Ladies and gents, please welcome the latest version of the car industry’s great innovator - the Mercedes S-Class. The new one is designated as the W223 (V223 for the long wheelbase version), and is 54mm longer than the old one.
The on-trend-for-2020 giant front grille won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but with an S-Class, aesthetics are besides the point - it’s all about the technology inside. And sure enough, the W223 is packed to the top of its double glazed windows with the stuff.
Here are some of the highlights:
Tick the right options, and your S-Class will be blessed with five screens. There’s diagonally mounted, 12.8-inch OLED infotainment display (11.9-inch and non-OLED as standard) which is 64 per cent bigger than the one in the old S-Class, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and for those sitting in the rear, two 11.6-inch screens plus a seven-inch removable tablet.
Although it’s the biggest screen that grabs the most attention, the driver’s display which is arguably the most interesting - it has a 3D mode giving spatial perception via an eye-tracking system. Finally, there’s a head-up display with an augmented reality function that appears to ‘project’ navigations on the road ahead.
Ambient lighting seemed pretty snazzy when the S-Class first got it, but just a few years on, it seems hard to find a car that doesn’t have the tech as an optional extra. But that’s fine, as the new S has an extra snazzy system, with the LED count going from a mere 40 in the old one to 247 in the standard car and 263 in the long-wheelbase S.
CAN-BUS actuation of each individual LED makes “flowing light effects” and transitions possible. The setup is 10 times brighter and is linked to the car’s safety systems, enabling it to give off visual warnings.
Headlights have come a hell of a long way in recent years, but the clusters in the W223 look to have taken things a step further. In each of the car’s (optional) Digital Light modules are three “extremely powerful” LEDs which refract and direct light using a total of 1.3 million micro-mirrors that fit into an area the size of a thumbnail.
The high beam assist function is said to be 100 times more precise than when using an 84-pixel matrix LED light (we’ve no idea how you’d measure that either), and the light distribution matches the conditions - for instance if it’s foggy or if you’re on a lit motorway - much better. The fancy lights can even project things onto the road like an excavator symbol to warn the driver of roadworks, or guidelines for narrow lanes.
Via a series of cameras embedded in the S-Class’ overhead control panel, you’re always being watched. But not in a creepy way - this is how the W223 reads and enacts “the wishes and intentions of the occupants”. So, you could be looking for something in the front passenger seat, which would cause the Interior Assist to switch a light on to help.
Occupants can use sliding motions to control blinds, while the driver can open the rear blind by merely looking at it. Sounds awfully smart, but we’ll have to wait and see how successfully this machine can interpret what the human is hoping to achieve - if it gets things wrong, that could quickly become annoying. See also BMW‘s gesture control, which is easy to trigger by accident.
Along with all the future-gazing technology, there are plenty more traditional luxury accoutrements on offer. You’ll find fine Lugano and Nappa leather on the menu, along with various open-pore wood trim packages.
The front seats are controlled with 19 motors to allow for ultimate adjustability, and there are 10 different massage functions. The rear seats are electrically adjustable too - of course - and each can now be specced with a heatable headrest cushion.
The W223’s standard-fit ‘Airmatic’ air springs can lower the ground clearance by 10mm at 75mph and up to lower drag, and by another 10mm when you reach 99mph. In Sport it’s fixed at -10mm, with Sport+ dropping you 17mm closer to the tarmac. Alternatively, so long you’re not going more than 37mph, it’s possible to prop the S up by 30mm.
Such a wide range in ride heights isn’t something only the S-Class can manage, but the suspension setup does have one more unusual feature - on cars with Active Body Control specced, the body of the car will rise in a fraction of a second if an imminent side impact is detected. The idea is this reduces the load on whoever’s in the car, since the impact will focus more on the stronger lower parts of the car. Clever.
While we’re talking about dynamics, it’s also worth pointing out that the W223 has the car industry’s new favourite piece of discarded 1980s technology - rear-wheel steering. This decreases the turning circle by nearly two metres to 10.9m.
Although details of the variant are scarce right now, Mercedes has confirmed the plug-in hybrid S-Class arriving in 2021 will have an electric-only range of up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) - double that of the outgoing model.
Initially, there’ll be two 3.0-litre inline-six petrol S-Class derivatives - the 362bhp S450 and the 429bhp S500 - and a pair of inline-six diesels - a 282bhp S350d and the 325bhp S400d. All bar the S350 are exclusively available with all-wheel drive.
Also arriving next year is a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 assisted by a starter motor generator and a 48-volt electrical subsystem.