S-Class – over the years

The S-Class has served as the flagship model for Mercedes for over fifty years in its various incarnations

August 04, 2014 11:41 IST | India Infoline News Service

The S-Class is a series of luxury sedans produced by Mercedes-Benz. The classification was officially introduced in 1972 with the W116 S-Class, which succeeded previous Mercedes models dating to the mid-1950s. The S-Class has served as the flagship model for Mercedes for over fifty years in its various incarnations. The S-Class has debuted many of the company's latest innovations, including drivetrain technologies, interior features, and safety systems (such as the first seatbelt pre-tensioners). The S-Class has ranked as the world's best-selling luxury sedan, and its latest generation, the W222, premiered in 2013. As in previous iterations, the W221 S-Class was sold in standard- and long-wheelbase versions; I4, V6, V8, V12, diesel, and hybrid powertrains were offered. All models built in Mexico or sold in the US are only available in long wheelbase. "S-Class" is the anglicized version of "S-Klasse," a German abbreviation of "Sonderklasse," which means "special class" (in the sense of "a class of its own"). In automotive terms it refers to "a specially outfitted car". Although used colloquially for decades, following its official application in 1972, six generations of officially named S-Class sedans have been produced. Previous 2-door coupé models of the S-Class were known as SEC and later S-Coupé. In 1998 the S-Class coupé was spun off in a separate line as the CL-class. However, it will be re-designated as the S-Coupé for the W222 model coupé.

Predecessor models

W180 “Ponton” (1954): The W180 line debuted in 1954, and is the first lineup of “Ponton” models associated with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The W180 featured 6-cylinder sedan, coupé, and convertible models, and was produced until 1957. The later W128 lineup, introduced in the mid-to-late 1950s, was the last to be associated with the “Ponton” name. It featured the 220a, 219 (W105), 220S, and 220SE models (sedan, coupé, and cabriolet) powered by a 2.2L straight-six, and came to ten. The “Ponton”  referred to pontoon fenders, a stylistic feature on the W180/W128 models. The “Ponton” lineup included 4- and 6-cylinder models, but only the 6-cylinder W180 and W128 lines are considered part of the S-Class chronology, as they were the most powerful “Ponton” versions available. Both “Ponton” models were Mercedes' first without a conventional frame, using a unitized body/frame construction.

W111 “Fintail” (1959):Fintail” (German: Heckflosse) is a nickname given to certain Mercedes cars that show American influences in design including the presence of tailfins. Though never officially designated as such (they were designated “Peilstege”, marking the end of the car in rear view mirror). The “Fintail” series replaced the “Ponton” series. The exterior was designed for the European and North American markets. The body was modern and featured characteristic tailfins that gave the models their nickname. The W111 was a chassis code given to its top-range vehicles, including 4-door sedans, produced from 1959 to 1968, and 2-door coupés and cabriolets from 1961 to 1971. The W111 was initially attributed only to 6-cylinder cars with 2.2-litre engines. The luxury version with big-block 3-litre engines were given the chassis code W112. The entry-level vehicles with 4-cylinder engines were called W110. All three versions W110, W111, and W112, in both 2- and 4-door bodies, were built on an identical chassis.

