The arrival of a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a big deal. As the company’s flagship, the S-Class is always the first to get Mercedes’ latest and greatest innovations before they trickle down to the rest of the lineup. On the infotainment tech front, the 2021 S-Class — which officially made its debut Wednesday — offers a massive upgrade. Here are the five things you need to know.
2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Our first look at new luxury
Up to 5 screens, and one of them is 3D
You’ll be able to get an S-Class with as many as five screens. Front and center, every S-Class will come standard with a 12.8-inch OLED touchscreen, which serves as the main vehicle control display. Mercedes says this eliminates 27 buttons from the center console, though unlike Tesla, the S-Class’ interior functions aren’t solely controlled via this touchscreen. The headlights, windshield wipers, window switches, etc., will continue to be found in their usual places. Even the climate controls, while digitally housed in the 12.8-inch screen, will be locked to the bottom of the display for easy access.
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To the left, drivers will have a digital gauge cluster with different themes (called Discreet, Sporty, Exclusive, Classic — use your imagination to decipher them). For the new S-Class, Mercedes is introducing a 3D display that is, deep breath, “achieved by the sophisticated combination of a conventional LCD display with a special pixel structure and a controllable LCD aperture grille.” This is definitely something I’ll have to see in person to truly understand, but Mercedes says it’s like looking at a screen while wearing 3D glasses, just, uh, without the glasses. Neat!
Rear-seat passengers can have as many as three screens at their disposal, all of which run individual versions of the full MBUX suite — not some partial version like a lot of other back-seat entertainment systems. This means passengers can set or alter navigation instructions on the fly, control vehicle settings and so on. But interestingly, passengers will be able to share things like an address or favorite radio station with other people in the car simply by sending it to their respective screens. So like, when I want my chauffeur, Andrew Krok, to put on SiriusXM Faction Punk (channel 314), instead of barking orders at him like I normally would, I can just send the channel up front. Boom, it’s done.
Fingerprint recognition for driver profiles
That high level of personalization brings me to my next topic: MBUX’s integration with the Mercedes Me cloud-based app. Drivers can scan a QR code in the car, and the S-Class will automatically connect to the user’s profile, which sets your favorite radio stations, destinations, vehicle settings, you know the drill. You can even choose which seat to send this to — maybe one day you’re the driver, maybe the next you’re riding in back, and you can bring your specific preferences to any seat in the house.
As many as seven different user profiles can be stored in the S-Class. Plus, because it’s all cloud-based, these profiles can be used in other Mercedes-Benz vehicles that use this next-gen MBUX tech, as well.
Drivers use a PIN to connect the S-Class and the Mercedes Me cloud app. But with the new S-Class’ system, fingerprint scanning, facial and voice recognition are also built in. This is also helpful to verify the adjustment of major vehicle settings, or for virtual payment with connected services (such as ordering food on the go).
Facial recognition can predict when you’re getting out of the car
Expanding on the biometric capabilities, Mercedes is enhancing the way its facial-recognition tech affects vehicle functions. Many of the company’s current products will use the blind-spot monitoring system to alert you if there’s an oncoming car or cyclist when you go to open the door, say when parallel-parked. But in the S-Class, the system can activate when the cameras detect your intention of getting out of the car. The ambient lighting even becomes a part of this operation, flashing red if it thinks you’re about to open your door and hit an oncoming jogger. I’ll be super curious to see how touchy this system is in the real world.
Mercedes-Benz already has technology in the new GLE-Class and GLS-Class SUVs that can position your seat based on body size, and the S-Class’ facial-recognition cameras offer extended functionality here, automatically adjusting the outside mirrors. On top of that, the car can raise or lower the rear sunshade if it sees you glancing over your shoulder, and you can now open or close the sunroof just by gesturing (perhaps in a Vanna White-like fashion). MBUX can even detect if you’ve correctly attached a child seat to the front passenger seat. It’s all about safety, folks.
Augmented reality head-up display
This is a bit of technology several automakers have been talking about for years, but the new S-Class will be the first Mercedes-Benz to get augmented reality overlays for the HUD. The company already offers AR integration in MBUX’s embedded navigation, but this will actually take things a step further and project helpful information onto the windshield, so it appears on the road ahead of you.
“The aperture angle of the display is 10 degrees horizontal and 5 degrees vertical, and the image appears virtually at a distance of 33 feet,” Mercedes-Benz says. “This display area corresponds to a monitor with a 77-inch diagonal.”
If this works like a beefed-up version of the AR tech in the MBUX display, imagine seeing an arrow projected on the screen at the exact place where you need to turn, or seeing the address of a house highlighted so you park in front of the right one.
MBUX will even play you animal sounds
Earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz said it wants to make its voice recognition tech even more proactive, and the first step toward that all-hearing future will launch in the S-Class. You won’t need to use the “Hey, Mercedes” wake-up phrase to do things like answer an incoming call — just say, “Accept call.” The car will also have more microphones built in, so it’ll be able to detect which occupant is speaking — even folks in back — and use flashing ambient lighting (this sounds distracting) to identify who’s currently in command.
The updated MBUX software now has an Explore Me feature, where you can use voice commands to have the car guide you through specific functions like pairing a smartphone via Bluetooth or locating the S-Class’ first-aid kit. The very popular conversational tools have been expanded, too; “even questions about animal noises or general knowledge can be answered,” according to the company. Hey, Mercedes, what does a llama sound like?
Smart Home integration will let you control linked systems in your house (“Hey, Mercedes, turn on the air conditioning at home”), and the tech can even initiate dialogue with a real person for complicated matters, perhaps like General Motors‘ OnStar. Even better, MBUX now supports 27 different languages with natural-speech understanding, so it’s easier for more people to use this tech more often.
Arriving in 2021
Massive as this MBUX update is, this is only the tip of the iceberg for the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. There’s a bunch of new safety tech, some cool design details and efficient mild-hybrid powertrains — all of which is covered in our big debut story. Be sure to see how the new S-Class stacks up against its key German rivals, too.
Originally published July 8.