Well, this is it – Mercedes-Benz’s self-proclaimed “best car in the world” has entered its seventh generation, and after plenty of spyshots, teasers and leaks, the real deal is finally here. The W223 S-Class promises a wealth of segment-busting features to maintain its status as the business express of choice.

There’s plenty to get through, from the advanced infotainment technologies to the promise of Level 3 semi-autonomous driving capabilities and even the ability to completely self-park without a driver. So let’s get straight into it, shall we?

Big grille, Digital Light headlamps, pared-back surfaces

As we’ve already seen via the leaks, the new S-Class will sport a completely new look very much in line with the facelifted W213 E-Class. Yes, this design direction means that the grille is now positively enormous, likely eclipsing the already-massive snout on the BMW 7 Series. Reaching more than halfway down the bumper, it has a slimmer chrome surround, integrates the car’s various cameras and sensors and continues to use the bonnet-mounted freestanding three-pointed star.

The trapezoidal headlights, on the other hand, are slimmer and wider and feature arrow-shaped LED daytime running lights and indicators. The three-point lighting signature beside each projector marks the S-Class out as the flagship of the range (the E-Class, by comparison, has two points of light).

Multibeam LED headlights with 84 diodes come as standard, while the optional Digital Light units use 1.3 million micro-mirrors to deliver 2.6 million pixels of resolution. This increases the precision of the Highbeam Assist by over 100 times compared to the Multibeam system and enables all sorts of information to be projected to the road ahead. This includes warning symbols for recognised roadworks, highlights of pedestrians, road signs, and guidelines when travelling through roadworks.

The Digital Light lamps will even adjust the beam to suit the topography, based on navigation data. They will, for instance, be pointed downwards when cresting a hill to avoid blinding oncoming road users, and pivoted upwards when at the bottom of a hill to maintain an optimum light throw. Drivers will also be able to enjoy a light show whenever they approach or depart from the car.

The side profile has been cleaned up with optional pop-up door handles that sit flush when not in use, while the shoulder crease has been pushed upwards to be in line with the window line. A chrome strip along the flanks of the car accentuates its length. Wheel options measure between 18 and 21 inches in diameter.

At the rear of the car, the tail lights are now two-piece and take on a triangular shape, similar to the ones on the CLS – although the number plate recess remains on the boot lid. The lamps themselves have a pixelated look to them and can perform various animated sequences. A full-width chrome strip connects the upper edges of the lamps and visually broadens the car.

Aerodynamics play a big role in the new S-Class’ design. Although the frontal area has been increased slightly, the overall drag coefficient has dropped, now starting from just 0.22. At the front, slits in the bumper direct air into a chamber, combining with hot air from the engine compartment and preventing the interruption of airflow ahead of the front wheels.

This combination of cold and warm air is then channeled into the wheel wells, promoting airflow under the car and around the front wheels. Improvements to the underbody and components such as the door mirrors and wheels further improve aerodynamics.

Nautical-inspired interior, first-class seating

Inside, the new S-Class again boasts a step-change in its architecture. Expansive wraparound wood trim covers the minimalist dashboard, on top of which sits a massive touchscreen that flows neatly into the centre console. The air vents consist of two slim vertical slots on either side of the wood trim, plus four rectangular vents above the centre screen.

Mercedes says that the unusually large wood trim has been inspired by a ship’s deck and flowing lines, and has been meticulously sculpted in clay during the design process. With the big touchscreen, the designers have been able to reduce the number of physical buttons into just a single strip below the display, as well as the usual Mercedes door-mounted seat controls (now pressure-sensitive instead of being movable).

The 64-colour ambient lighting has also been upgraded. Consisting of a total of 250 LEDs (up from just 40 before), it is exceedingly bright at 200 candelas per m2, making it visible even in daylight. It will also now respond to various vehicle functions, flashing red light for the collision warning, lane departure warning and door opening warning, along with providing an animation when the “Hey Mercedes” voice control is activated.

Comfort is an important factor for a chauffeur-driven car like the S-Class, and the new one will be even more of a sensory deprivation tank. Despite rumours to the contrary, the W223 will still be offered in a standard-wheelbase configuration alongside the long-wheelbase model, but whichever one you pick, Mercedes promises increased space for both front and rear occupants.

