The Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a series of the largest sedans produced by Mercedes-Benz, a division of Daimler AG. The S-Class, a product of nine lines of Mercedes-Benz models dating since the mid-1950s, is the world's best-selling luxury flagship sedan. As the foremost model in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, the S-Class has debuted many of the company's latest innovations, including drivetrain technologies, interior features, and safety systems (such as the first airbag supplemental restraint systems, seatbelt pretensioners, and electronic stability program). The latest generation, the W221 S-Class, premiered in 2006 as an all-new design. As in previous iterations, the latest S-Class is sold in standard and long wheelbase versions and offers V6, V8, V12, and diesel powertrains.
The name "S-Class" derives from the German word "Sonderklasse" of which "S-Class" is an abbreviation. Sonderklasse means "special class" (or rather: "In a class of its own"), and in automotive terms thus refers to "a specially outfitted car." Although used colloquially for decades, the "S-Class" designation was first officially applied in 1973 with the debut of the W116 model line. Since then, five generations of officially-named S-Class sedans have been produced. Past two-door coupe models of the S-Class became known as the CL-Class in 1998.
In early Mercedes-Benz history, the "S-Class" designation was used colloquially, referring to the letter "S" which designated most of the larger six-cylinder powered vehicles in the company's lineup (but not the luxurious V8-powered 600 limousine).
In some early cases, as in the "Ponton" model, the "S" was applied to vehicles requiring premium fuel ("Super" in Germany) due to the higher compression ratio and output of the company's top-of-the-line engines. These six-cylinder engines were available in the W180/128 chassis lines, Mercedes' first without a conventional frame, using a unitized body/frame construction. This line was introduced in the mid-to-late 1950s, and came to encompass the 220a, 219 (W105), 220S, and 220SE (sedan, coupe, and convertible) models. Both "Ponton" models were produced through the 1950s.
In 1959, the "Ponton" body was replaced by the new 220Sb with "Einheitskarosserie" (standard body) with "Fintails", with the different six-cylinder "S"-versions of the W111 mainly differing from the smaller 4-cylinder variant W110 by a different length of the front, and the amount of chrome applied. Thus, the W110, introduced in 1961 as a predecessor to the modern E-Class, featured a shorter hood for the "economy" models 190c and 190Dc. The W112, as 300 SEL with a longer wheelbase, was for the short period the top model of Mercedes, succeeding the baroque "Großer Mercedes" ("Grand Mercedes") 300, 300b, 300c, and 300d, which were often associated with chancellor Konrad Adenauer. In 1965, the W111 line also added the 230S sedan.
With West Germany's economy growing in the early 1960s, Mercedes-Benz saw the opportunity to build a much larger vehicle than hitherto, aimed mostly at an international market and heads of state. In 1965, the company introduced the luxurious 600 limousine (W100 series), which assumed the title of "Großer Mercedes". This model became a showcase of luxury and technology, being the most luxurious Mercedes-Benz to date and it can be viewed as an early predecessor of the modern Maybach models, rather than as part of the S-Class lineage, although certain techologies pioneered in this car did find their way into the smaller model. The 600's role the flagship of the marque was later assumed by the modern S-Class.
With "Fintails" being passé and dropped in favor of a look similar to the 600, the updated and larger W108/W109 lines were introduced, which included the 250S, 250SE, 300SE, and 300SEL (long wheelbase) models. The W108/109 lines, which eventually supplanted the W111 lines, were not available with 4-cylinder engines, and thus established the distinct S-Class market position which continues to the present day. Since the debut of the W111 300SEL, each iteration of the S-Class has included short and long wheelbase models, with the latter models (such as the W109) typically being the most luxurious, powerful, and well-equipped, with the V8-powered 300SEL 6.3 marking the highlight.
In 1973, Mercedes-Benz introduced the W116 line, the first to be officially called the S-Class. The arrival of the W116 saw the introduction of much improved passive safety into the vehicle design, with features such as anti-lock brakes and a strengthened vehicle occupant shell. Also, the V8-engines of the 350/450 SE/SEL models were now regular options. Due to the oil crisis, fuel efficiency was the major concern for the engineers, yet they still added also the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9.
