Setting the standard in the luxury class for many decades

Oct 28, 2020

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class follows a long tradition that extends back to the beginnings of the Mercedes brand in the early 20th Century. With the experience gained from 135 years of automobile engineering,
Mercedes-Benz produces vehicles that take care of their occupants' safety and offers a comprehensive luxury experience that leaves owners more time for the important things in life. Each model has decisively influenced the automotive engineering of its era. Well before the official designation S-Class, the models in the executive and luxury class were the mainstay of the Stuttgart-based company's portfolio and have always stood for luxury, comfort, safety and lifestyle. The continuous ancestry of the S-Class begins with the model 220 (W 187) of 1951.

The unrivalled tradition of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has roots that extend back to the beginnings of the Mercedes brand in the early 20th century. One early and very telling example is the Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP presented in 1903. In subsequent years, the product ranges of the Mercedes and Benz brands always featured several models in the executive and luxury class. Although open touring cars were the most popular body type at this time, the more powerful models in particular were also offered as luxurious saloons.

All this changed in the mid-1920s. In a time of increasing motorisation and traffic densities which the development of the road network was unable to match, safe driving characteristics, a comfortable interior and the best possible protection from wind, rain and dust became increasingly important. Saloon cars and Pullman models gradually prevailed over the open touring models. Important executive and luxury class models during this period were the supercharged Mercedes six-cylinder 15/70/100 hp and 24/100/140 hp models which appeared at the end of 1924. In 1928, following the 1926 merger between the two previously independent companies founded by Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler to form Daimler-Benz AG, the model range was joined by the Model Nürburg 460 (W 08) as the first
Mercedes-Benz production car with an eight-cylinder engine. With continuous further developments it remained in the model range until 1939, with the Model 500 as the last variant. From 1926 the entry-level model to the Mercedes-Benz executive class was the six-cylinder 12/55 HP, which was developed further to culminate in the Mercedes-Benz Mannheim 370 (W 10) introduced in 1931. 1933 saw the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz 290 (W 18) as a completely new design which was replaced by the Model 320 (W 142) in 1937.

When the model range was expanded with the Model 170 S from the lineage of the E-Class, company chairman Wilhelm Haspel introduced the S as the new model designation in 1949. He declared that the letter S stood for "Super" or "Special". Since the launch of the 220 S in 1956, it has been in continuous use by Mercedes-Benz in the luxury segment. The designation "S-Class" was officially introduced with the 116 series in 1972.

From the W 187 to the "Ponton Mercedes" (1951 to 1959)

In the post-war period, the direct lineage of the S-Class began with the six-cylinder Model 220 (W 187), with which Mercedes-Benz reentered the upper-class segment in 1951. In 1954 this was followed by a completely new model with the same designation. The new Model 220, also known internally as the 220 a (W 180), was the first Mercedes-Benz six-cylinder model of monocoque construction.

Its modern, spacious "Ponton" body provided a previously unknown level of comfort. In 1956, with the introduction of the improved and more powerful Model 220 S, the letter S became a permanent fixture in the nomenclature of the Mercedes-Benz luxury class. 1958 saw the début of the 220 SE (W 128), a more powerful variant of the luxury class model by virtue of petrol injection.

From the "Tailfin" to the high-performance saloon (1959 to 1972)

The "Tailfin" models 220, 220 S and 220 SE (W 111) introduced in 1959 derived their nickname from the guide fins on the rear wings. This new generation of the luxury class was a special milestone in automotive history, as this was when the safety body with crumple zones and a rigid passenger cell conceived by Béla Barényi first entered series production. The top model in this series, the 300 SE (W 112) presented in 1961, featured an air suspension system and the automatic transmission newly developed by Mercedes-Benz as standard.

In 1963 the long-wheelbase version of this model founded a new tradition for the luxury class saloons of
Mercedes-Benz: The 100-millimetre longer wheelbase gave passengers in the rear a significant increase in legroom and travelling comfort. In 1965 the saloons of the 108 and 109 series replaced the "Tailfin" models. These distinguished themselves with their elegant, timeless design and generously sized windows. As well as models with a conventional steel suspension – internally designated the 108 series – there were air-sprung variants (109 series) which were likewise available with a longer wheelbase. In 1968 the 300 SEL 6.3 was presented as a special highlight. The new top model in the series was equipped with the powerful V8 engine of the Mercedes-Benz 600 (W 100), and offered sports car-like performance together with outstanding comfort.

Automotive trendsetters: the 116 and 126 series (1972 to 1991)

The name given to the 116 series introduced in 1972 now expressed what had been the norm at Mercedes-Benz for decades: the luxury class saloons bearing the "S" in their model designations were now officially known as the S-Class. The new designation was accompanied by a wealth of innovations. The integral safety concept included e.g. the collision-protected fuel tank, a four-spoke safety steering wheel, anti-soiling side windows, large headlamps, conspicuous indicators and ribbed, dirt-repelling rear lights. In 1977, the diesel era began in the luxury class with the 300 SD, though initially only for the North American markets. At the same time, the luxury diesel was the first production car with a turbodiesel engine. From 1978 the S-Class was the world's first car to be available with the anti-lock braking system ABS, which ensures steerability even during emergency braking. A world sensation at the time, ABS is nowadays an automotive standard.

