Mercedes’ new flagship makes its public debut at September’s Frankfurt Motor Show and departs radically from the seven year-old model it replaces, with a striking exterior, increased dimensions and more modern interior. Fresh petrol and diesel engines are among a raft of hi-tech chassis, safety and environmental innovations.
Merc officials hint that prices for the new S-class, codenamed W221, will rise by about eight per cent over those of the outgoing model to offset increased levels of standard equipment, suggesting a range from around £57,500 for the base S350 through to more than £100,000 for the S600.
You won’t have to look too hard to recognise the new S-class. With a larger, more upright body, it looks more imposing than its hugely successful predecessor, which has chalked up 485,000 sales since its launch in 1998. The bold new exterior was created under the watch of Mercedes design boss Peter Pfeiffer, and is claimed to set the tone for a range of future models, including the next generation C- and E-class.
The familiar S-class nose and tail have been extensively reworked, but it’s the taut sides that represent the greatest departure from today’s model. Key styling cues include large, angular headlamps wrapping well back into the front flanks, prominent wheelarches reminiscent of those on the Mazda RX-8 and a deep swage line along the sides.
The rear has an altogether different appearance, with a free-standing bootlid similar to that on the larger Maybach. The body is once again made of high-tensile steel and is claimed to be even more rigid than the outgoing S-class. In a bid to keep weight down the bonnet, bootlid, doors and wings are fashioned from aluminium.
The new S-class has grown in every dimension over its hugely successful predecessor. Length is up by 33mm in short-wheelbase guise and 43mm in long-wheelbase guise to 5076mm and 5206mm respectively. Width also increases by 16mm to 1871mm, while height extends by 29mm to 1473mm. The wheelbase increases by 70mm to 3035mm in the short-wheelbase version and by 80mm to 3165mm in the long-wheelbase version. This shortens the overhangs quite appreciably, and allows gains in interior space. The boot increases in capacity by 60 litres to 560 litres.
Inside, Mercedes has followed the lead of BMW’s iDrive with the new Comand controller - a rotary knob located between the front seats controlling the air-con, hi-fi, sat-nav, suspension settings and a range of other functions. It works in combination with a colour monitor, and does away with scores of buttons on the dash. As with the new M- and R-class, the gearlever for the standard seven-speed automatic transmission has also moved to the steering column, freeing more space between the seats.
Through the years the S-class has introduced safety features such as anti-lock brakes and airbags, and the new one is no different. Among its technological arsenal is a series of newly developed preventative safety systems that are design to go to work before an accident has even occurred. Among them is Brake Assist Plus. This registers the distance to cars ahead via radar and warns the driver, first on a display in the instrument binnacle and then via an acoustic alert, if the gap between cars becomes too small or the closing speed is too high. If a rear-end collision threatens, the brake booster is automatically triggered and the ideal braking force is applied.