W108 (1965): With “Fintails” being passé and dropped in favor of a look similar to the 600, the updated and larger W108/W109 lines were introduced in 1965. With the W108/W109 series, the range received V8 power for the first time (from 1969). The W108 line launched with an initial lineup of straight-six powered models using the M129, 2.5-litre engine. The unusual high-displacement 300 SEL 6.3 V8 model was based on this body type. The W108 line, which included the 250S, 250SE, 280S, 280SE, and 280SEL (long-wheelbase) models, was larger than the “Fintail” models it replaced, and also eliminated the characteristic design feature of the previous model. During this period, the designation “S” or “SE” was used for short-wheelbase models including 250S, 250SE, 280S, 280SE and 300SE. The “E” stands for the German word “Einspritzen” – a reference to the vehicle being equipped with fuel injection for the engine. Vehicles without the “E” designation as part of the model number or nomenclature retained the carburetor setup. Long-wheelbase models (extended by 10 centimeters in the rear doors) were designated SEL (L= lang or long). Since the advent of the W108 series, the S-Class has always included two wheelbase lengths, although not all wheelbases are sold in every country. The 300 SE and 300 SEL models were classified as W109 chassis and had front and rear air suspension compared to coil spring based rear suspension of W108 models. The more powerful 300SE and 300SEL models were the most luxurious versions of the W108 line, with available burl walnut interior trim, automatic transmission, and power windows. In 1968, the W108 line dropped the 250SE in favor of S-Class models with the larger-engined 280S (in carbureted form) and the 280SE (with fuel injection); the 250S was built some two years longer as an entry model until 1969. The 300SE/SEL models had the gasoline guzzling 3-litre six-inline engine dropped, got intermediate the 2.8 litre engine of the SL type (W113), and were later offered with a 3.5-litre V8 (in both SE and SEL form, not in the US) and 4.5-litre (US only), and 6.3-litre V8 (in SEL form only). The W108/109 lines, which eventually supplanted the W111 lines, were not available with 4-cylinder engines, and thus established the distinct S-Class market position at the time consisting of I6s and V8s. That business model has since been updated, at least in non-US markets.

S-Class models

First Generation W116 (1972-1980): In 1972, Mercedes introduced the W116 line, the first to be officially called the S-Class. Produced from 1972 through 1980, the W116 series featured a 4-wheel independent suspension and disc brakes. The 280, 350, and 450 (4.5L version) models featured SE and SEL versions. Production of the W116 totaled 473,035 units. This was a groundbreaking sedan for Mercedes, and for the first time in the company’s history, the car had an obvious, blatant and outward emphasis on safety placed above a pure styling viewpoint. The overall design incorporated numerous safety features developed from the "safety research vehicles" in the mid-to-late 1960s to the very early 1970s. The W116 models were large luxury sedans. The W116 was larger on the outside than the W108/W109 series it replaced, but had similar interior capacity, as the additional bulk was driven by several new and aforementioned engineering developments on car safety and occupant protection in a crash. The W116 introduced other improved passive safety features into the vehicle design, including a strengthened vehicle occupant shell. It was one of the first cars to be available with ABS, a driver's airbag supplemental restraint system (but not available at the vehicle's initial launch), and the first appearance of a turbocharger for the diesel engine. With the W116 models, the V8s of the 350/450 SE/SEL models were now regular options. Due to the oil crisis, fuel efficiency was the major concern for engineers, yet they still added also the high-performance, limited-production 450 SEL 6.9. This 8-cylinder model, affectionately referred to as simply "the 6.9", boasted the largest engine installed in a postwar Mercedes up to that time. Every 450 SEL 6.9 featured a self-leveling hydropneumatic suspension, and offered ABS as an option from 1978 onwards. Also, in the US and Canada only, Mercedes introduced the economical but powerful 3-litre 5-cylinder turbodiesel in 1978, sold as the 300SD.

Second Generation W126 (1979-1991): The W126 series premiered in late 1979 as a 1980 model, and in March 1980 as a 1981 model in the US and Australia replacing the W116 line. The W126 featured improved aerodynamics and enlarged aluminum engine blocks. The W126 was manufactured from 1979 through 1991 with a mid-cycle update. Coupés based on the S-Class were reintroduced with the W126 (380/500 SEC). Total sales of the W126 S-Class reached 818,036 units, with an additional 74,060 coupés sold. In 1981, the W126 introduced a driver side airbag, as patented by Mercedes in 1971, as well as the passenger side airbags (in 1988), seat-belt pre-tensioners, and traction control. The interior featured reading lamps, along with heated seats and a more advanced climate control system. A 4-speed automatic transmission was standard. Although the top of range 450SEL 6.9 of the previous generation was not directly replaced, the W126 carried forward the hydropneumatic suspension of the 6.9 as an option on the 500SEL. A new cruise control system was offered as well. Succeeding the roadster-based coupés, the W126 introduced a 2-door variant, the SEC coupé. The W126 S-Class received a mid-cycle update in 1986 with exterior modifications and engine upgrades occurred. Powerplants on the W126 S-Class included straight-6 and V8s. Most sales came from the diesel model in the US and straight-six in Europe, although the V8s were praised. During the W126 mid-cycle update in 1986, both the straight-6 and V8s were upgraded in several models to different displacement levels (6-cylinder upgraded from 2.8 L to 3.0 L, 8-cylinder upgraded from 3.8 L to 4.2 L, and 5.0 L to 5.6 L).