That’s partly down to the larger dimensions. The new S-Class measures 5,179 mm long in standard-wheelbase form and 5,289 mm as the long-wheelbase V223, making these cars 54 mm and 34 mm longer than their predecessors respectively. The car is also 22 mm wider (1,921 mm with the flush door handles) and 10 mm taller (1,503 mm), while the wheelbase has grown by 71 mm on the short-wheelbase model (3,106 mm) and 51 mm on the long-wheelbase car (3,165 mm).

In particular, rear passengers get more knee room with the optional reclining seats in their most recumbent position. Elbow room has also increased by 38 mm for the driver and up to 23 mm for rear passengers, while rear headroom is up by 16 mm. The boot, meanwhile, is now 20 litres larger at 550 litres.

The seats themselves have been redesigned, with a flowing three-dimensional design that is said to be integrated with the rest of the interior like a seashell. They are also available with new “comfy pillow” headrests with a built-in neck warmer at the rear.

The seats are also now heated and cooled using radial fans and come with six inflatable bladders for the massage function; the bladders sit closer to the surface to give you a more defined massage. The W223 is also the first S-Class to come with Mercedes’ Energizing seat kinetics function, which will periodically make minute adjustments to the seating position to improve posture and comfort.

Elsewhere, the driving position has been improved thanks to a better alignment of the seat and steering wheels, together with the increased adjustment of both. The new S-Class also comes with an Adapt function, which will adjust the seat, steering wheel and mirrors to the correct position by simply inputting your height into the Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) system.

At the back, buyers can choose from a choice of five seating options, including the standard fixed pews and a reclining option. Long-wheelbase models are also available with two individual rear seats and a first class-style centre console, as well as executive seats with further increased recline on the passenger’s side. Leather choices include Lugano hide with longitudinal stitching, as well as the quilted Exclusive Nappa.

Optional OLED portrait touchscreen, upgraded MBUX

Buyers can choose from two options for the centre display. The standard touchscreen is an 11.9-inch LCD display with a resolution of 1,624×1,728 pixels. The optional portrait OLED panel measures 12.8 inches across and has a resolution of 1,888×1,728 pixels, offering greater contrast and deeper blacks.

The digital instrument cluster, on the other hand, is a 12.3-inch display that is optionally available with a three-dimensional effect; it works by tracking your eyes using stereo cameras. You can also add the MBUX high-end rear entertainment system with twin 11.inch displays, plus a full-fledged 7.0-inch Android tablet which can be docked into the rear centre armrest.

Last but not least are two variants of head-up displays, the larger of which coming with augmented reality technology. With an effective display area of 77 inches across, the screen can overlay navigation directions and driver assistance system information onto the view ahead, appearing at a distance of 10 metres.

The MBUX system has itself been upgraded. Occupants will now be able to share content such as videos with each other, and rear passengers will be able to programme the navigation system by themselves. Personal preferences can be stored into a profile and transferred to any seat, with the system being able to identify each user (and thus bring up their preferences) through fingerprint, facial and voice recognition.

The “Hey Mercedes” voice control system also now supports 27 languages, understands multiple consecutive commands and is able to perform an action without the user having to use the activation phrase, such as when accepting a call. Rear occupants will also be able to use the system, thanks to the use of several microphones to detect the location of each occupant’s voice.

Also new is smart home device integration (allowing you to check the status of your home and operate various appliances) and an updated MBUX Interior Assistant. The latter recognises gestures such as looking over your shoulder (it will open the rear sunblind for a better view out) and can even use the eye-tracking camera to detect if you’re falling asleep behind the wheel and sound a warning.

Three sound system options will be made available, including two Burmester systems. The range-topping 4D surround sound variant features 1,750 watts of power and a whopping 31 speakers, including exciter speakers in each seat for a really intense listening experience. It also gets speakers in the front headrests – just like a Mazda MX-5 – for clearer calls and navigation instructions. Both Burmester systems incorporate an in-car communication system that amplifies conversations between the front and rear occupants.

