Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: February 8, 2022
Whenever a new S-Class debuts, it’s big news. The last-generation model was such a hit that we put it above the Porsche Panamera and Jaguar XJ in our comparison review, and heavily praised its superior ride quality over the BMW 750Li and Audi A8 L. The S-Class’ dominant sales numbers tell the same story. So when Mercedes decides to upgrade their iconic executive sedan with more technology and power, well we can’t help but be irrevocably curious. Let’s take a look at this technological tour de force, and see if the new S-Class continues its roadside domination.
Note: The S 580 we are testing is a 2021 model. Global supply chain issues and semi-conductor shortages means Mercedes V8 models for the 2022MY are few and far in between, with many of them halted entirely.
We’ll start with how the S-Class drives and handles because surprisingly, it’s not a quantum leap from the previous-generation model. That just goes to show how much of an impressive piece of engineering it was. Once you’re at the top, it only gets harder doesn’t it? Still, the S-Class drives like an expensive luxury sedan should: friendly, cossetting, and negating every unwanted motion and vibration from seeping into the cabin. It demonstrates a sense of grace and composure that is lacking in its rivals, and its honed chassis shows off hints of dynamic acuity when Sport Plus mode is combined with a heavy right foot. The rear-axle steering further shrinks down its footprint and increases manueverability, but don’t expect the turning radius of a Nissan Sentra. Rather, it’s more of a short wheelbase S-Class without rear wheel steering, but it still increases the ease and stability of parking and navigating through tight spaces.
The S-Class is offered with two engine choices and two wheelbase configurations. The S 500 is short wheelbase only, and comes equipped with a 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six pushing out 429 hp, while the S 580 is long wheelbase only and is powered by a 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 delivering 496 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque instead. Both are accompanied by a mild hybrid system much like in the other EQ Boost models, which consists of a 48-volt battery and integrated starter-generator. These power the car’s electronics, act as both a starter motor and alternator, and allows the engine to shut off entirely while coasting at certain speeds and for extended periods of time when stopped.
The V8 harbours more than enough power to get this heavy land yacht up in a jiffy. Flooring the throttle will pitch up that front silver star ornament while the engine rushes the torque to all four wheels. Acceleration is strong with a 0-100 km/h time of 4.4 seconds but it never actually feels that fast from behind the wheel, the same way you never notice your Boeing 777 reaching 250 km/h on takeoff. That’s not only due to the sheer size of the S-Class, but also because the power is delivered so fluidly that coffee cups aren’t never spilled onto the expensive quilted leather. In addition, the 9-speed gearbox is the perfect companion for dancing up and down its gears without any disruption, though we did notice the occasional thump and hesitation when it downshifts at slower creeping speeds.
We try not to comment too much on the looks of a car as much of it is subjective - beauty is in the eye of the beholder afterall - but we can’t help but criticize the new design direction of Mercedes sedans. They have become too visually soft with overly rounded shoulders, a lack of sharp edges, and are overall less imposing and commanding on the road. AMG models make up for that with the bold Panamericana vertical-slat grill, but the regular Mercedes models are less distinctive, especially in the silver star’s extensive portfolio. The S-Class is no different. Aside from its elongated proportions, from some angles it’s irritiatingly difficult to differentiate it from an E- or CLS-Class. But there are some standout cues, like the pop-out door handles and three-slat front grill.
The interior is an entirely different ballgame, taking advances in technology so seriously yet implementing it in such a seamless way. Those that say that a Genesis G90 or Volvo S90 comes close to this level of luxury clearly haven’t spent time in one. The space is dominated by touchscreens, and incredibly high quality ones at that. There are square ones, rectangular ones, and even a little tablet in the back. Actual buttons and dials are a thing of the past, and we’ve accepted that. The user interface works well enough that we don’t have any complaints either. When automakers start implementing touch sensors for the windows, seat controls, and start button, then we will start raising our fiery pitchforks.