In 1979, the W126 arrived, replacing the W116 line. The W126 brought much-improved aerodynamics to the S-Class, enlarged yet lighter engines with blocks made of aluminium. Coupé models based on the S-Class were reintroduced (380/500 SEC). It also introduced now well-known safety features such as passenger side airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, and traction control. It became the most successful S-Class design ever built and was produced for twelve years, its model cycle extended by the first-ever S-Class mid-cycle update.
The W126 was succeeded in 1991 by the W140 line, which saw the car grow dramatically in its proportions, for which it received criticism. Also, more technology and numerous features were added in response to growing international competition.
In late 1999, the smaller but more roomy W220 saw a renewed focus on elegance and style, with a more rounded shape compared to the preceding W140. The W220 was produced in a sedan version only; at that time, the W140 S-Class coupes had already been succeeded by the new CL-Class in 1998, models of which share basic design and features with the S-Class. Since 2003, the traditionally rear-wheel drive S-Class also offered 4Matic all-wheel drive in some markets.
In 2007, the current W221 S-Class premiered, replacing the W220. This latest generation of the S-Class is slightly larger than its predecessor, with sharper exterior styling (most notably wide fender arcs) and technological improvements. New technological features on the W221 include an infrared night vision feature and the latest Mercedes-Benz pre-collision system. The W221 is the second consecutive generation of the S-Class to be solely produced in a sedan body style. In the U.S., base prices for the W221 S-Class range from $87,475 for the S550, $144,975 for the S600, $127,775 for the S63 AMG and $194,775 for the S65 AMG.
Currently, most W221 S-Class models are built at the Daimler AG plant in Sindelfingen, Germany. Founded by Daimler Motor Company in 1915, the Sindelfingen plant also produced the model 600 "Großer Mercedes" and past generations of the S-Class. Previous S-Class models (such as the W126) were built in different locations ranging from Stuttgart to South Africa, but with recent models (such as the W220) production has been concentrated in Sindelfingen. In February 2007, DaimlerChrysler Malaysia's plant in Pekan, Pahang began production of S350 (model W221) vehicles. In all, some 2.7 million S-Class vehicles have been produced in the past forty years.
Role of the Autobahn
Large stretches of the German Autobahn freeway system, do not feature any speed limit except the recommended 130km/h (81mph). Driving at rather high speeds for extended periods tends to result in increased strain on a vehicle and requires careful engineering. Mercedes-Benz has sought to engineer its vehicles, most notably the S-Class, to excel in this unique environment, allowing high speed cruising. Specific standards of engine performance, body integrity, and reliability are part of this process. For instance, the S-Class is built with an electronically-limited top speed of 250km/h (160mph), which drivers can maintain when driving on the autobahn. AMG Manufaktur also offers delimitation or reset to 300km/h (190mph). Historically, the engineering of the S-Class has often occurred without regard to cost, a practice which continued unfettered up through the W140 line. The company in turn has been able to exploit this as a marketing tool, culminating in its onetime slogan, "engineered like no other car in the world." This slogan was used throughout the 1980s with the marketing of the W126 S-Class.
However, following the formation of DaimlerChrysler and the cessation of engineer-sanctioned overbudgeting in the late 1990s, this slogan was dropped; the subsequent W220 model S-Class also exhibited lower reliability and quality rates.
In typical Mercedes-Benz fashion introduced in the late 1920s, the traditional designation of each car consisted of three numbers indicating engine size (up to 770 in the 1930s), and optional letters indicating either engine features ("260D" since the first Diesel of 1936) or body styles ("K" for kurz (short) as in the 1930s 540K). After World War II, these codes were often carried over from one generation to the next. The letters stem from German terminology. For example, 500SEL denotes an S-Class (Sonderklasse) sedan with an engine size of about 5,000 ccm, with fuel injection (Einspritzung) and a long wheelbase (Lang). Note that the "S" and "L" in "SEL" are not equal to those in "SL" (Sport Leicht); the SL roadsters are not S-Class vehicles. In German, the flagship vehicles are referred to as die S-Klasse.