Four petrol and diesel variants, plug-in hybrid coming in 2021

From launch, the S-Class will be available in four variants, with 4Matic all-wheel drive being made standard on all but one (it’s optional on the last one). On the petrol side, both the S 450 4Matic and S 500 4Matic are powered by the same 3.0 litre M256 turbocharged straight-six with differing outputs – in the S 450, it makes 367 PS from 5,500 to 6,100 rpm and 500 Nm of torque between 1,600 and 4,500 rpm.

The S 500 bumps those figures up to 435 PS from 5,900 to 6,100 rpm and 520 Nm between 1,800 and 5,500 rpm. In both applications, the engine comes with a 48-volt integrated starter/generator that powers a second electric compressor and delivers an additional 22 PS/250 Nm of accelerative boost. There’s little between these two from zero to 100 km/h – the S 450 does it in 5.1 seconds; the S 500 in 4.9 seconds.

Meanwhile, the oil burner variants get a 3.0 litre OM656 straight-six turbodiesel – the S 350 d makes 286 PS from 3,400 to 4,600 rpm and 600 Nm between 1,200 and 3,200 rpm, while the S 400 d 4Matic delivers 330 PS from 3,600 to 4,200 rpm and a thumping 700 Nm.

Fuel consumption figures range from 7.8 to 9.5 litres per 100 km for the S 450 4Matic and from 8.0 litres per 100 km for the S 500 4Matic. For the diesel models, those figures drop to between 6.4 and 7.7 litres per 100 km for the S 350 d, 6.6 to 8.0 litres per 100 km for the S 350 d 4Matic and 6.7 to 8.0 litres per 100 km for the S 400 d 4Matic. All figures are based on the WLTP cycle.

Mercedes says there will be a V8 with the 48-volt ISG coming soon, as well as a plug-in hybrid model with up to 100 km of all-electric range that will arrive in 2021. The image above shows that the PHEV’s charging port has now been moved from the rear bumper to the rear fender, on the opposite side to the fuel filler.

Aluminium-rich structure, up to 60 kg lighter

Under the skin, the S-Class uses a combination of steel and aluminium, with more than 50% of its weight consisting of the latter. The structure features hot-stamped high strength cross members in the firewall and rear end, extruded aluminium side sills, and ultra-high-strength and press-hardened steel in the floor. There are also aluminium and high-strength steel pillars and cast aluminium nodal points. Aluminium body panels contribute to a quoted weight saving of up to 60 kg over the previous model.

The front subframe is made up of an annular upper structure, extruded aluminium side members and an integral carrier that supports the engine, steering and lower suspension arms. The latter directs longitudinal forces towards the more rigid floor structure in a frontal collision, while additional polymer connecting points absorb energy during the initial phase of the collision. The S-Class also provides protection for the other vehicle involved, via a front flexural member that provides a stable and broad impact surface.

At the rear, there are two crumple zones. The extruded aluminium side members dissipate impact forces, while cast aluminium sections surrounding the fuel tank keep the area relatively free from intrusion. In an offset collision, both front and rear structures can activate the unaffected side to improve protection.

E-Active Body Control suspension, rear-wheel steering with increased angle

The new S-Class continues to feature four-link front suspension and a multilink setup at the rear, with aluminium used on the front wheel location components and the rear axle carrier. As standard, the car comes with Airmatic air suspension with adaptive dampers, while the new, optional E-Active Body Control system replaces the previous Magic Body Control.

First seen on the GLE, the 48-volt E-Active Body Control provides active damping and support on each corner, keeping the car level on rough roads or during acceleration and cornering. This means the S-Class can have a wide gamut of dynamic characteristics, providing both a comfortable ride and agile handling.

The car retains the Road Surface Scan feature from the outgoing model, using stereo cameras to detect pockmarked roads and adjusting the suspension to suit. The Curve function also allows it to tilt into a bend like a motorcycle, reducing the lateral forces acting on the occupants.

One highlight of the new S-Class is the upgraded rear-wheel steering, now optionally available in two variants. In addition to the usual 4.5-degree system, you can now get the car with an increased rear steering angle of ten degrees. This not only makes the S-Class look like a forklift at full lock but, together with the more direct front steering ratio, it also shortens the turning circle by up to two metres, reducing the diameter to under 11 metres. That’s comparable to an A-Class, apparently.