Every surface is lathered in high quality materials. They’ve even beefed up the plastic gear column stalk that we’ve heavily criticized before, to another plastic one, but this one has been nicely dressed up in a polished finish. The center console still swoops down elegantly like a waterfall and the S-Class’ larger dimensions slightly remedy the awkwardness of the storage situation compared to the smaller C-Class, but it’s still not ideally or ergonomically shaped, and we’re not too crazy about the way the four vents are arranged on the dashboard either.
As rewarding and engaging as the driver’s seat is, arguably the real throne in the S-Class is the back passenger seat. It’s endowed with every creature comfortable available, from fabric headrest pillows, padded seatbelt airbags, and illuminated seatbelt buckles to the removable tablet that controls the sun blinds and massaging seat functions. There’s even an extended seating position for the passenger-side, much like in the BMW 750Li, Lexus LS 500, or a 787 business class seat. Pressing the button on the door panel will push the front seat forward while a footrest extends from beneath. I wouldn’t mind a few more inches of legroom for my six-foot figure, but it’s still more than enough.
All that was missing in our test vehicle was the Executive Rear Seating Package, which replaces the rear middle seat with a dedicated center console that stows two folding tray tables. Two rear 11.6-inch touchscreens are also available options if you need your Netflix fix on the fly, so we’re really not sure why anyone would need a Maybach when the regular S-Class already harbours this silly amount of lavishness, but we’re guessing that monoblock wheels are champagne glass holders do have a place in this world.
Despite all the glitz and glamour, the S 580 still carries with it a few ergonomic foibles. First, the seat buttons. Mercedes has recently migrated the seat controls to the side door panel, and that means they can package in wider seats. They have even cleverly arranged the controls to mimic the shape of an actual seat - push the headrest-shaped knob to move the headrest, etc. Now on previous Mercedes models, these buttons had a clear indication of when they were being selected, and gave positive ‘clicky’ feedback. These new ones however, do not. They’re annoyingly stiff and carry so much resistance that you have to use every ounce of finger strength to push them, and there’s no positive feedback to let you know that they have been activated. On the bright side, every seat has a memory function so you never have to worry about using them again.
Next, the reliance on touchscreen technology. Young folks and those who grew up with ICQ and MSN might not have an issue migrating over into the digital real estate, but those who the S-Class is moreso intended for - middle- to older-aged executives - might find it intimidating, especially if they are accustomed to having buttons and dials. It can be quite frustrating and cumbersome having to dive into multiple menus just to turn on the massaging seats, and the learning curve will vary. But in the winter, starting the car and flicking on all the features is like entering in an NES cheat code: press the heated seat button on the door panel, flick the little switch on the steering column to activate the heated steering wheel, and swipe through the touchscreen menu to turn on the massage. Mercedes does implement ways to remediate this, with convenient haptic buttons on the steering wheel, and the effective Hey Mercedes voice recognition system that will pretty much recognize your every command.
Finally, we get to the price. The steep entrance fee for the S-Class will only be feasible for the privileged, and with that also comes prestige. Starting at $139,900, with our near-fully-loaded test vehicle swelling it up to $165,850, it’s more expensive than the Audi A8 L, BMW 750Li, and Porsche Panamera 4S Executive. Despite its overreliance on screens and a few ergonomic wiggles, the new S-Class is clearly the most developed and advanced of the bunch, showcasing a delicate combination of both mechanical and electronic brilliance. As a result, it continues to wear the crown as the one of the most desirable, comfortable, and prestigious ways to travel the road.
Model: 2021 Mercedes-Benz S 580 4MATIC Sedan
Paint Type: Diamond White designo
Base Price: $139,900
Price as Tested: $165,850
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,289 / 1,921 (without mirrors) / 1,503
Curb weight (kg): 2,166
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8 with EQ Boost
Horsepower: 496 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 2,000 - 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway ) L/100km: 14.4 / 9.4
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.0
Tires: 255/40R20 front; 285/35R20 rear; Pirelli Sottozero