February 22, 2024

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The Ultimate Driving Machines

2021 Mercedes Benz S Class review: The default limo of choice for India’s mega rich

2021 Mercedes Benz S Class: what is it?

The S-Class is the default choice of luxury limousine for India’s mega rich. Mercedes has sold over 8,000 S-Classes in India since the fourth-gen model’s launch here in 2000 and is looking to add to the tally with this latest, seventh-gen W223 model.

Like every new S-Class, the latest model is built to be “the best car in the world” and represents Mercedes at its forward-looking best. There’s more tech than ever before, even if at its core this remains a car primarily built to transport its high net worth occupants in ultimate luxury.

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It looks every bit as regal as you’d expect an S-Class to be.

For the moment, the S-Class comes to India as a full import in fully-loaded Launch Edition form. Later in the year, locally assembled versions will go on sale with a (relatively) lower price tag and presumably fewer features.

2021 Mercedes Benz S Class: what’s it like on the outside?

As before, India gets the long-wheelbase version of the S-Class. The latest model is even longer and wider than the last-gen one (if only marginally so), and at 5.3m long and nearly 2m wide, it’s a big, big car. In look, it’s every bit as regal as you’d expect an S to be and commands respect like few other sedans can. It’s got gravitas, so to speak. Adding in a tinge of sportiness to the look is the AMG Line styling pack that is standard on the first lot of cars for India. The stylised bumpers and larger 20-inch rims do help the S appear quite athletic.

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At 5.3m long and nearly 2m wide, the new S-class is a very big sedan.

Among the details of note on the outside are the ‘Digital Light’ headlamps (identifiable by their blue detailing) that feature ultra-range high beam that can illuminate up to 650m ahead. The S-Class gets soft-close doors, as you’d expect, though the flush-fitting door handles that pop out when you approach the car is something we’d seen on JLR models first. At the rear, the on/off lighting sequence on the full-LED tail-lights makes for cool viewing too.

The hands-free boot lid opens to reveal an average-sized luggage compartment. It’s enough for an airport run but isn’t particularly spacious for such a large car. Some of the usable space is taken up by the amp for the sound system and some by the space saver spare tyre that sits in a dedicated compartment under the floor.

2021 Mercedes Benz S Class: what’s it like on the inside?

We’ve come to expect an S-Class cabin to harmoniously blend old-world style with new-age tech. This one, however, is out with the old and goes big with the new. Screens, touch controls and active ambient lighting (more on this later) are among the elements that make this cabin look absolutely cutting edge.

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Cutting-edge cabin packs in multiple screens and touch controls.

Owners will typically spend minimal, if any, time up front, so let’s talk of the all-important rear seat experience first. Large rear doors are your gateway to the back, though it must be said that, like other sedans, even the S-Class can’t match a high-riding luxury SUV on ease of ingress-egress. Once inside, though, you’ll have little to fault. Legroom, for one, is immense, with genuine real estate between the front and rear seats. The seats are also brilliant. Upholstered in nappa leather, the seats are sumptuous, get as many as 10 massage functions and there’s ventilation and heating too. Should you want to sit back and relax, the rear seats offer power-adjust for the backrest angle and seat base angle. However, for the full effect, you want to be on the rear left seat, popularly called the boss seat. At the touch of a button, motors whirr into action to slide the front passenger seat all the way forward and reorient your seat for full extension; that’s the backrest reclined to 43.5 degrees, seat base lowered and a powered legrest folding out for max support. What’s remarkable is that even six-footers can sprawl out on this seat. Do note, the front passenger seat at its forward-most position can impede the driver’s view of the wing mirror; rolling the backrest by a few degrees is an easy solution.

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Space offered at the rear is top notch and the backrest can even be reclined up to 43.5 degrees.

Should the spectacular seats, gentle massage, and general hush in the cabin not lull you to sleep, there’s loads of ways to keep occupied at the back. The S-Class gets dual 11.6-inch touchscreens for your entertainment needs, there’s a 7.0-inch tablet that can be used to control certain car functions and also access the internet, or if you want to lose yourself in the music, there’s a 31-speaker Burmester sound system to make the most of. ‘Exciters’ (Mercedes’ term) in the seat amplify the bass so you can actually feel the music.

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The 7.0-inch tablet can be used to control some basic car functions.

Dedicated climate control zones, a wireless phone charger and powered sunblinds are some of the other goodies at the back. If there’s something to bring up, we aren’t fans of the capacitive touch controls for the seat adjust that lack the tactile feel of Merc’s traditional seat infogram buttons. Also, as luxurious as the rear seats are, they’re not designed to accommodate seating three abreast. The middle seat is narrow and best left unused.

There’s lots to talk about the front section of the cabin too. The throne-like front seats (they are heated, ventilated and feature massage too) are as comfy as they look, the dash that flows into the doors to visually wrap around you looks fantastic and all around quality is expectedly first rate. Everything, from the stitching down to the illuminated seat belt buckles, tell you no cost has been spared to make this a special place. The gloss plastics on the centre console could be prone to scratches but that’s something your chauffeur will need to be careful of.

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Rear seats come with 10 massage functions, and also with ventilation and heating.

Now to the real big (literally so) talking point in the S-Class – the 12.8-inch touchscreen. The portrait-oriented unit is your go-to control for virtually all car and infotainment functions, and Mercedes says the screen has done away with the need for as many as 27 physical buttons. The OLED screen is brilliant, the graphics are top class, and the system works with the slickness of an iPad. However, incorporating simple functions, such as for temperature adjust, isn’t ideal and it doesn’t help that the voice commands get tripped on Indian accents. In practice, you’ll be most comfortable using the screen at standstill. It’s fairly easy to get the hang of the screen layout and the haptic feedback helps usability. Cool features include fingerprint recognition for your settings profile.