Until 1982, there were only two lines. The new W201 (Baby-Benz) was awkwardly called 190 no matter what engine was installed. As in earlier special models, the real capacity was indicated as e.g. "190E 2.6", in order to distinguish it from the mid-sized 260E, the mid-size five-door 260TE, and the "S-Class" 260SE using the same six-cylinder. In 1994, when the W202 was introduced as C-Class, the traditional naming convention (numbers, plus letters) was reversed, with a leading letter identifying the line (currently, A, B, C, E, G, M, R, S, V are in use). From then on, the long-wheelbase models (formerly "SEL") and the regular length models (formerly "SE") are both labeled with the prefix of "S" regardless of length. For example, both 500SEL and 500SE are now labeled as S500, with fuel injection being standard by now anyway.
Currently, the S-Class is available in three trim levels; the numbers are given in ascending order to denote more upscale models (e.g. S550/S600/S63 AMG etc.) In official Mercedes-Benz publications and on vehicle nameplates, a space between the letter and numbers is customary (e.g. S600).
The following generations of Mercedes-Benz flagship models are considered part of the lineage of the modern S-Class:
See Mercedes-Benz W180/W128 for complete details.
The W180 line debuted in 1955, and is the first lineup of "Ponton" models associated with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The W180 featured six-cylinder sedan, coupé, and convertible models, and was produced until 1957. The later W128 lineup was the last to be associated with the "Ponton" name, and featured sedan, coupé, and cabriolet models powered by a 2.2L straight-6. The "Ponton" designation referred to pontoon fenders, a stylistic feature on the W180/W128 models.
The "Ponton" lineup included four- and six-cylinder models, but only the six-cylinder W180 and W128 lines are considered part of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class chronology, as they were the most powerful "Ponton" versions available.
See Mercedes-Benz W111/W112 for complete details.
The W111 "Fintail" series debuted in 1959. Initially powered by a line of straight-6 engines (the M180 and M127), it set a new standard for luxury. In 1961, the W111 series was augmented with a line of 3.0L straight-6 cars, the W112. The W112 was the most luxurious model in the Mercedes-Benz lineup until surpassed by the W100 line's model 600 limousines in 1963. The W111/W112 lines contained sedan, coupe, and convertible models.
The Fintail was among the first cars in the world to have crumple zones and disc brakes, and for the top of range W112 models, an air suspension. The characteristic name referred to a styling feature on the rear section of the W111/W112 models, the Heckflosse ("Fintail") which resembled the larger fins then in fashion on American luxury cars produced by Cadillac and Buick.
The larger W111/W112 Fintail models should not be confused with a smaller Fintail line, the W110, which was also produced in 1961 (derived from the W111 line) and was essentially the predecessor of today's E-Class.
See Mercedes-Benz W108 for complete details.
With the W108/W109 series of 1965, the range received V8 power for the first time. The W108 line launched with an initial lineup of straight-6 powered models. The unusual high-displacement 300 SEL 6.3 V8 model was based on this body type. The W108 line was larger than the Fintail models it replaced, and also eliminated the characteristic design feature of the previous model.
During this period, the designation S or SE was used for short wheelbase models including 250S, 250SE, and 300SE. Long wheelbase models (extended by 4 inches in the back door) were designated SEL (L= lang or long). Since the advent of the W108 series, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has always included two wheelbase lengths. The more powerful 300SE and 300SEL models were the most luxurious versions of the W108 line, with available burl walnut dashboards, automatic transmission, and power windows.
In 1968, the W108 line dropped the 250S and 250SE in favor of S-Class models with the larger engined 280S (in carbureted form) and the 280SE (with fuel injection); the 300SE/SEL models were later offered with a 3.5 litre V8 engine (in both the SE and SEL form) and a 6.3 litre V8 engine (in the SEL model only).
See Mercedes-Benz W116 for complete details.
The W116 series, produced from 1972 through 1979, was the first Mercedes-Benz model to be officially designated the S-Class. The W116 S-Class featured a four-wheel independent suspension and disc brakes. The 280, 350, and 450 (4.5L version) models featured SE and SEL versions. Production of the W116 totaled 473,035 units.
The W116 models were large luxury sedans. The W116 was larger on the outside than the W108/W109 series it replaced, but had similar interior capacity, as the additional bulk was driven by new theories on car safety and occupant protection in a crash. It was one of the first cars to be available with ABS, a driver's airbag supplemental restraint system, or a turbo diesel engine.
