But it presents the most difficult dilemma: Should I drive? Or should I ride in the rear seat?
How much do you want to be spoiled? I mean really, really spoiled. We all know that when it comes to luxury, Mercedes-Benz is the go-to automaker, so of course we expect the brand to deliver on premium details like fine leather, cutting edge technology, and a powerful, quiet ride. But what we don’t expect is a car that is looking out for our health, that actually customizes the driver’s seat for you, that is a partner in your drive, guiding you and ensuring you arrive rested or even energized. That is the magic of the Mercedes-Benz S Class, which was recently redesigned and received top honors as World Luxury Car for 2021, and within the S line, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S580.
On first glance, the S580 has a fresh new look. On the outside, it has glowing new headlights, a sleeker silhouette, and new tail lights. It culls and culminates Mercedes-Benz’ most tech forward innovations, from the “Hey, Mercedes” voice assistant to spa mode (yes, it has spa mode!). With a 496-horsepower twin-turbo engine, it will send you sailing down the highway. It drives like a dream, as you expect from a top of the line Mercedes-Benz sedan, and with a starting price of about $109,000, it should.
Related: Peek into the Future of Mercedes-Benz: The New Mercedes-Benz S Class Super Luxe Sedan Leads The Way
A Modern New Cabin Is Defined by Intuitive Design and Technology
Setting foot into any Mercedes-Benz model can be intimidating. As a company driven by innovation and possibilities, those ideas are front and center in their vehicles. Drivers are typically greeted with dials, buttons, and gauges to ensure you have control in hand. Even the air conditioning vents have a round dial-like appearance to add to the cockpit look of the dashboard.
But now, the Mercedes-Benz S580 and S500 have streamlined interiors with more zen and a less busy look and feel. Drivers and passengers will find the touch-sensitive surfaces and minimalistic controls to be intuitive and easy to use. Even though there is more function than ever in this car, the command center is calm and elegant.
The touch screen display is simple and easy to navigate; below it a small touch sensitive panel allows instant access to radio volume and drive modes. Climate controls are positioned at the bottom of the touch screen, and an elegant array of apps allow you to select navigation, phone, Apple CarPlay, climate, and more. Even the air vents are integrated into the dashboard to be less obtrusive. Overall, the cabin is sublime and elegant.
Elegant and Subdued Details Belie the S580’s Power and Presence
With door panels that curve into the dash, leather covered surfaces, and seats designed to cradle their occupants, the cabin has a cocoon-like feeling. You won’t have to reach far, if at all, to find needed controls: From the “Hey, Mercedes” voice activated assistant that can adjust almost any setting in the cabin to the few necessary textured metal dials and touch controls, everything is intuitively where you need it.
The center console is covered by a retractable top that covers a wireless charger, USB-C ports, a storage cubby, and cup holders. With the console cover closed, the entire cabin has an even more sleek look. With it open and holding your phone, charge cables, coffee cup and water bottle, it looks like home.
This serene, elegant look, however, belies the world-class engineering at work. A turbo charged 4.0-liter V8 engine that generates up to 496 horsepower and 516 torque is a true thrill. And the not-overly-large body size, barely big enough to be considered a “limo,” and the rear axle steering (so yes, the rear wheels steer too) makes the S580 fun to drive and for a full size sedan, easy to park.
Translating Complex Ideas Into a Simple Function…A Rare Talent
The S Class was easy to hop in and go without a huge learning curve—a huge bonus. All too often luxury cars come with a learning curve. But not the S580. And as I drove, many of the car’s features revealed themselves. Like the augmented reality navigation (a feature I really love) on the center screen. As I approached a turn, a live video of the intersection overlaid with guidance graphics such as moving arrows, appear to give definitive directions. This is probably something you don’t need if you know where you’re going, but if you’re in an unfamiliar place, this is brilliant.
Another feature that was intuitively keeping me on the task is the head up display, which Mercedes Benz called augmented reality head up display. This is a colorful active driver information screen that projects motion graphics into your field of vision, so turn by turn direction arrows flow and move across the view in front of you to guide you. In addition to the motion graphics, the HUD displays speed, speed limit, active safety features that are in use, and more. Mercedes-Benz elevated the game of head up display significantly with this feature.
