First Drive: 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Sedan Reaches New Level of Luxury

Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan in grey on a city street
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It’s the little things: the feel of the buttons on the steering wheel, the way the dashboard inlays wrap around onto the doors, and even the subtle pace of the cup holder cover sliding closed. Luxury lives in the details, and the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Sedan is a master class in bijou refinement.

Of course, the German automaker’s flagship model gets the big things right as well. Driving or riding in the S-Class is an elegant, flowing experience. The cabin is lavish while the exterior’s swooping lines declare its opulence without pretension.

This is the seventh iteration of the S-Class since it was introduced in 1972. Long a benchmark in the full-sized luxury sedan segment, the 2021 model raises the bar not only in terms of fit and finish, but for amenities and performance as well.

A Motoring Oasis

Inside the stunning and remarkably quiet cabin, Mercedes has created an indulgent, lounge-like experience. All four power-adjustable reclining seats in the S-Class are among the poshest we’ve had the privilege of sitting in. The optional massage feature is glorious. In fact, on several occasions during our week-long test of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class (a well-optioned S580 to be precise), we lingered in the driveway to make the most of those massaging seats, which feature 10 different programs.

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The brown leather interior of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
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In the back, there’s plenty of room to sprawl out. The rear passenger seats are akin to a swanky business-class airline suite, though they don’t lay flat. The knees of a six-foot tall rider in the back will come nowhere close to the seat back of a driver of similar height. All four headrests include pillows, which look rather incongruous with the interior’s overall aesthetic. But they’re soft and give your neck a bit of respite on the road.

For your ears, the optional Burmester 4D stereo system kicks out the jams with 30 speakers. There’s also subwoofers and resonators built into the seats. You’ll definitely want to select that upgrade when building your own S-Class.

The new S-Class also uses the stereo to offer an “Energizing Comfort” program. For the uninitiated, the system uses sound, light, temperature, vibrations, and massage to set a spa-like mood. While that may sound a bit hokey, take it from us—it’s quite effective at relieving stress or helping you regain a bit of focus.

On the Road

As soon as the retractable door handles greet your key fob, you know you’re in for a treat. The S-Class comes in two powertrains, a 429-horsepower turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6 or a 496-horsepower twin-turbo 4.0-liter V8 in the S500 and the S580, respectively. Each gets a boost from a 48-volt hybrid system (known as EQ Boost). They’re also paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission and an Airmatic air suspension.

A white 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan driving on a road
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The S580 we tested was plenty quick, getting to 60 mph in four-ish seconds—not a major surprise from a Mercedes V8. But it’s incredibly responsive for a car of its size. The S-Class is what we used to call a land yacht: It’s massive. At 208.2 inches, it’s more than three inches longer than the Mercedes GLS full-size SUV (and it barely fit in our garage). Even so, it manages to feel much smaller on the road and drives nimbly both on the highway and around town.

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The cockpit centerpiece is the 12.3-inch OLED touchscreen tablet that provides an interface with the software that runs the car, which the company calls Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX). From here you can operate the 3D navigation and control most of the car’s settings and features.

It’s a slick and intuitive system, though the lack of quick buttons to access frequently used programs is a bit annoying. If you want to toggle between the nav and Apple CarPlay, you have to use the home button and navigate from there. Owners can also say “Hey Mercedes” to input voice commands. You can even ask the S-Class what it thinks about some of its German rivals. (Gauntlet thrown, Audi!)

The steering wheel and digital gauge cluster on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan
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The driver also gets a 3D instrument gauge cluster with with two eye-tracking cameras. Some may find it wonky, but we liked it. Those lucky enough to find themselves behind the wheel also get a massive heads-up display. It’s actually so big and provides so much info, including augmented reality navigation indicators, that it takes a little acclimation to get it to fade into the background while driving.

The MBUX allows owners to set up seven personal driver profiles, each with up to 800 parameters. They can then be selected using a dash-mounted biometric fingerprint sensor or by facial or voice recognition.

A grey 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan driving, seen from the rear
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If you’re going to be shuttling around small children (or hiring a chauffeur to ease your commute), Mercedes offers an optional rear-seat entertainment system with a pair of 11.6-inch screens. Also optional in the back: rear seat airbags mounted in the back of the front seats, an industry-first.

All in all, the 2021 S-Class achieves a new level of opulence. But that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Stuttgart standard bearer: Mercedes-Benz chases perfection and luxury in the details.

[Starting at $109,800;]

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