15 September 2020
15 September 2020
Nothing captures the attention of the automotive world quite like the launch of an all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
With the latest iteration of the innovation-packed S-Class unveiled in early September, designers and engineers representing automotive badges of every stripe have doubtlessly pored over the details, keen to see which standards the iconic Mercedes-Benz flagship would reset, and which new directions the industry will follow.
A raft of innovations left no-one disappointed – least of all the loyal owners of Mercedes-Benz vehicles large and small, who understand the influence a new S-Class has over the design direction and future technology of the entire model range.
Some of the potential inspirations baked into the all-new S-Class include:
Rear-facing airbags for rear-seat passengers, built into the back of the front seats to cushion heads and necks in a frontal collision;
Intuitive control via gesture allowing the driver to perform functions such as opening the panoramic sunroof, or enact features in the digital central interface, with a wave of their hand;
A large, comprehensive head-up display including – for the first time – navigation directions rendered onto the windscreen in Augmented Reality;
Eye tracking to enable the digital display screen in front of the driver to render a three-dimensional effect without the need for 3D glasses;
Smart connectivity features such as ‘MBUX Smart Home’, to allow voice-actuated remote control of home-based automation features such as smart lights and climate control devices;
Adaptive LED headlights featuring 2.6 million micro mirrors in total enabling them to project warning symbols directly onto the road; and,
Endlessly adjustable heated and cooled front seats with 10 different massage programs and even built-in speakers.
Of course, there are also the impressive (and in some cases, optional) touches of luxury that only the brand’s most salubrious saloon can carry off, such as heated and power-adjustable rear seats, a 31-speaker, 1750-watt Burmester 4D sound system, four-zone climate control, two 11.6-inch backrest-mounted touchscreens for the rear passengers, a driver’s armrest that is heated not only on the rest itself but also on the adjacent door panel, and fully retractable external door handles.
The S-Class effect
You only have to look back at the last Mercedes-Benz S-Class launch, in 2013, to appreciate the effect it has throughout the range, and on the wider automotive industry. Just seven years ago, the S-Class debuted technology that has in certain ways since been adapted and integrated to suit many Mercedes-Benz models – this included dramatic ambient lighting with switchable colours, the ‘Magic Body Control’ suspension that uses cameras to detect road irregularities and adapt damper response accordingly, headlights and tail lights that for the first time phased out conventional light bulbs in favour of highly efficient LEDs, and an inbuilt fragrancing and air filtration system.
History repeats itself
Since the early 1950s, the S-Class and its flagship predecessor models have set the pace, and not just within the Mercedes-Benz range. There isn’t a modern car on the road today that doesn’t carry standard equipment that is an adaptation or version of something first developed by Mercedes-Benz and revealed in the range-topping model of the Mercedes-Benz range.
That includes some of the most acclaimed safety innovations in automotive history – the airbag, the ABS anti-lock braking system, and electronic stability control, to name a few – but also a few unheralded breakthroughs.
Did you know Mercedes-Benz also invented front and rear crumple zones, plus the rigid passenger safety cell that has guided every car design since it was debuted in 1959? Equally useful was the wedge-pin door lock, which prevented the doors from flying open in a rollover and saved countless lives in an era before seatbelts were compulsory. The innovation of a bodyshell with a forked longitudinal member (1979) made the S-Class the first vehicle to meet offset crash requirements.
Ahead of the pack
Other innovations that made their Mercedes-Benz debut on the range-topping model well ahead of the pack included disc brakes and a padded steering wheel (1959); air suspension (1963); cruise control and a collision-proof fuel tank (1972); deformable plastic bumpers (1979); brake assist, parking sensors, a navigation system, power-assisted doors, double glazed side windows and voice control (1991); extensive use of lightweight alloys, the PRE-SAFE® accident anticipation system, ventilated seats and keyless access (1999); plus night-view assist, park assist, lane-keeping assist, speed limit assist and automated cruise control (2006).
Most of these features – hailed as ground-breaking in their day – are now standard fitment, or available to option, across most models in the Mercedes-Benz range.
You might perceive the latest Mercedes-Benz S-Class as a luxurious saloon conceived and styled for only a fortunate few; yet inarguably, it has contributed more to the brand’s reputation for safety, luxury and innovation than any other model, and continues to be the model against which every other luxury vehicle on the road is judged.
By Steve Colquhoun