It’s great to see the 2021 Mercedes S-Class continue its decades-long gentle exterior evolution that makes it so identifiable, but permit me some (perhaps premature) cynicism regarding the interior.
While I can only comment on the images we've seen as part of the unveil – we’ve yet to get close to one in the metal because the reveal is virtual – I am concerned that Mercedes has caught the Tesla bug a bit too acutely.
Every S-Class generation has been a technological step change, so it’s only natural that advanced cabin tech dominates. But whereas you can get in, say, a 20-year-old W220-generation S-Class and it still feels like an expensive, special place to sit, I can’t help but feel this one won’t date too well, given so much of the interior architecture is focused so strongly around the digital features.
It’s the same with most modern cars as touchscreens now dominate interior designs and it's particularly acute at the luxury end of the market, where such a big financial investment means these cars are often kept for longer. Even if you update software over the air (which you can with the new S), what will the actual hardware and screen itself feel and look like in a decade’s time? And more to the point, should we really become so reliant on touchscreens when our readers frequently tell us they are a distraction?
This is a debate that has raged on for years and it won't end any time soon. I hope these concerns are unfounded and Mercedes has created an S-Class that prioritises ergonomics and a sense of feeling ‘special’ inside over an endless list of gizmos that may never be used by owners.
The luxury saloon market is floundering in Europe in terms of sales, with core brands fighting over an increasingly small part of the pie. And it's not hard to see the problem. The tech you can get even in an A-Class these days is extensive, so pricier luxury models have to differentiate with exemplary fit and finish, world-beating refinement and a real sense of occasion as priorities. Otherwise, what’s the point?