Third Generation W140 (1991-1998): In 1991, the W140 series replaced the W126 line with the first production model assembled on August 6 of that year. The W140 grew in proportions and featured two wheelbase lengths and a shorter-wheelbase W140 coupé. Production totalled 432,732 units. The W140 cost 25% more than the W126 it replaced and featured double-pane window glazing, self-closing boot lid and doors, electric windows with a jam-protection feature (lowering when encountering an obstruction), rear-parking markers in the US (which appeared on the rear wings when in reverse), and a heating system which emitted warm air while residual energy was available after the engine was turned off. In 1993, Mercedes model nomenclature was rationalized, with the SE/SEL/SEC cars becoming the S-Class and alphanumerical designations inverted (e.g. the both 500SE and 500SEL became S500 regardless of wheelbase length). In 1995, the W140 received a minor facelift featuring clear turn signal indicator lenses on the front and rear as well as headlamps fitted with separate low- and high-beam reflectors for the US market. Following the mid-year facelift, the W140 coupé and sedan (Saloon) featured Electronic Stability Control.

Fourth Generation W220 (1999-2005): In July 1998, the W220 was introduced. The W220 was completely restyled, with a body that was slightly smaller and lighter than its predecessor. Unlike its predecessor, the W220 was not the first model to feature the new design theme for the next generation of Mercedes. This honor was given to the A-Class when it launched in 1997. The W220 incorporated the new styling cues first introduced on the Mk I A-Class the year before (for example, the dashboard carried over the new styling details first seen in the A-Class), with a renewed focus on elegance and style in a more rounded shape compared to the preceding W140. Despite being smaller, the W220 S-Class offered more interior space than the W140. Production of the W220 S-Class totaled 485,000 units, slightly more than the production totals from the W140. The W220 was produced in a sedan version only.  As with each new S-Class, the W220 brought in innovations such as Airmatic air suspension and Active Ventilated Seats (which used miniature fans in the seats to move air through perforations). A navigation system with center console-mounted screen display was introduced, along with the COMAND input control system. Other options included keyless entry and ignition, a radar-controlled Distronic cruise control system and a cylinder shut-off system called Active Cylinder Control. The 4MATIC all-wheel drive system was introduced to the North America market S-Class for 2003, complementing the traditional rear-wheel drive configurations. Early W220s were recalled for issues with the trunk spring and the hydraulic fuel line; there were no recalls for the 2005 or 2006 model years. In 2002, Mercedes introduced the world's first preemptive safety system on the W220 with its first iteration of Pre-Safe. The W220 S-Class received an exterior refresh with updates to the front fascia. The grille angle was adjusted to a slightly more upright position, and the xenon-discharge headlamps were given a new transparent housing, replacing the earlier opaque versions. The front bumper's lower air intakes were also restyled. In 2005, the S-Class was the first vehicle to receive a TÜV Institute environmental certificate from the German Commission on Technical Compliance for environmentally friendly components.  The W220 was available with more engine options than the W126 or W140. The range started with smaller 3.2L 224 hp (167 kW) V6, which was superseded by an enlarged 3.7 L 245 hp (183 kW) V6 in the S350. The S430 was powered by a 4.3 L 279 hp (208 kW) V8 and the S500 was powered by a 5.0 L 306 hp (228 kW) V8. The S55 AMG was outfitted with a supercharged 5.4 L 493 hp (368 kW) V8, the S55 AMG 2000/2001 was outfitted with the naturally aspirated 5.4 L 367 hp (274 kW) V8. The S600 was outfitted with a 5.5 L 493 hp (368 kW) V12 twin turbo, the S600 2000/2001 was outfitted with the naturally aspirated 5.8 L 367 hp (274 kW) V12. For one month in 2001, AMG produced the S63 AMG, which was sold in very limited numbers. The S63 was powered by a 6.3 L 444 hp (331 kW) V12. An undisclosed number of them were sold exclusively through AMG in European and Asian markets. A handful of the S600 AMG "collector’s edition" were produced in the later years of the W220, much the same specs as the S63 AMG, but with an improved interior and voice command. The S600 AMG was one of the earlier models to be introduced with the Euro 4 emissions system. The S65 AMG was introduced in 2003 and went on sale in 2004 as a 2005 model. Powered by a 6.0 L 612 hp (456 kW) V12 twin turbo, the S65 was the most powerful S-Class, as well as the world's most powerful production sedan. The S65 had a 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) time of 4.2 seconds (conservative MB estimate) and an owner-tested time of 3.8 seconds and could reach 100 mph (160 km/h) under 9 seconds. Furthermore, a simple software upgrade pushes the engine to 740 hp and well over 850 ft/lbs tq.

