services) in older vehicles won’t connect without replacing the cellular modules. I too loved the old Big Benzes of days past…the W126 of the 80s is still my favorite S-Class; the decline happened in the 90s with the significantly worse W210 E-Class and became unrecoverable with the year 2000 W220 S-Class, which was really the first Mercedes to rely on gadgetry to set itself apart from lesser cars. Of course the now 20+ year old infotainment system (COMAND) is a joke, the air suspensions have failed or have had the struts replaced multiple times, on and on.
I’ve always lusted for this car. One thing I find interesting is it appears that this car has always been around $100K for a long while now? So with everything else going up, and up, why do you think this one has stayed pretty much around the same price?
Eric – certainly a nice car, but that front dash screen is basically the same as in my friends 40K A-class! I dont know why they would do that….
And again that is what I really worry about – if the only difference now in a car is the tech – how can someone like Mercedes differentiate from the cheaper brands. I mean the Genisis G80, have you seen that? It looks extremely grand. And it tops out at about 45K out here…. whereas the S class base price is twice that…. It will get very tough for these guys to compete it seems.
I’m in complete agreement, Nasir –
Tech gets cheaper and so more common, obviating the justification for spending $100k vs. say $50k. I wrote an article a few months ago musing that perhaps the thing for luxury car makers to return to doing is hand-crafting their cars, which is something that cannot be rendered commonplace. Jeweled instruments, for instance – similar to a Rolex. Hand-stretched and stitched leather, cut and fitted wood. Real chrome and metal rather than plastic.
I expect that is going to make a comeback.
A 1936 Duesenberg is a work of art, esteemed to this day. Who will remember a new S-Class in even ten years from now?
You should have seen this classic Rolls-Royce group tear apart a modern Rolls-Royce Phantom. The amount of plastic crap even they use is pitiful considering those sticker for around a half a million. And apparently, they’re not all that profitable. I read an Automotive News report a couple years ago about Bentley not being profitable, and they use a ton of Volkswagen parts!
The prewar era was truly the golden age of luxury automobiles. Bugatti Atlantics, custom-bodied Packard Twelves, and Hispano-Suizas are worth millions today for a reason. Can anyone picture a modern Mercedes-Benz winning best of show at any Concours d’Elegance event a hundred years from now?
Breathtakingly beautiful vehicles.
Breathtakingly budget-breaking prices.
I can only choose one or the other, short of the lottery. LOL
But it’s nice to dream, or to rent.
And intriguing to learn about, thanks to Eric for another great review.
Thanks for the kind words, Saxon!
I’ll miss this one when it goes back, too…
Wow, is that a car, or a movie theater? That’s way too much screen.
I will never buy another Mercedes due to their vaccine mandate, barring a massive Mea culpa and a sincere attempt to make it right. Any company who treats their workers worse than livestock isn’t worth my time or money.
The S-Class continues to be the most technologically-advanced luxury sedan, bar none. I do wonder how much of this tech will be operable in ten or fifteen years, though.
I want one Eric, the executive package, except with a bigger trunk and a regular V8 and none of that turn on/off stuff.
Still reading all of those old National Geographics and love looking at the car ads. Interior looked like they had easy chairs in the front and a couch in the back. They were so comfortable, felt like you were floating to your destination. I miss those big old cars.
Was in your neck of the woods the other day, going down I81 and was going to stay at the Eric Peters Motor Lodge but since I didn’t make a reservation, just stayed with Mr. Hampton.
Beautiful driving weather, trees still pretty.
Keep writing, enjoy it so much and can’t wait on your book to come out, am going to buy one. Have a good Saturday.