To ensure more precise and stable handling, the car integrates the actuation of the steering and brakes. As you can imagine, the increased rear steering angle works wonders in parking, and the Active Parking Assist has been upgraded to take full advantage, integrating the rear steer for improved trajectory planning.

New rear frontal airbag, increased side collision protection

Safety-wise, the S-Class debuts the world’s first rear frontal airbag, available as an option. It’s located behind the front seats and features a slightly different design to what we’re used to. Instead of the entire volume being inflated by compressed gas, here it’s only the tubular wings, with the main airbag itself absorbing the surrounding air through specially-designed valves in the skin.

This enables it to be softer and deploy with less force to reduce the risk of injury, as the rear seats are still required to accommodate child seats. Of course, the airbag is designed to work with the seat belts (which, by the way, are inflatable and come with their own airbags), so all the more reason to buckle up at the rear. Speaking of which, you can now get illuminated “designer” seat belt buckles to make them easier to fasten.

Crash safety is further improved by the new centre airbag between the driver and passenger, as well as an additional feature for Pre-Safe Impulse Side. With the E-Active Body Control system fitted, the car can raise the ride height (by as much as 80 mm) in a fraction of a second if it detects an impending side collision, allowing the stronger lower body structure to take the brunt of the impact.

Level 3 hands-free driving coming next year, Level 4 autonomous parking in the future

The available driver assistance systems have also been upgraded. The S-Class now comes standard with a whole host of features, including autonomous emergency braking with improved cross traffic and pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control (now preventing collisions at up to 130 km/h), lane centring assist, lane change assist, evasive steering assist, active emergency stop assist and blind spot monitoring.

As the MBUX Interior Assistant is able to detect if the driver or front passenger is reaching the door handle, the door opening warning can now also sound an alert earlier, using visual cues such as the door mirror blind spot warning triangle and the ambient lighting. Just like on the facelifted BMW 5 Series, the new S-Class will also be able to divert itself to give way to emergency services.

But the biggest news is the Drive Pilot system, which Mercedes says will allow for Level 3 semi-autonomous driving on selected highway sections in dense traffic at speeds of up to 60 km/h. On top of the existing sensors for the driver assistance systems, there’s an additional lidar sensor, a rear camera and microphones for detecting the presence of emergency services. High-definition mapping also provides precise information of road geometry, route profile, traffic signs and incidents like accidents and roadworks.

All this will allow the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel and perform other tasks like browsing the Internet. If need be – such as when the selected section ends, or if traffic congestion eases – the system will prompt the driver to retake control within ten seconds, failing which the car will come to a complete stop and notify emergency services.

Mercedes aims to roll out the technology in Germany starting in the second half of next year, and in other countries once it is legally allowed to. Over-the-air updates will enable the system to perform at higher speeds and in a broader range of situations.

The Parking Assist system now features 12 improved ultrasonic sensors at the front and rear, along with autonomous emergency braking in reverse with pedestrian detection. The optional 360-degree camera system provides better vacant parking space recognition, including the detection of parking spaces using painted markings – instead of simply using the spaces in between vehicles.

With the system fitted, Parking Assist will now brake for pedestrians whether moving forwards or back, and Mercedes says that it is actually possible to prevent collisions around the entire vehicle, while conforming to strict UNECE R79 regulations for automated parking. The Remote Parking Assist feature – which allows users to park their car remotely, as the name suggests – has also been improved with increased smartphone support, thanks to the adoption of WiFi connectivity.

Additionally, a 3D view for the 360-degree camera allows drivers to rotate and even zoom the image to provide a better look of the surroundings, with the model of the car being able to show not only the indicators and brake lights, but also if the doors are open or the mirrors folded – things that can obscure the operation of the surround view monitor.

And that’s not all – as the ultimate party trick, buyers will be able to add preinstallation for Intelligent Parking Pilot, a Level 4 autonomous parking feature. What this means is that once the system is approved for legal use, the car will be able to park itself without a driver – if the multistorey car park has the required infrastructure installed, of course.