The Evolution of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class: 50 Years of Luxury, Fascination, and Innovation
The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been a pioneer in the automotive industry for 50 years, consistently paving the way for new technological advancements. From the introduction of the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) to the world's first Level 3 and 4 autonomous driving functions, the S-Class has made a name for itself as a technology leader.
But the S-Class's impressive career doesn't stop there. In the last 50 years, it has also been responsible for a number of other major milestones and has produced some legendary models. Here are all seven generation of the iconic Mercedes-Benz S-Class:
Generation 1: W116 (1972-1980)
In the fall of 1972, Mercedes-Benz introduced a new generation of vehicles with the internal designation 160. This marked the official debut of the S-Class, although top models from the brand had previously carried the "S" designation in their names.
The initial S-Class lineup included the 280S and 280SE, powered by a six-cylinder inline engine, and the 350SE, which featured a V8 engine. A few months later, the more powerful 4.5 liter V8 engine from the 450 SL was also introduced in the S-Class. The top of the line model at the time was the 450 SL 6.9, which had a peak performance of 286 PS and could go from 0 to 100 in just 7.4 seconds.
In addition to the new engines, the first S-Class also featured two technical innovations: an improved double wishbone front suspension from the C11 prototype vehicle and the groundbreaking Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), developed in conjunction with Bosch. ABS was first introduced in the S-Class sedans in 1978.
Another unique S-Class variant made its debut in the US and Canada in 1978: the 300 SD. This was the first top-class sedan with a diesel engine. The 3 liter, five-cylinder turbo engine was designed to meet the new fuel consumption standards set by the US government. The 300 SD was also the last model of the W116 generation, which ended production in 1980 after eight years and a total of 473,350 units built at the Sindelfingen plant.
Generation 2: W126 (1979-1991)
The second generation of the S-Class, the W126, marked the end of the traditional chrome bumper. Plastic-covered bumpers became a part of the front and rear fenders. Comfort, safety, and efficiency were the main focus of the W126's development. Materials that reduced weight and lower air resistance contributed to a 10% reduction in fuel consumption.
The engine range for the W126 included a 2.8 liter six-cylinder carbureted engine with 156 PS, as well as a 5 liter V8 with fuel injection and 240 PS. The new V8 engines with aluminum crankcases offered the best of both worlds, delivering improved performance while also being more fuel efficient.
In 1985, the W126 received a facelift that included redesigned headlights and bumpers, as well as a new interior. The lineup was also expanded to include the 420 SEL, 560 SEL, and 560 SEC. The S-Class also became the first car to offer a passenger airbag as an option.
Generation 3: W140 (1991-1998)
The third generation of the S-Class, the W140, was launched in 1991 and featured a more aerodynamic design. It was also the first S-Class to offer the option of long-wheelbase versions. The W140 was available with a range of inline six and V8 engines, as well as a V12 engine in the top-of-the-line 600 SEL model.
The W140 also introduced a number of new safety features, such as electronic stability control and a system that automatically adjusted the headlights to the driving situation. In 1993, the W140 became the first production car with a radar-based collision warning system.
Generation 4: W220 (1998-2005)
The fourth generation of the S-Class, the W220, was launched in 1998 and featured a more modern and streamlined design. It was also the first S-Class to offer a seven-speed automatic transmission. The W220 was available with a range of inline six and V8 engines, as well as a V12 engine in the top-of-the-line S 600 model.
In addition to its updated design and new transmission, the W220 also introduced a number of innovative safety features. It was the first car to offer a night vision assist system, which used a thermal imaging camera to detect pedestrians and animals in the dark. The W220 also had a system that could detect drowsy or inattentive drivers and alert them to take a break.
Generation 5: W221 (2005-2013)
The fifth generation of the S-Class, the W221, was launched in 2005 and featured a more muscular and aggressive design. It was available with a range of inline six, V8, and V12 engines, as well as the option of a hybrid powertrain in the S 400 Hybrid model.
The W221 introduced a number of new technologies, including a fully automatic panoramic sunroof, a touchpad controller for the infotainment system, and a parking assist system that could parallel park the car for you. It also offered a range of advanced safety features, such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and a 360-degree camera system.
Generation 6: W222 (2013-2020)
The sixth generation of the S-Class, the W222, was launched in 2013 and featured a more elegant and refined design. It was available with a range of inline six, V8, and V12 engines, as well as the option of a plug-in hybrid powertrain in the S 560 e model.
The W222 introduced a number of new technologies, such as a head-up display, a touch-sensitive control panel, and a system that could automatically adjust the suspension to the driving conditions. It also had a range of advanced safety features, including a steering assist system that could help keep the car in its lane and a predictive brake assist system that could help prevent collisions.
Generation 7: W223 (2020-present)
The seventh and current generation of the S-Class, the W223, was launched in 2020 and features a more futuristic and sleek design. It is available with a range of inline six and V8 engines, as well as the option of a plug-in hybrid powertrain in the S 450 e model.
The W223 introduces a number of new technologies, such as a fully digital instrument cluster, a new generation of the brand's MBUX infotainment system, and a system that can adjust the car's suspension to the road surface. It also offers a range of advanced safety features, including a lane change assist system that can detect vehicles in blind spots and a highway assist system that can help keep the car in its lane on the highway.
As the Mercedes-Benz S-Class approaches its 50th anniversary, it remains a symbol of luxury, fascination, and innovation in the automotive industry. From its groundbreaking technological advancements to its iconic design and advanced safety features, the S-Class has cemented its place as a leader in the industry and will no doubt continue to push the boundaries for many more years to come.