The S-Class isn’t just a big deal for Mercedes-Benz — it’s the biggest deal. Not only in terms of sheer size, being Mercedes-Benz’s largest sedan offering, but in terms of being a flagship. It carries Benz’s most important technologies that will eventually distill down to other models. And now, there’s a new one.
Well, not entirely new. The 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class lineup only features some light aesthetic updates, since it’s just a mid-cycle update. There are some new rear bumpers, and both the headlights and taillights feature revised internals.
Inside, there’s a new three-spoke steering wheel with new controls, and a new Comand infotainment system lives inside two 12.3-inch screens housed under a single glass panel.
But the real interesting changes for 2018 haven’t yet been mentioned. It’s not the updated look, but rather the updated tech that you can’t immediately see, but will definitely experience. Let’s break the lineup down a bit to make it easier.
When standard isn’t very “standard”
Think of the base 2018 Mercedes-Benz S-Class as a “basic” flagship, capable of toting some of Mercedes’ most impressive tech, without the performance or chauffeur bent of other, more expensive variants.
The base S-Class has four trim levels. The S450, which is available in either rear- or all-wheel drive, packs a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 good for 362 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. The S560 is also offered with two or four driven wheels, but it wields a 4.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V8, with output rated at 463 hp and 516 torques. All four variants use nine-speed automatic transmissions.
There are a number of standard features, even on the least expensive Sonderklasse. Energizing Comfort links together a number of creature comforts, from massaging seats to the climate control and ambient lighting, in order to create a specific sort of ambience. There are six programs, each with their own on-screen graphics and audio accompaniment.
Its standard LED headlights can spread their beams ultra wide for better visibility. They can also scan the road ahead, looking for bumps, and they tilt to illuminate curves in the road, as well.
The steering wheel now features a pair of touch-sensitive buttons that act like smartphone controls. You can swipe through various things — music albums, for instance — without ever taking your hands off the wheel. The infotainment system includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well.
Active driver aids out the wazoo
Perhaps the most impressive update to the 2018 S-Class is its full complement of active and passive driver assistance systems. Since buzzwords only get you so far, let’s talk about what the systems actually do.
Adaptive cruise control is now capable of pacing traffic at more speeds. It can change vehicle speed based on road signs, and it can also slow the car ahead of curves, toll booths and roundabouts.
Its active lane-centering function will steer the car through tighter curves than before, and it’s capable of intervening even if the road lines are poorly applied or nonexistent. When the steering assistant is active, using the turn signals will result in an automated lane change, provided the path ahead is clear.
If a driver doesn’t respond to repeated requests to take the wheel, the car stop and unlock the doors so emergency services can access the driver, if need be. It can even call those emergency services on behalf of the driver.
It’s also capable of vehicle-to-X (V2X) communication, which lets cars can act as transmitters and receivers for short messages. One car can warn other drivers of upcoming road hazards or changing weather, which is expected to increase safety on roads in general.
It also packs a number of systems found in your average family car. It can watch your blind spot for traffic, warn you if the car is straying from the lane, and even bring you to a stop if the car ahead does so. The car can also make a sound that can help mitigate hearing loss as a result of a collision.
Get comfy in the Maybach
If you’d rather be driven than drive, grab a chauffeur and hop into the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class. This extended-wheelbase variant offers way more rear-seat luxury than the traditional S-Class.
It also features different models than the standard S. The Mercedes-Maybach S560 uses the same 4.0-liter V8 as the non-Maybach S560, with the same output — 463 hp and 516 pound-feet. If that’s not enough, the S650 brings a V12 to the party, which puts out 523 horsepower and 612 pound-feet of torque. The V8 packs a nine-speed automatic and all-wheel drive, whereas the V12 makes do with a seven-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive.
The Maybach twins include all the same standard stuff as the regular S-Class, except for the rear seats. Back there, you get an executive rear seat package with a 43-degree recline function and a power leg rest. It also ramps up the quantity of interior ambient lighting, and leather adorns just about every surface possible.
The Maybach also adds Magic Body Control, which uses a front-facing stereo camera to identify bad roads and adjust the air suspension accordingly. That bump you saw coming up? It’s like it wasn’t even there.
Aim for performance in AMG
If all you care about is driving, then skip over the Maybach and head straight for the two latest Mercedes-AMG offerings.
The Mercedes-AMG S63 uses a twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V8 like other models, but it turns up the wick to 603 horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque. If, for some reason, you want more, the S65 will throw you a V12-shaped bone that puts out 621 horsepower and 738 torques. As with the Maybach, the V8 AMG uses a nine-speed automatic and all-wheel drive, whereas the V12 removes two gears and two driven wheels.
The S63’s performance bent is reflected in both a more aggressive exterior and a sportier interior, with massive brakes, AMG-specific sport seats, a unique steering wheel, a stiffer suspension and a louder exhaust. The S63 also has a launch mode, which helps it reach 60 mph in a hilariously quick 3.4 seconds.
The V8 can also disable four cylinders under partial load, helping improve fuel economy. With the vehicle in Comfort mode, that range for deactivation widens, since sportiness isn’t necessarily the key focus in that mode.
The V12 ditches cylinder deactivation and launch mode in favor of Magic Body Control. Unlike the Maybach, though, the S65’s version of this active suspension can also tilt the vehicle’s body in curves, reducing the g-forces that the driver and passengers feel while turning.
Pricing is still TBD for all models, but Mercedes-Benz anticipates that the S450, S63 and Maybach S560 will be at dealerships by the fall. The S560, S65 and Maybach S650 will appear later, but should also be on sale by the end of the calendar year.