The 450SE, then the most powerful model in the W116 lineup, was awarded European Car of the Year in 1974. Starting in 1975, the W116 was upgraded with a new fuel injection system in order to comply with revised exhaust emission standards in European markets. A slight power reduction was a result of this update, but in 1978, a series of further engine upgrades restored original performance levels under the new fuel injection systems.
The most notable W116 was the high-performance, limited-production 450 SEL 6.9. This 8-cylinder model boasted the largest engine installed in a postwar Mercedes-Benz up to that time. Every 450 SEL 6.9 featured a self-leveling hydropneumatic suspension, and offered the ABS anti-lock braking system as an option from 1978 onwards. Also, in the United States only, Mercedes-Benz introduced the economical but powerful 3.0 liter 5-cylinder turbodiesel in 1978, sold as the 300SD.
See Mercedes-Benz W126 for complete details.
The W126 series premiered in late 1979 as 1980 model (and 1981 in USA and Australia). The W126 line introduced a host of new safety features, and ushered in the next phase of Mercedes-Benz styling. The W126 S-Class was also the first luxury car to win the prestigious Car of the Year award from Australia's Wheels Magazine, which it did in 1981. The W126 line lasted from 1979 through 1991, a production run of over twelve years. Total sales of the W126 S-Class sedans reached 818,036 units, with an additional 74,060 coupes sold. These sales figures make the W126 the most successful S-Class line in Mercedes-Benz history.
In 1981, the W126 introduced the modern airbag, as patented by Mercedes-Benz in 1971, to the world as an additional measure of occupant protection. Other safety innovations on the W126 included passenger side airbags (in 1986), seat-belt pretensioners, and traction control. In the cabin, additional courtesy and reading lamps, along with heated seats and a more advanced climate control system, added to the luxurious interior environment. A four-speed automatic transmission was standard.
Although the top of range Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 of the previous generation was not directly replaced, the W126 carried forward the hydropneumatic suspension of the 6.9 as an option on the 500SEL. A new cruise control system was offered as well. Abandoning the roadster based coupes, the W126 introduced a two door variant, the SEC coupé. The longevity of the W126 S-Class model cycle was aided by a mid-cycle update in 1986, an upgrade which previously was not done in S-Class generations. During the update of the W126 model S-Class, a facelift was performed and engine upgrades occurred.
Powerplants on the W126 S-Class included straight-6 and V8 engines. Most sales came from the diesel model in the United States and straight-6 models in Europe, although the V8 models were praised by contemporary journalists. During the W126 mid-cycle update in 1986, both the straight-6 and V8 engines were upgraded in several models to different displacement levels (six-cylinder upgraded from 2.8L to 3.0L, eight-cylinder upgraded from 3.8L to 4.2L, and 5.0L to 5.6L).
Notably, the 500SEL has an interesting place in US history, despite not being offered in that country. American demand for this particular car drove the establishment of a large grey market. The detuned, yet very expensive standard US specification 380 SE/SEL/SEC/SL was underpowered, according to contemporary reports, so 25,000 units per year of the parallel import vehicle were sold in the early 1980s. That prompted then Mercedes-Benz of North America to lobby for the elimination of parallel import in 1988.
See Mercedes-Benz W140 for complete details.
In 1991, W140 series replaced the W126 line in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, and the first production model of the latest S-Class rolled off the assembly line on August 6 of that year. As with its predecessor, the W140 was the first of the "next generation" of Mercedes-Benz models to feature the company's new design theme. Following S-Class tradition, the car was available in two wheelbase lengths along with the shorter-wheelbase W140 coupé. Production totaled 406,532 units, the reduced total reflecting the inroads made by the newly introduced Lexus LS into the key US export market.
The W140 S-Class is often known as the last Mercedes-Benz to be "overengineered," a company trait which was costing Mercedes-Benz in product delays and overbudgeting. For the consumer, the W140 cost a considerable 25% more than the preceding W126. Intense pressure from competitors such as Lexus and Infiniti led to the addition of more features and options as to set the W140 apart from the rest and to justify the higher price. The W140 introduced new innovations such as double-pane window glazing, self-closing boot lid and doors, electric windows with a jam-protection feature (lowering back down when encountering an obstruction), rear-parking markers (which appeared on the rear wings when in reverse), and a heating system which emitted warm air even after the engine was turned off.
