The Mercedes S-Class has always been a technology leader. Since the nameplate debuted in 1972, each generation has served as a launchpad for the features that, eventually, filter down to cars mere mortals can afford. Anti-lock brakes debuted in the S-Class, as did stability control. The latest iteration is evolutionary on the outside, but the real progress lies in semi-autonomous technology lurking under the skin.
In normal driving, the improvements made to the S-Class aren't instantly apparent. But Mercedes has worked on refining the (already impressive) semi-autonomous suite from the E-Class, broadening its operating window to work at much higher speeds. Adaptive cruise control and its self-steering function will now operate up to 210 km/h (130 mph) on the autobahn, jumping up from 200 km/h (124 mph) on the E-Class, and comfortably usurping the 140 km/h (80 mph) limit on Tesla Autopilot.
The system will automatically slow for junctions, roundabouts, toll booths and, if the driver has programmed a destination into the nav, the correct motorway exit. When the system detects a hill, the car will automatically lift off the throttle to save fuel, and anyone with points on their license will be pleased to know the cruise control automatically adapts to changing speed signs.
Four engines will be available at launch, starting with the S350d. Powered by an inline six, the entry-level diesel makes 210 kW (286 hp) and 600 Nm, and sips just 5.5 l/100 km (43 mpg) on the combined cycle. Jumping to the S400d brings another 40 kW (54 hp) and 100 Nm to the table, and adds just 0.1 l/100 km (0.76 mpg) to that fuel use figure.
Forget diesel though, true high-rollers are likely to want a big V8 gasoline engine. Two will be available initially, starting with the all-wheel drive S560. It makes 345 kW (469 hp) of power and 700 Nm of torque, but the fuel figure balloons to 8.5 l/100 km (27.7 mpg) on the combined cycle. The daddy of the range is the S63 AMG, though, with its hulking 450 kW (612 hp) and 900 Nm of torque from its turbocharged V8 that ups fuel consumption to 8.9 l/100 km (26.4 mpg). If past AMG flagships are anything to go by the engine could potentially make even more torque, but it's been held back to protect the driveline. Still, 900 Nm should be sufficient for most people.
Given the changes are so significant under the skin, Mercedes has been remarkably restrained on the styling front. The basic shape of the car is the same, although the headlamps have been completely redesigned with a new three-line look. An optional LED Ultra Range headlight system creates a beam more than 650 m (2,133 ft) up the road. It's combined with high-beam assist, which can black out individual elements in the headlights to make sure oncoming cars aren't dazzled.
The taillights have been given a makeover as well, but you'd have to be a trainspotter to notice them. There's also a new rear bumper design with integrated tailpipes, but saying the tweak is subtle would be an understatement. Then again, there wasn't really anything wrong with the existing design, so it makes sense for Mercedes to stick with the formula.
An evolutionary approach has also been taken inside, where designers have limited their changes to a new steering wheel and some new material finishes. The new wheel is similar to that of the E-Class, but further refines the dual-touchpad design. It also includes cruise control buttons, a change from the traditional column-stalk controls used in other Mercedes cars.
Just like the current car, the amount of cabin customization options is almost endless. Drivers can choose from no less than 64 different colors for the interior ambient lighting, and the digital instrument binnacle can be set up in three different ways depending on the type of driving. All the materials look to be top-quality, and if they don't meet your standards the team at Mercedes is ready and waiting to make your every wish come true... for a price.
None of this is strictly necessary, but luxury limousines like this have always been about excess, and the S-Class certainly delivers in that department. The upcoming Audi A8 would want to be seriously good if it's to come anywhere close.
The latest S-Class is on show at Auto Shanghai. No pricing information has been announced, but expect it to remain largely the same as the current model, which kicks off around US$98,000.