The technology transfer from the S-Class to the other Mercedes-Benz model series, and then to the models of other manufacturers until it became state of the art, was systematically continued in subsequent years. In the 126 series introduced in 1979, the airbag became a central element in automobile safety in 1981. Other attributes of this S-Class generation were the aerodynamically optimised shape and systematic weight reduction for lower pollutant emissions, partly thanks to new light-alloy V8 engines. The 126 series also made its mark in terms of design: It was the first Mercedes-Benz passenger car to dispense with traditional chrome bumpers in favour of deformable plastic bumpers that could withstand a minor parking collision without damage.

Luxury in its highest form: the 140 and 220 series (1991 to 2005)

In 1991 the 140-series S-Class was the new flagship model. Its developers concentrated on maximum comfort, for example through generous dimensions and double glazing for optimised acoustic insulation. The top 600 SE and 600 SEL models were the first Mercedes-Benz production cars to be powered by a V12 engine. The entry level in terms of power was marked by the 300 SD Turbodiesel, which now made the luxury class diesel available outside North America as well. This generation of the S-Class likewise introduced a trailblazing safety innovation in automobile engineering: ESP®, which became standard equipment in the V12 variants from 1995 and was optional equipment for the V8 models. Brake Assist BAS was added in the following year.

When the time for a model changeover came in 1998, the new 220-series S-Class was given a more understated design. The major development aims were to save weight while further improving safety and comfort. Despite dispensing with the weight-intensive double glazing, the new model generation offered even further improved comfort thanks to e.g. the new, electronically controlled AIRMATIC air suspension, the control and display system COMAND and the innovative intelligent cruise control system DISTRONIC. The active Active Body Control (ABC) suspension available from 1999 reduced body roll and achieved a previously unknown level of refinement. Customers with sporty ambitions were attracted to the S 55 AMG: an AMG model was officially shown in the S-Class price list for the first time. In autumn 2002, the S 600 as the regular top model without an AMG badge was treated to a power increase which enabled it to break the 368 kW (500 hp) barrier for the first time. At the same time a further trailblazing innovation had its debut on the 220 series: the preventive occupant protection system PRE-SAFE®. With the model facelift, Mercedes-Benz also offered the S-Class with the intelligent all-wheel drive system 4MATIC for the first time.

Trailblazing innovations: the 221 series (2005 to 2013)

The 221 model generation presented in 2005 combined an expressive exterior with a luxurious interior. The central controller of the further improved COMAND system allowed fast and intuitive control of the increasingly complex functions and menus. The pioneering technical innovations included active Night View Assist and further developments of the distance control system DISTRONIC PLUS and Brake Assist Plus, which were expanded to form PRE-SAFE® Brake with autonomous partial braking in 2006. Further assistance systems such as Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Speed Limit Assist also relieved the driver's workload.

The updated generation of the 221 series appeared in 2009. The S 400 HYBRID was the first luxury-class vehicle with a hybrid drive system, and also the first standard-production passenger car with a lithium-ion battery. Introduced in 2010, the S 350 BlueTEC as a diesel variant and the S 350 and S 500 BlueEFFICIENCY with economical and powerful direct-injection petrol engines were models of efficiency. In early 2011 Mercedes-Benz introduced a highly-efficient four-cylinder engine into the S-Class for the first time with the S 250 CDI.

With networked safety systems: the 222 series (2013 to 2020)

The 222-series S-Class introduced in 2013 set new technical standards, e.g. as the first car in the world to dispense completely with light bulbs and feature only energy-saving LED technology both in the exterior and interior. Outstanding efficiency was ensured by modern powertrains, also using hybrid technology.

The S-Class became even more of a guiding star in automobile development with the Intelligent Drive system. It is under this name that Mercedes-Benz groups all of its networked safety and driving assistance systems. Intelligent Drive makes driving even safer and more comfortable than before. These also include assistance systems that relieve driver stress and can make semi-automated driving possible.

As early as August 2013, the S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle covered the historic Bertha-Benz route from Mannheim to Pforzheim to show how the future of autonomous driving might look with such networked technologies: Its systems were able to master the highly complex requirements of an autonomous journey along country roads and in urban traffic.

The next development stage of Intelligent Drive took another major step towards autonomous driving in the facelifted variant of the 222 series, which was presented in summer 2017: For example, Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC and Active Steering Assist give the driver even more convenient support when keeping a safe distance and steering. Standard equipment for the 222-series S-Class from model year 2017 included Active Brake Assist, Crosswind Assist, ATTENTION ASSIST, Traffic Sign Assist, the occupant protection system PRE-SAFE® and the new PRE-SAFE® Sound.