In 1993, Mercedes-Benz model nomenclature was completely rationalized, with the SE/SEL/SEC cars becoming the S-Class and alphanumerical designations inverted (e.g. the both 500SE and 500SEL became S500 regardless of wheelbase length). In 1995, following the new Mercedes-Benz tradition of mid-life facelifts (first with the W126 in 1986), the W140 received a minor facelift. The clear turn signal indicator lenses on the front and rear were the most obvious changes. Headlamps were fitted with separate low and high beam reflectors. Following the mid-year facelift, the W140 coupé and sedan were each fitted with Electronic Stability Control. The W140 was to feature an air suspension as an option, but Mercedes-Benz was still perfecting the technology and chose to launch air suspension as an option in the next generation S-Class in late 1999.
See Mercedes-Benz W220 for complete details.
In late 1999, the W220 was introduced. The W220 S-Class was completely restyled, with a body that was slightly smaller and lighter than its predecessor. Unlike its predecessor, the W220 was not the first model to feature the company's new design theme for the next generation of Mercedes-Benz. This honor was given to the A-Class when it launched in 1997. The new S-Class incorporated the new styling cues first introduced on the Mk I A-Class the year before (for example, the dashboard carried over the new styling details first seen in the A-Class). Despite being smaller, the W220 S-Class offered more interior space than the W140. Production of the W220 S-Class totaled 485,000 units, slightly more than the production totals from the W140.
As with each new S-Class, the W220 brought in new innovations such as Airmatic air suspension and Active Ventilated Seats (which used miniature fans in the seats to move air through perforations). A navigation system with center console-mounted screen display was introduced, along with the COMAND input control system. Other options included keyless entry and ignition, a radar-controlled Distronic cruise control system and a cylinder shut-off system called Active Cylinder Control. The 4MATIC all wheel drive system was introduced to the North America market S-Class for 2003.
Consumer Reports classified the W220 model's reliability as "poor," its lowest rating, and declared it one of the "least reliable luxury cars." Build quality, however, was generally considered to be good. For instance, Forbes described the W220 S500 as "built remarkably well." Early W220s were recalled for issues with the trunk spring and the hydraulic fuel line; there were no recalls for the 2005 or 2006 model years.
In 2002 Mercedes-Benz introduced the world's first preemptive safety system on the W220 with its first iteration of PRE-SAFE.
In 2003, the W220 S-Class received an exterior refresh with updates to the front fascia. The grille angle was adjusted to a slightly more upright position, and the xenon-discharge headlamps were given a new transparent housing, replacing the earlier opaque versions. The front bumper's lower air intakes were also restyled. In 2005, the S-Class was the first vehicle to receive a TÜV Institute environmental certificate from the German Commission on Technical Compliance for environmentally friendly components.
The W220 was available with more engine options than the W126 or W140. The range started with smaller 3.2L 224hp (167kW) V6 motor, which was superseded by an enlarged 3.7L 245hp (183kW) V6 in the S350. The S430 was powered by a 4.3L 279hp (208kW) V8 and the S500 was powered by a 5.0L 306hp (228kW) V8. The S55 AMG was outfitted with a supercharged 5.4L 493hp (368kW) V8 motor, the S55 AMG 2000/2001 was outfitted with the naturally aspirated 5.4L 367hp (274kW) V8 motor. The S600 was outfitted with a 5.5L 493hp (368kW) V12 twin turbo engine, the S600 2000/2001 was outfitted with the naturally aspirated 5.8L 367hp (274kW) V12 engine.
For one month in 2001, AMG produced the S63 AMG, which was sold in very limited numbers. The S63 was powered by a 6.3L 444hp (331kW) V12. An undisclosed number of were sold exclusively through AMG in European and Asian markets. The S65 AMG was introduced in 2005. Powered by a 6.0L 612hp (456kW) V12 twin turbo motor, the S65 was the most powerful S-Class, as well as the world's most powerful production sedan. The S65 had a 0 – 60mph (97km/h) time of 4.2 seconds and could reach 100mph (160km/h) under 9.0 seconds.
See Mercedes-Benz W221 for complete details.
