Mercedes-Benz S-Class and preceding series since 1951

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has an unrivalled tradition. Because cars in the luxury class have been the mainstay of the product portfolio since the beginnings of the Mercedes brand at the start of the 20th century. Mercedes-Benz dominated the executive and luxury class segment right from the start, and has left its mark on automobile development in every era like no other brand.There has been a continuous history since 1951.

For customers who, beyond the representative character of the S-Class, need an exceptional representative vehicle, the brand has a corresponding offer at the ready in every era. In the post-war period, for example, the Mercedes-Benz 300 (W 186, W 189) and the 600 (W 100) initially dominated the luxury class in a very special way. These high-quality cars demonstrated what was technically possible at their time and were positioned above the S-Class in the product portfolio. Since 2014 this heritage has been successfully continued by the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class and has raised the bar another bit higher in terms of comfort, luxury and prestige.

From the W 187 to the “Ponton” (1951 to 1959)

The direct line of S-Class succession began in the post-war period with the Model 220 (W 187), with which Mercedes-Benz reoccupied the luxury class segment in 1951 – six years after the end of the Second World War and following the first phase of reconstruction. In 1954 this was followed by a completely new model with the same model designation. The new Model 220, also called the 220 a (W 180) internally, was the first Mercedes-Benz six-cylinder model with a self-supporting design. Its modern and spacious "Ponton" body provided a previously unknown level of comfort. With the introduction of the revised and more powerful Model 220 S in 1956, the letter “S” became a permanent feature in the nomenclature of the Mercedes-Benz luxury class, and emphasised the special status of the six-cylinder “Ponton” model. 1958 saw the debut of the 220 SE (W 128), an even more powerful variant of the luxury class model thanks to petrol injection. As in the new variant of the prestigious Mercedes-Benz 300 Saloon (known in-house as the 300 d, W 189) introduced one year before, this output and efficiency-boosting technology took the form of manifold injection.

From the “Fintail” to the high-performance saloon (1959 to 1972)

The “Fintail” models 220, 220 S and 220 SE (W 111) introduced in 1959 received their nickname from the discreet fintails that embellished the rear wings – officially these were known as “guide rods” in view of their function as a parking aid. The new luxury class generation was a very special milestone in automotive history, as this was the first time the safety body with crumple zones and a rigid passenger cell invented by Béla Barényi was incorporated into a series production model. Presented in 1961, the 300 SE (W 112) as the top-of-the-range model in the series featured an air suspension system and the automatic transmission developed by Mercedes-Benz as standard equipment. In 1963 the long-wheelbase version of this model founded a new tradition in the luxury class saloon portfolio of Mercedes-Benz: the 100-millimetre longer wheelbase offered passengers in the rear significantly more legroom and travelling comfort. The 108 and 109-series saloons that replaced the “Fintail” models in 1965 impressed with their timeless, elegant design and generously dimensioned window areas. Alongside the models with a conventional steel suspension – internally assigned to the 108 series – there were air suspension variants (109 series) which were also available with a 100 mm longer wheelbase right from the start. The 300 SEL 6.3 presented in 1968 was a particular highlight. The top-of-the-range model in the series was equipped with the powerful V8 engine from the high-end Mercedes-Benz 600 Saloon, and together with outstanding comfort and luxurious appointments it delivered sports car-like performance.

Automotive trendsetters: the 116 and 126 model series (1972 to 1992)

The successor 116 model series, introduced in 1972, was the first to officially carry the “S-Class” name. With it Mercedes-Benz expressed what had been a part of the luxury saloon range with an “S” in the model designation for decades. The new designation went hand in hand with a host of innovations that set new standards in terms of safety and comfort. The comprehensive safety concept included elements, such as a collision-protected fuel tank, a four-spoke safety steering wheel, dirt-repellent side windows, large headlamps, prominent direction indicators and dirt-repelling, ribbed rear lights. 1977 saw the start of the diesel era in the luxury class with the 300 SD, though initially only on the North American markets. The luxury diesel was also the first series production car with a turbodiesel engine. From 1978 the S-Class became the world’s first series production car to be available with the anti-lock braking system (ABS), which ensured steerability even under emergency braking. A world sensation at the time, this trailblazing innovation is now a standard feature in all vehicle classes. The S-Class underlined its status as the measure of automotive engineering, and made its model designation a generic term for high-end cars.

The technology transfer from the S-Class to the other Mercedes-Benz model series and to the products of competitors as the automotive state of the art was systematically continued over the subsequent period, and made the S-Class a true trendsetter. The 126 series introduced in 1979 was the automotive engineering debut for the airbag in 1981, and it is now a central element in automotive safety. Other features of this S-Class generation were its aerodynamically optimised contours and the systematic weight reduction for lower pollutant emissions, e.g. using new light-alloy V8 engines. The 126 series also made its mark with respect to design: it was the first Mercedes-Benz passenger car to dispense with traditional chrome bumpers, replacing them with deformable plastic bumpers that could withstand low-speed parking impacts undamaged. Initially perceived by some as plain and lacking in appeal when it first appeared, the design of the 126 model series was soon seen as timeless and elegant.

