It’s impossible not to think of the previous six generations of Mercedes S-Class as you approach this seventh iteration. Think of them and pity such piffling technological world firsts as anti-lock brakes (1978, on the W116) or airbags (1981’s W126). Remember the awe you experienced the first time you saw a car with double-glazed windows (1991’s W140 behemoth)?
It’s tempting to fast-forward four decades and ponder what might lie in store for future masters of the universe, because this all-new S-Class – W223, if you’re so inclined – is arguably the biggest reset since the Sonderklasse first arrived in 1972. It’s a head-spinner, a car that looks further ahead than ever, and takes contemporary obsessions such as connectivity, digitisation, electrification and autonomy and gives them the mother and father of all Mercedes twists.
The S-Class hasn’t always demonstrated an ability to ‘read the room’, that double-glazed early Nineties incarnation arriving into a global recession with a bluff charmlessness that its successor swapped for a near-invisibility just as the good times got rolling again. This version underwhelms somewhat in the pictures but has the sort of restrained elegance in the flesh that you know its creators will have pored over forensically. (There’s always the new Maybach for those parts of the world and people impervious to pandemic and economic strife.)
In the UK, 80 per cent of S-Classes sold are the long wheelbase version; the new car has grown by 34mm in length to almost 5.3m, and it’s 1.92m wide. The longer wheelbase itself now measures 3,216mm. Elbow room for the driver has increased by 38mm, there’s 23mm for rear passengers, who also get 16mm more headroom.
The grille, as usual, has grown, the body-sides and flanks are simpler but still magnificently surfaced, the head- and tail-lights simpler to look at it but now containing the most phenomenally complex illumination technology. Multi-beam LEDs are standard, with Digital Light available as an option; this set-up uses three hugely powerful LEDs whose light is refracted and directed by 1.3m micro mirrors, equivalent to 2.6 million pixels of light overall. And it’s intelligent: if the car detects road works up ahead, it’ll project a road sign onto the road ahead as a driver warning. Or shine a light onto a pedestrian if need be. It’ll be like Close Encounters of the Third Kind.