The all-new W221 was introduced in the autumn of 2005 at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, with export to other markets beginning in 2006. The W221 S-Class made its North American premiere at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in January. The latest S-Class is slightly larger in all dimensions than its predecessor, and it features three newly developed engines with up to 26% power increase. The interior is completely new, all materials have been upgraded and make for a more luxurious ride, and the center console transmission gear lever has been replaced with a column-mounted shifter.
Models sold in North America are the S450 (2008-,SWB and Canada only), S550, S600, S63 AMG and S65 AMG; other models to be sold outside North America include the S280, S350, S300, S420 CDI and S320 CDI. The first W221 model released in North America and Japan was the S550 (called S500 outside North America and Japan), with the S600 arriving in the following spring. Notable features on the W221 include: the 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission (standard, except on V12 engines, where the 5-speed Sequentronic is used as the 7-speed cannot handle the power of the AMG V12). 4MATIC four wheel drive arrived in the fourth quarter of 2006.
The brakes continue to become more advanced with the new Brake Assist Plus system monitoring for an impending collision and increasing braking if needed, while the Distronic Plus cruise control can now bring the car to a complete stop. This system works in outdoor conditions; a test demonstration by Mercedes-Benz in a crash-test hall resulted in embarrassment for the company when a new S-Class crashed into the back of a stationary W220 S-Class, an incident later attributed to radar-confusing steel in this hall.
In 2007, Automobile Magazine named the W221 S-Class as one of its 2007 "All-Stars" over rivals from Lexus and BMW, and Car and Driver selected the S550 as the winner in a five-way comparison test of flagship luxury sedans. The W221 S-Class was also the recipient of several other motoring awards (see following).
Standard features of the S550 include air conditioning w/dual-zone automatic climate controls, interior air filter, Tele Aid assistance system, navigation system w/voice recognition, power tilt/telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel w/radio controls, cruise control, leather upholstery, heated 14-way power front seats w/lumbar adjustment, memory system, heated power mirrors w/driver-side automatic day/night, power sunroof, premium sound system, 6-disc CD changer, saatellite radio, wireless cell phone link, universal garage door opener, automatic day/night rearview mirror, and power rear sunshade. The S63 adds on heated/ventilated and massaging multicountour front seats w/automatic body-securing side bolsters, keyless start, power side sunshades, and power trunk closing. The S65 and S600 add on night vision, heated wood/leather-wrapped ssteering wheel, adaptive cruise control, power panoramic sunroof, rear dual-zone automatic climate controls, 8-way power-adjustable heated/ventilated rear seats w/lumbar adjustment, alcantara headliner, and rearview camera. Options for less expensive S-Class models include night vision, power panorama sunroof, power side sunshades, heated steering wheel, upgraded leather upholstery, rearview camera, multicontour massaging front seats w/automatic body securing side bolsters, 8-way power adjustable heated/ventilated rear seats w/lumbar adjustment, rear dual-zone automatic climate controls, power trunk closing, and ventilated front seats.
The W221 S-Class features a similar number and variety of engine choices as the previous generation W220 S-Class. The current lineup of gasoline engines includes a 3.5L V6 with 268hp (200kW) in the S350, and two V8 selections: the 4.6 L, 335hp (250kW) V8 in the S450, and the 5.5, 383hp (286kW) V8 in the S500/S550. Turbo diesel V6 options include 3.0L 235hp (175kW) and 4.0L 310hp (230kW) variants in the respective S320 and S420 CDI models.
The twin-turbo V12 S600 returns with the W221 generation, and features a 5.5L twin-turbo V12 with an output of 510hp (380kW). The S550 completes the 0-60mph run in just 5.5 seconds. Two high-performance S-Class AMG models are currently offered: the S63 AMG with a 6.2L, 525hp (391kW) V8, and the chart-topping S65 AMG with a 6.0L, twin-turbo V12 producing 612hp (456kW) and a torque limited to 1000 Nm, or about 738 lb-ft. The car weighs about 2250 kg, but S65 AMG still makes 0-60mph in just 4.2 seconds, comparable to many top of the line sports cars. The S 63 AMG and the S 600 makes the same sprint in about 4.4 seconds. The twin-turbo V12 in the S 65 AMG is also found in Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG.