The height of luxury: the 140 and 220 model series (1991 to 2005)

In 1991 the 140 model series S-Class was launched as the new top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz. Its developers set their sights on maximum comfort, achieved partly with generous dimensions and double-glazed windows for optimum noise insulation. This was the first time a series production Mercedes-Benz car was equipped with a V12 engine, in the flagship 600 SE and 600 SEL models. The power range began with the 300 SD Turbodiesel, which now also made the luxury class diesel available on markets outside North America. This generation of the S-Class also introduced a trailblazing safety innovation into automotive engineering: the Electronic Stability Program (ESP®), which became standard equipment for the V12 models in 1995 and optional for the V8 models. In the following year Brake Assist BAS was also added.

From 1998, the exterior of the 220 model series S-Class focussed more on understatement. Among the key development aims were further weight reduction and an additional increase in safety and comfort. Despite dispensing with the heavy double-glazing, the new model generation offered further improved comfort thanks to elements including the new, electronically controlled AIRMATIC air suspension, the COMAND control and display system and innovative Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC. The Active Body Control (ABC) suspension available from 1999 reduced body roll tendencies and allowed a previously unprecedented level of handling refinement. The interior design, which was for the first time closely coordinated with the exterior, ensured a high-class ambience in the S-Class. Customers with sporty ambitions were catered for by the S 55 AMG: for the first time an AMG model officially appeared on the S-Class price list. In autumn 2002 the regular top-of-the-range model without the AMG badge, the S 600, benefited from a power increase and, for the first time, reached the magic output threshold of 368 kW (500 hp). At the same time a further trailblazing innovation celebrated its debut in the 220 model series: the PRE-SAFE® preventive occupant protection system. By virtue of this system, the vehicle autonomously initiates measures to protect the occupants as well as possible when a collision threatens. As part of the model facelift, Mercedes-Benz also offered the S-Class with the intelligent 4MATIC all-wheel drive system for the first time.

Pioneering innovations: the 221 model series (2005 to 2013)

The 221 model generation presented in 2005 combined an expressive exterior with a luxurious interior. The controller of the further improved COMAND system allowed rapid and intuitive operation of the increasingly complex functions and menus. The pioneering technical innovations included Active Night View Assist and the further improved Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC PLUS with Brake Assist Plus, which were extended to become PRE-SAFE® Brake with autonomous partial braking in 2006. Further assistance systems such as Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Speed Limit Assist further relieved driver stress, bringing the Mercedes-Benz S-Class another step closer to the vision of safe, accident-free driving. This generation of the S-Class also set new standards in driver fitness safety.

The upgraded generation of the 221 series appeared in 2009. The S 400 HYBRID was the first car in the luxury class with hybrid drive, and the first series production car with a lithium-ion battery. Masterpieces of efficiency were introduced in 2010, in the form of the S 350 BlueTEC as a diesel variant and the S 350 and S 500 BlueEFFICIENCY with economical yet powerful direct-injection petrol engines. In early 2011, Mercedes-Benz for the first time introduced a highly efficient four-cylinder engine into the S-Class in the S 250 CDI. Its diesel power unit allowed fuel consumption figures at the level of a compact car, with commensurate performance and ride comfort. This generation of the S-Class was also highly successful: all in all, almost 550,000 221-series saloons rolled off the production lines in Sindelfingen up to May 2013.

S-Class to the future: the 222 model series (2013 to 2020)

From 2013 Mercedes-Benz took the many generations of evolutionary continuity in the executive and luxury class into the future with the 222 model series S-Class. This set new technical standards, e.g. being the first car in the world to dispense entirely with light bulbs and use only LED lights for both the exterior and interior. Particularly high efficiency was ensured by modern drive units which also included hybrid technology.

The key areas of development in the 222 model series are “Intelligent Drive”, “Efficient Technology” and “Essence of Luxury”. The S-Class has especially become the modern guiding star in automotive development thanks to the Intelligent Drive system. This is the name under which the Stuttgart-based brand bundles all its interconnected safety and driver assistance systems. Intelligent Drive makes driving even safer and more comfortable than before. It also includes assistance systems that make driving easier and allow semi-autonomous driving. Back in August 2013, on the historic Bertha-Benz route from Mannheim to Pforzheim, the S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle demonstrated what the future of autonomous driving might look like thanks to such networked technologies: its systems were able to cope with the highly complex requirements of an autonomous journey along country roads and through city traffic. The S-Class saloons were joined by a coupé in 2014 and a cabriolet in 2015. The Mercedes-Maybach S-Class premiered in 2014 and the Mercedes-Maybach S 600 Pullman followed in 2015.

A further, major step towards autonomous driving was taken by the next development stage of Intelligent Drive in the facelifted model variant of the 222 model series, presented in the summer of 2017: Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC and Active Steering Assist now support the driver even more conveniently when keeping a safety distance and steering. For example, the S-Class automatically adjusts its speed on bends or when approaching junctions and roundabouts. This is possible because further improved camera and radar systems monitor the surroundings, and for the first time also incorporate map and navigation data into the calculation of the driving response. Via the display in the instrument cluster and the head-up display, the driver is at all times kept informed about the assistance functions that are currently active. The innovative Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive system boasts a modular structure. Standard equipment in the 222 model series S-Class from model year 2017 includes Active Brake Assist, Cross-Wind Assist, ATTENTION ASSIST, Traffic Sign Assist, the occupant protection system PRE-SAFE® and the new PRE-SAFE® Sound.