Since 1951, Mercedes-Benz has sold more than 3.5 million high-end luxury cars, with the modern generation of S-Class, launched in 2005, having sold more than 500,000 units. After eight years in production, the current S-Class, known internally as model series 221, has grown old. Graybeard old. With today’s rapidly changing technology, car years are even longer than dog years, and eight-year-old models look like dinosaurs.
Fortunately for Mercedes and its battle with BMW and Audi for global luxury dominance, a new S-Class awaits. The company will officially unveil the car in Stuttgart later this spring, with cars going on sale later this year. In an effort to tease us — and the buying public — Mercedes opened the doors of the new S-Class to give us a peek at the interior. Inside a darkened photo studio in the shadow of the company’s headquarters, three cars with camouflaged exteriors were opened up to reveal the next definition of luxury from Mercedes that suggests a spa with four wheels, with aromatherapy that goes well beyond the new-car smell.
“We have taken a holistic approach to the interior design,” said Dr. Goetz Renner, who leads the Mercedes consumer research center and oversaw the interior work. “ We want to minimize discomfort with the maximization of well-being. We look at the car as a living space, and people are spending more time in their cars."
Nothing has been taken for granted, inside, or outside the car. Customers equate quiet with comfort and luxury, according to extensive studies the company revealed. So to ensure noise was kept to a minimum, several engineers spent the past three years smoothing the car’s aerodynamics, especially the side-view mirrors. When the current-gen S-Class was launched, Apple’s iPhone was still two years from going on sale. In the new car, iPhone apps will allow you to control various comfort and entertainment options, with more integration promised for the future.
The dominating design feature of the new interior is two large (12.3-inch diagonal) display screens that seemingly float in mid-air across the dashboard surrounded by your choice of eight different ambient colors. The left-hand display functions as the instrument cluster providing the driver with all the pertinent vehicle information while the right-hand display has all of the comfort and entertainment functions. The screens are controlled through a console-mounted control dial and keypad rather than being touchscreen.
Even the seat controls, mounted on the doors in a logical diagram of the seat, have been redesigned and redecorated. The controls look like an Eames lounge chair — the iconic furniture piece from the 1950s — made of metal inlaid with ceramic. In fact, everything you touch is real: wood, metal and leather. (Interesting that in the 1904 Mercedes-Simplex, the company's first true luxury car, rear-seat passengers were coddled with lush fabric-covered seats, while the driver — most certainly a chauffeur — had to rough it while sitting on a leather-covered seat.)
Speaking of seats, the new car will be available with a massaging function based on the “hot-stone” method. The system was designed in cooperation with “physiotherapists and psychologists” and the seats have 14 separately actuated air cushions in the backrest, integrated with a warming function. There are six different massage programs to choose from.
There will be three different choices for rear seats, including “Executive Seating” which will recline 43-degrees, similar to those used in Maybachs, the now defunct luxury line that Mercedes launched early in the last decade to compete against Rolls-Royce. Push a button and the front passenger seat folds up and out of the way -- while still making sure the seat-mounted rear video screen is visible -- giving more leg room for the rear-seat passenger as the seat reclines. With the “hot stone” massage engaged and a video running with sound booming from a 1,500-watt, 24-speaker Burmester 3D Surround System, you may never want to leave your car.
Plus, you can make it smell any way you like. An “active perfuming system” is part of what Mercedes calls "Air Balance." If you like, you can switch on the system and choose from four different Mercedes-Benz designed fragrances: Nightlife, Freeside, Downtown and Sport, or even your own favorite scent. The perfume atomization system “individualizes the smell of the vehicle interior.” The changes are not permanent as no perfume molecules are deposited on fabric or clothing.
For the past 60 years, nearly each decade a new model S-Class has been the company’s launching pad for ground-breaking engineering innovations, such as a crash-proof fuel tank, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, air bags and dozens of others. Typically, the innovations would debut in the S-Class before making their way to other models in the lineup. This may be the S-Class that makes in-car pampering the new standard.