Mercedes-Benz has traditionally introduced its safety innovations in the S-Class. For instance, the S-Class was the first car in Europe to incorporate airbags. S-Class safety features include the following innovations in active safety (accident avoidance), passive safety (collision protection), and holistic safety (integration of both active and passive safety features):
- Active safety: ABS braking in 1978 (acts to reduce braking distances and improve stopping control; co-developed with Bosch); traction control and Electronic Stability Program (ESP) in 1995 (improves driver control during difficult road conditions); and Brake Assist (provides full braking power during emergency stops). In 2005, a new infrared night vision feature was introduced (improves visibility during nighttime conditions). Despite the popular misconception, the S-Class was not the first car fitted with ABS braking technology, although some credit can be given for popularizing this now largely standard feature (ABS was initially an option on most models of the W126 S-Class).
- Passive safety: crumple zones in 1957 (vehicle body structure absorbs the force of impact); three-point seatbelts in 1965 (provides additional torso/body protection); collapsible steering column (prevents the steering column from protruding into the cabin during accidents), strengthened occupant cell enhanced occupant protection during severe impacts, rollovers); pre-accident seatbelt tensioning (tightens seatbelts prior to impact), and sandwich platforms (allows the engine to slide under the occupants in a head-on collision).
- PRE-SAFE, Mercedes-Benz's holistic safety feature, was introduced on the S-Class in 2002. PRE-SAFE integrates multiple active and passive safety features for a "safety net" approach to vehicle safety by attempting to prevent accidents; if accidents do occur, PRE-SAFE aims to reduce occupant injury. In the latest version of this pre-collision system, PRE-SAFE will prime the brake assist system, lock the doors to prevent accidental opening during the accident, adjust the seats, close the windows and sunroof, and tighten seatbelts during certain types of collisions. In the event an accident results in a roll over, the PRE-SAFE feature unlock the doors and lower the windows approximately one half an inch to allow you to exit or safety workers to gain access easily.
Road accident statistics on a model-by-model basis from the UK Department of Transport show that the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is one of the safest cars on the UK roads (measured in terms of chance of death in an accident).
A special armored version of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been produced, known as the S-Guard. This model is specifically designed for high-risk security environments. Customers which may require such a vehicle include diplomats and celebrities. Special features of the latest model, produced in 2006, include the capability to withstand military-grade small arms fire and certain explosive devices, a self-sealing fuel tank, and a special alarm system.
The S-Guard is widely used at the diplomatic level to protect world leaders. Ninety governments worldwide are known to use the S-Guard for transport of government leaders and dignitaries. Commercial buyers may opt for the High-Protection S-Guard, with the ability to withstand small arms fire; for those at risk of assassination and terrorist attacks, the Highest-Protection Guard model is designed to withstand military rifles and high-velocity ammunition. The S-Guard is built on a special production line at the S-Class facility in Sindelfingen, Germany, with specific S-Guard enhancements integrated at multiple stages throughout the production process.
Upscale department store Saks Fifth Avenue offered 20 special-edition S600 sedans for sale in its 2005 Christmas catalog. All 20 cars, priced at US$145,000 each, sold on November 22, 2005 in under seven minutes. The Saks-edition S600 sedans were finished in a mocha black exterior with an almond beige interior and were the first examples of the S600 to be sold to private owners. The S600s came with nearly every option standard.
In 2007, Mercedes-Benz announced plans for the S400, a W221 mild hybrid model featuring a V6 engine mated to an electric motor, slated for release around 2009.
In early 2008, Mercedes-Benz added that the hybrid S400 would incorporate a lithium-ion battery, a first for mainstream automobiles. In October 2008, Mercedes-Benz subsequently announced the production of the S400 BlueHYBRID, based on the S350 model. The vehicle will be launched in calendar 2009. In addition to the first production automotive hybrid with a lithium battery, the 3.5-litre petrol engine develops an output of 205 kW/279 hp, the electric motor generates 15 kW/20 hp and a starting torque of 160 Nm. The result is a combined output of 220 kW/299 hp and a combined maximum torque of 385 newton metres.
A concept future hybrid, the F700 Research Car, was also unveiled at the 2007 Frankfurt auto show. The F700 featured three regular opening doors and a fourth door capable of 180 degree rotation.
Also an S300 Bluetec hybrid is going to appear in the next years, making Mercedes-Benz one of the first companies to combine a hybrid powertrain with a diesel engine (diesel-electric hybrid vehicle) in a production vehicle.