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12.3-inch digital dials are customisable and features a unique 3D effect.

12.3-inch digital dials, customisable for theme and colours, are also part of the package. Unique to the S-Class is a 3D feature that adds visual depth to the display (think the effect of 3D glasses), though we found ourselves reverting to the standard view quickly.

2021 Mercedes Benz S Class: what features does it get?

The question to ask is what features does it miss? Okay, India-spec cars doesn’t get the augmented reality navigation but this apart, the Merc is as loaded as they come.

In addition to all that’s been touched upon, the S-Class also packs in a panoramic sunroof, rear seat neck warmer, an onboard fragrance dispenser, connected car tech, wireless Android Auto/Apple CarPlay and auto park. Brilliantly done 64-colour ambient lighting that bathes the cabin in soft light is part of the package too and there’s also what Mercedes calls Active Ambient Lighting. LEDs on the dash and doors pulse to flash warnings (such as blind spot warning) and display changes to climate control settings (blue/red when reducing/increasing temperature). The LEDs will also change colour to reflect the Energizing Comfort program of choice. In a nutshell, Energizing Comfort is a package of massage, video, music and light arrangements designed to soothe and rejuvenate you. The S-Class really is a spa on wheels.

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The brilliantly executed 64-colour ambient lighting bathes the cabin in soft light.

The list of safety kit is just as long. The S-Class gets 10 airbags, including two front-facing ones for the rear seat occupants. There’s the whole array of electronic aids too, as well as advanced driver assistance functions such as adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and emergency braking. The features work well but in our unpredictable driving environment are also best thought of as an additional safety net. We suspect those behind the wheel will reach out for the suspension lift tab more often than those for ADAS features.

2021 Mercedes Benz S Class: what’s it like to drive?

The S 400d 4Matic featured here comes powered by a 330hp and 700Nm, 3.0-litre, straight-six diesel engine. Power is channelled to all four wheels (hence, the 4Matic in the name) via a 9-speed automatic gearbox.

This being an S-Class, it’s more about how quiet it is than how quick it is. The cabin is serene, there’s little outside noise to disturb your hotshot passengers’ train of thought on that next big business deal and even the engine comes across as very cultured. You won’t hear much of the diesel unit in average driving, and even when you extend, it sounds very distant. Mercedes also offers the S 450 4Matic petrol (367hp and 500Nm, 3.0 petrol), which promises to be quieter still.

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Air suspension does its job superbly, though the large wheels hamper overall ride comfort.

As standard, the S-Class gets air suspension and it does its job superbly. The suspension beautifully arrests up and down movements, and there’s a softness at low speeds. However, overall ride comfort is down on the last-gen S-Class. And it’s the AMG Line’s 255/40 R20 tyres to blame for this. The relatively low-profile tyres can’t completely cushion against the sharper imperfections on the road and there’s even a slightly stiff-kneed feel on concrete surfaces. Very uncharacteristic of an S-Class. Assembled-in-India models could and should make the move to smaller rims with more sidewall protection.

What is special is the way the S-Class builds speed. You don’t have to weigh down too hard on the accelerator for the S to reveal its punchy side, and performance is just effortless. The 9-speed gearbox also plays its supporting role well by fluidly working up and down the gears. Add with it the S-Class masking its speed, and your passenger won’t really know how quick you’re going.

We couldn’t get the S 400d 4Matic to match Merc’s claimed 0-100kph time of 5.4sec. Even so, the 6.9sec time for the sprint to 100kph is brisk for a car so large. Sorry to use the cliche but you won’t be late for that boardroom meeting in an S.

Corners on your route? No problem. The S-Class is a big and heavy comfort-oriented limo, but the big surprise is that it’s rather nice to drive. Body control, even with the suspension at its softest, is pleasant and there’s even a good amount of connection at the steering. There’s good weight to it and you can actually enjoy your Sunday drive in one.


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Despite being a comfort-oriented limo, the new S-Class is rather nice to drive.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The S-Class will spend the bulk of its life in the city where driving a car so large can be stressful. Helping greatly to this end is the S-Class’ rear-wheel steering. As on other applications, the rear wheels turn for improved agility and high-speed stability, but in the India scheme of things, the biggest benefit comes in low-speed manoeuvrability. On cars fitted with 20-inch rims, the rear wheels can turn by up to 4.5 degrees in the opposite direction to the one up front, effectively reducing the turning circle by nearly 1.9 metres. A slick 360 degree camera and auto parking are other features your chauffeur will be grateful for.

The suspension lift feature comes really handy too, though you have to be careful over large speedbreakers even at full height. The S-Class tends to scrape its belly if you aren’t careful, and the sound on contact just isn’t pretty.

2021 Mercedes Benz S Class: should you buy one?

The S-Class has gone on sale at Rs 2.17 crore (ex-showroom) for the S 400d 4Matic, while the S 450 4Matic can be yours for Rs 2.19 crore. The pricing is high even by luxury limousine segment standards, but the fact that the majority of cars in the first lot of S-Classes for India are already spoken for tells you about the model’s mass appeal, even in the rarified space it plays in.

The latest S-Class looks the business, it’s brilliant be driven around in – slightly jittery ride notwithstanding – the cabin is calming, the seats are as comfy as they come and there’s lots and lots of tech to geek out on too. That the S-Class is also nice to drive is just an added plus.

Sure, the S is not quite India-proof as a luxury SUV might be but as a means to show the world you’ve arrived in life; few things say it better than an S-Class.