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There’s hardly a better way to see just how rapidly the automotive industry is progressing than comparing two subsequent generations of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. After all, each S-Class model represents the best of what’s on offer during its time – not counting the superfluous ultra-luxury offerings, that is.

Here we have the latest W222 S-Class next to its predecessor, the W221. Yes, technically, they are the V222 and V221 respectively, to reflect their long-wheelbase forms, but we’ll stick to the more commonly used codenames here, shall we?

The two generations are eight years apart. The latest W222 was first unveiled in 2013, while the W221 dates back to 2005. The latter, however, is shown here in its facelifted guise, introduced in 2009.

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Both are effectively the base models in Malaysia. Enjoying a full tax exemption by being a CKD hybrid, the fully-loaded W222 S 400 L Hybrid here is priced at RM587,800, while the W221 S 300 L was listed at RM659,888 when it was new.

The current model features a normally-aspirated 3.5 litre direct injection V6 engine with 306 hp and 370 Nm of torque, mated to a 27 hp/250 Nm electric motor integrated between the engine and the 7G-Tronic Plus gearbox. It crosses 100 km/h in 6.8 seconds, and has a claimed combined economy of 6.3 litres per 100 km.

In stark contrast, the previous-generation “entry-level” S-Class has a 3.0 litre port injection V6 unit that makes 231 hp and 300 Nm of torque, matched to a 7G-Tronic transmission. It takes 8.2 seconds to reach 100 km/h, while its claimed combined fuel consumption figure is 9.9 litres per 100 km. Compare the two engine bays and the generation gap is clear to be seen.

As per Mercedes’ standard practice, each new S-Class generation heralds a new design language for the brand, which is then adopted by the rest of the brand’s core models. The W221 clearly influenced the W204 C-Class and the W212 E-Class (more so in pre-facelift form), while W205 C-Class and the upcoming W213 E-Class are modelled after the W222.

The W222 has a much bolder, curvier design compared to its predecessor. It certainly draws a bigger visual presence, especially with its significantly bigger radiator grille, which, by the way, is now no longer attached to the bonnet as it was before.

Dimensions-wise, the new car is 20 mm longer (5,246 mm), 28 mm wider (1,899 mm) and 25 mm lower (1,496 mm) than the model it replaces. The wheelbase is unchanged, though, measuring in at 3,165 mm. Surprisingly, both models have very similar side profiles, as you can see below.

Though not visually apparent, the current model rides on much bigger wheels – 20-inch items compared to the W221’s 18-inchers. The new version also gains the use of run-flat tyres, which negates the need for a spare wheel. This frees up a big usable space under the boot floor, though the boot itself is actually smaller than before (510 vs 558 litres).

Full LED lights replace the bi-xenons on the old car, and the LED daytime running lights have been moved from the bumper into the headlight assembly. Round the back, the W222 appears far more modern, though both use near identical rectangle exhaust outlets.

As mentioned before, the W222 S 400 L Hybrid comes fully loaded, with Distronic Plus with Steering Assist and Stop&Go Pilot, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Night View Assist Plus, Active Blind Spot Assist and Pre-Safe Brake with Cross-Traffic Assist and City Brake systems all included as standard, compared to the relatively basic W221 S 300 L.

As different as they look outside, though, it’s inside where the bigger progress has been made. With the W222 cabin, Mercedes-Benz appears to have gunned for the Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, leaving the usual pack of the BMW 7 Series and Audi A8, as well as the W221 S-Class well behind. The X222 Mercedes-Maybach S-Class must have been on the designers’ minds, which is brilliant for “standard” S-Class owners.

The basic concept is largely unchanged – the wide double-screen instrumentation binnacle design appears on both models. This time though, the entire instrument panel is an LED screen (instead of just the speedometer in the W221) and the centre display is now a huge 12.3-inch screen.

Most clear to see is the shift from conventional rectangular air-con vents to retro-like circular ones. The centre analogue clock follows the new convention too. The Malaysian-spec S 400 L Hybrid comes with plenty of extras that are cost options in other markets, such as the designo sunburst brown high-gloss myrtle wood trim that also extends to the back of the front seats.

As far as major controls go, not much has changed. The climate control buttons are just under the vents, the seat controls are on the doors and the COMAND dial with shortcut keys is placed on the centre tunnel. The flip-open keypad (which was fitted to early W222 models) has been swapped for a touch panel, while the Airmatic controls have been moved by the COMAND dial (from between the upper screens).

Practically the entire dashboard, including the centre tunnel and door cards, is now wrapped in leather, compared to just the binnacle cover in the old model. Ambient lighting options has been upgraded too, from just three colours in the W221 to seven options in the W222. The sound system of choice has been changed again, from Bose in the W220, to Harman Kardon in the W221 and now Burmester in the W222.

The front seats in the newer model certainly look plusher, and are now heated and ventilated. Passengers seat significantly higher in the W222 compared to the W221 – this gives a more commanding view out of the car, but the higher seating position also tends to amplify the car’s pitch movements on the move.

The same theme applies to the rear too. The W222 S 400 L Hybrid is equipped with what’s labelled as the Luxury seat option, which offers a bigger range of adjustments for the two outer passengers, including lumbar and side bolsters. A choice of six massage programmes, two of them using the warming function, are offered.

The “boss seat” (rear passenger side) also gains a powered ottoman leg support with a footrest, and both rear seats feature super-cushy Comfort headrests too. What hasn’t changed between the two generations is the use of wireless COMAND remotes, though obviously the W222’s control interface looks far more modern (both front and rear).

So there you have it, two generations of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class compared. Inside and out, it’s a major leap forward in terms of design and tech. Impressed yet?


W222 Mercedes-Benz S 400 L Hybrid

W221 Mercedes-Benz S 300 L