In April 2008, Daimler unveiled battery technology for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class limousine that it developed jointly with tires-and-parts supplier Continental AG.
Visionary Vehicles (VV) intends to bring a $35,000 luxury Mercedes-Benz S-Class V2G-capable PHEV to market around 2010. VV just announced it would compete for the X-Prize.
Ocean Drive concept
At the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in 2006, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the Ocean Drive concept, a convertible based on the W221 S-Class. There has since been speculation that this vehicle might see production. The Ocean Drive concept combines both retro and futuristic elements; an outsize, more prominent grille hearkens back to past Mercedes-Benz models, while flush body panels and doors, along with sculpted side flanks and LED lights, are new design cues.
Other design features include Mercedes-Benz's "Airscarf" system, which debuted on the SLK roadster and circulates hot air around the seats and occupant necks. A pillarless window design is similar to the current CL coupe and thus offers occupants an unobstructed view. Bird's eye maple wood trim and a champagne exterior color were featured on this S-Class concept.
In the 1980s, Mercedes-Benz built the world's first driverless cars, together with the team of Professor Ernst Dickmanns at Bundeswehr Universität München. The culmination of this effort was achieved in 1995, when Dickmanns' re-engineered autonomous S-Class robot completed a trip from Munich, Bavaria to Copenhagen, Denmark and back. On the autobahn, the robot S-Class achieved speeds exceeding 175km/h. It suggested and executed overtaking maneuvers. The car's abilities left a big impression on many observers, and is said to have heavily influenced robot car research and funding decisions worldwide.
Recent generations of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class have been the recipient of different automotive awards, reflecting the vehicle's status as one of the world's most prestigious luxury flagships. These awards include the following categories:
- Quality and customer satisfaction. From 1987-1990, with the W126 S-Class leading its sales, Mercedes-Benz received the highest customer ratings in the J.D. Power Sales Satisfaction Index. In 1990, the Mercedes S-Class was the third-ranked luxury vehicle in J.D. Power's Initial Quality Survey, behind only the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Lexus LS. Versus an average of 140 problems per 100 cars, the S-Class averaged 74.5, nearly twice better. The latest S-Class also tied with the Audi A8 (total) for having the fewest quality problems in the industry after 90 days of ownership, with just 72 problems per 100 vehicles in the 2007 IQS Ranking.
- Safety and security. Popular Mechanics gave the W221 S-Class its 2007 Automotive Excellence Award in the Safety category. In 2007, What Car? magazine recognized Mercedes-Benz with its Safety Award, noting safety innovations which first appeared in the S-Class. In 2006, the S-Class received a British Insurance Car Security Award at Thatcham, the UK insurance centre. The W126 S-Class was awarded by the U.S. Highway Loss Data Institute as the "The Safest Passenger Car of the Year" in 1988 and 1989.
- Design and technology. In 2006, Wheels Magazine feted the W221 S-Class with an Automotive Design Award. Production analyst group Automotive Circle International (ACI) gave the W221 S-Class its "EuroCarBody Award 2005." The S-Class' Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control was named a Topauto award winner in the Innovation category in 2006. In 2005, Popular Science gave the S-Class its Best of What's New, Grand Award. In 2006, the W221 S-Class received the Best Seat award for its driver seat design at the Automotive Interior of the Year Awards.
- Luxury car. In 2007, What Car? magazine named the S-Class "Best Luxury Car" for the seventh time. In 2006, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag awarded the W221 S-Class with the Golden Steering Wheel Award in the Luxury category, the Drive Car of the Year Awards in Australia crowned the S-Class winner of Best Luxury Car over $60,000, and German-speaking journalists awarded the S-Class as the top luxury auto in the Topauto 2006 awards.
- Car of the Year. In 2007, Fleet News named the S-Class its "Luxury Car of the Year" for the fifth time. Top Gear magazine named the S-Class "Limousine of the Year" for 2006. The S-Class was named Car of the Year in Wheels Magazine for 1981 and again in 1999. The W116 S-Class was European Car of the Year in 1974.
- Environmental Friendly. The S-Class is the first car ever (2005) to receive an environmental certificate from the German Commission on Technical Compliance (TÜV).