Is Your Seat Properly Positioned? Now You’ll Know for Certain
Another feature that I really loved is the adaptable seat setting. This one is one you may never know you need until you know you need it… then it’s critical. The fact is that many drivers, especially women, don’t position their seats properly for a good view of the road. Seat position is often set at the factory or at the dealership by… men. Tall men. Men who typically have longer torsos than women. And of course, even all men are not the same height. You should adjust the height, seat back and headrest as well as the distance from the pedals for an optimal view and command of the car.
Mercedes-Benz not only added additional functionality to the driver’s seat for a wider range of positioning, but created an automated system that will adjust the seat height based on your biometrics. It starts with a prompt on the driver information screen that can tell when your eyes are properly aligned with road, then prompts you to adjust your steering wheel for optimal capability. From there you can input your measurements into the MBUX, or Mercedes-Benz User Experience, system (or tell them to “Hey Mercedes” and the system will auto adjust your seat for you.
Now That Your Seat is Set… Get a Massage
Mercedes-Benz was the first automaker to take massaging seats mainstream(ish), offering the technology in a wide array of models. A couple of years ago, the company enhanced the massage idea by taking it full spa: you can now add heat or cooling, music to set the mood, diffused fragrance, graphics on the touch screen, and ambient lighting to really set the tone in the cabin. There are pre-programmed settings (based on the fragrance in the diffuser, which is interchangeable but it takes switching out the canister) for an energized mood, a calm mood, or a relaxing ride. You can completely customize your experience. I tried the Energizing Comfort setting and was pleasantly surprised. The mood was upbeat with massage and flowing cool air from the seats, blue and green lighting and energetic music. I would typically pick something more relaxing, such as a hot stone massage with magenta lighting and lilting music, but some might worry that this would put them to sleep behind the wheel.
Don’t worry, though, Mercedes-Benz has thought of that. The system will monitor your eyes, tension of your hands on the steering wheel and your driving habits and alert you if it thinks you need a break. It can even turn on the flashers and slow the car to a full stop if it needs to.
But The Biggest Decision May Be to Drive… Or Ride
The rear seat with the Executive Package, a $21,650 addition, adds limo-like details for rear seat passengers. It starts with seats that recline to a passenger-side extendable foot rest, neck warmers, suede pillows (front seat passengers get these too), and quilted leather seats. From there, the rear seat has a wireless phone charger, the Energizing Comfort package for rear seats, an entertainment system with dual screens and wireless headphones and rear passenger airbags, a first for this class of car.
Some of the other impressive innovations in the S580 Include:
- Seamless door handles that tuck into the body and pop out when activated by the smart key
- Ambient lighting that is bright enough to see even in daylight
- An air filtration system that not only cleans incoming air but freshens it with the in-car diffuser, so that stinky truck in front of you won’t spoil your day
- Microsuede pillows are available on all seats
- A headrest that moves forward or back so you don’t have to move your seat to accommodate a pony tail
- The massage experience is far better, more distinct and direct
- “Near-ear” speakers isolate sound so each passenger can have a personalized experience, such as only the driver can hear navigation instructions
- The driver information screen has 3D graphics
- Drivers can customize their experience using bio metric authentication with fingerprint and face recognition can be activated
- The Burmeister premium sound system has been enhanced for “3D Surround Sound”
- The EQ Boost electric motor adds up to 21 horsepower for short periods of time
And, some details that we love have been left alone, including:
- Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto with wireless phone charger
- 360 surround view camera, which comes in handy
- Panoramic sun roof
- “Hey Mercedes” MBUX user experience system; the company says it’s been enhanced, but not enough that I had a learning curve.
The S850 has a starting price of $116,000; the model we test drove topped out at about $144,000. It’s expensive but not prohibitive, especially if you’re the type of driver who likes the latest cool thing and exploring and discovering new delights. Most of these details are things we’ll start to see regularly on new cars—Mercedes-Benz models and others as the industry adapts these technologies (and personally, I can’t wait to see all these features roll out on their lineup of SUVs). But if you really want to be inside the crystal ball, the S580 is the place to start.
Disclosure: I was Mercedes-Benz’ guest for this test drive; travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own.