When it comes to building luxury cars, few do it better than Mercedes-Benz. The automaker has come a long way since Carl Benz patent from 1886 and released a series of sedans fit for kings, kingpins, more than a few dictators and the occasional rock star. The current S-Class is the seventh sedan to wear the nameplate, and each vehicle has been more advanced and luxurious than the model it replaced.
The W223 (as Benzophiles of this generation will know) is perhaps the flashiest S-Class yet, with big screens and a rainbow of colors on tap interior lighting. Still, its MBUX infotainment system lets you control just about every function in the car without ever touching a screen, proving that sometimes tech East response to driver distraction. And an aero-efficient shape means the W223 is quiet and efficient, with an efficient mild-hybrid system.
Mercedes won’t say if the W223 will be the last generation S-Class to feature an internal combustion engine – for now, the all-electric EQS is a separate model— although the new model could very well be. We tested the $111,100 S500 4Matic: in this case, 500 refers to the displacement of each cylinder, which means you’ll find a turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six under the hood.
The S-Class generates 429 hp (320 kW) and 384 lb-ft (520 Nm), and its 48 V integrated starter-generator adds an additional 21 hp (16 kW). More importantly, the generator produces 184 lb-ft (250 Nm). Engine and motor are upstream of the nine-speed automatic transmission that powers all four wheels (the 4Matic bit).
The combination of air suspension and optional Active Body Control makes the S-Class easy to drive. The car glides along the road, countering pitch and lift as well as body roll, and its body stays level even if the road below turns washboard-like. The optional rear wheel steering is noticeable when trying to park in a tight space and the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the front wheels (up to 4.5 degrees). Steering is also noticeable in more stable highway-speed lane changes, when steering is the same.
You notice the effect of the mild hybrid system in everyday driving as the car pulls away from a standstill. The electric motor fills up with plenty of torque as the straight-six fires up and its compressor revs to life. The mild-hybrid system is mated to a 0.9kWh battery, so in Eco and Normal drive modes the S500 will turn off the internal combustion engine more often than expected.
Going electric is not a bad thing. Even though the S-Class has a silky sounding engine, the object of the game here is refinement, not appreciation of exhaust notes. The shape of the S500 also plays a role, with aerodynamics that would hamper lots of electric cars. Not only do its door handles retract flush to the body, but even the optional 21-inch AMG multi-spoke alloy wheels have fairly closed faces to aid airflow.
The Mercedes design team managed to create a shape with a coefficient of drag (Cd) of just 0.22. The reduction in Cd over the previous generation S-Class was large enough to compensate for an increase in frontal area. The CdA is now 0.56 m2 compared to 0.58 m2 for the old model.
As a result, the S500 is a very quiet car on the move, even on winter tires. It’s also remarkably efficient for a vehicle that weighs 4,740 lbs (2,150 kg): I averaged 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) during our time with the S500, bettering the combined average of the 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) EPA.
I may have been bewitched by its dark red suede and leather, but the interior of this W223 S-Class looks more avant-garde than the dark expanse of black leather I normally associate with the breed. Different people may feel differently.
Let’s talk about the soft suede pillows attached to the headrests. At first they seemed overdone; within an hour I wasn’t sure I wanted to drive a car without them. Other drivers could be struck by interior lighting; its customizable LEDs might be a thumbs up on the wrong side of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”.
You’re not limited to playing with mood lighting. Mercedes has included a plethora of styles for the 12.3-inch main instrument display, although most are variations on “two dials with a map or intermediate information”. Since our test car was optioned with an augmented reality head-up displayit was actually equipped with a 3D pilot display which uses a pair of eye tracking cameras to calculate the right stereoscopic effect for the map that appears between the dials.
The 12.8-inch OLED infotainment screen now looks small compared to the huge 17.7-inch “Hyperscreen” that the company used in its electrical EQS. But it’s still an impressive screen to find in a car. The MBUX interface is understated and intuitive, but the easiest way to do anything is to simply tell the car what you want – the voice assistant is activated by saying “Hey, Mercedes”. Thanks to the microphones scattered around the cabin. the voice assistant will obey even the rear passengers.
The on-board AI is at least as good as the one I’ve interacted with in BMW iX (both companies use natural language technology from Cerence). I didn’t have to dig through the thick manual when I wanted to figure something out or even touch a screen with a finger – I just gave the AI instructions. You can interrupt the AI, and it will include a series of instructions, like “turn on driver’s seat massage, then set