Fifth Generation W221 (2005-2013): The W221 was introduced in the autumn of 2005 at the Frankfurt International Motor Show, with sales starting in autumn of 2005 and export to other markets beginning in 2006. The W221 S-Class made its North American premiere at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in January. It was slightly larger in all dimensions than its predecessor, and featured three newly developed engines with up to 26% power increase. The interior was completely new, all materials were upgraded and made for a more luxurious ride, and the center console transmission gear lever was replaced with a column-mounted shifter. New technological features on the W221 included an infrared Night View Assist feature and the latest Mercedes-Benz pre-collision system. The W221 featured sharper exterior styling (most notably wide fender arcs) and technological improvements. The W221 is the second consecutive generation of the S-Class to be solely produced in a sedan body style. Models sold in North America are the S450 (2008-, SWB and Canada only), S400 Hybrid (2010- ), S350 Bluetec 4MATIC (2012- ), S550, S600, S63 AMG and S65 AMG; other models to be sold outside North America include the S280, S350, S300, S420 CDI and S320 CDI. The first W221 model released in North America and Japan was the S550 (called S500 outside North America and Japan), with the S600 arriving in the following spring. Mercedes Benz Mexico also produces a police spec model of the S-600, the S-600P. The S-600P is similar to the standard S-600 but is equipped with the dual turbo charged V12 of the S65 AMG and includes police lights, siren, run-flat tires, a gun mount, a Lanix computer station integrated with the host police network, optional prisoner cage and restraint seats, and level B6/B7 armoring. The S-600P is only built in Mexico and only comes in long-wheelbase version. In the US for the 2010 model year, the S-Class received a facelift across the entire model line in mid-2009. Daytime LED running lights were fitted to the outer edges of the bi-xenon lamp units. The rear end was accented with a total of 52 distinctively arranged LEDs in the two taillights. Gone are the body-colored strips through the tail lamps. Other noticeable changes at the front of the car are a more pronounced arrow-shaped grille, plus a new front bumper with a light-catching contour and a chrome strip below the cooling air intakes. New, sleeker rear-view door mirrors with LED turn signals were also added. Exhaust tailpipes of all S-Class variants were visibly integrated into the rear bumper. The wheels were updated to more modern-style ones. Also new is a S400 Hybrid version. Safety also improved on most Mercedes Benz models, with the orange-colored light reflectors mounted on the side of the bumpers. Also, before it was updated it had a C-Class look at the front. Afterwards it disappeared. Also, some shiny chrome is added to the bottom of the doors and bumper. In terms of performance, the S550 completes the 0–60 mph run in just 5.4 seconds. Despite having a weight of 2304 kg, the S65 AMG still makes it 0 to 60 in just 4.2 seconds. The S 63 AMG and the S600 makes the same sprint in about 4.6 seconds. Mercedes-AMG claim that the S63 will pull from 50 mph to 70 mph in around 3.9 seconds while the S65 make it from 50 mph to 70 mph in 3.6 seconds. The brakes continue to become more advanced with the new Brake Assist Plus system monitoring for an impending collision and increasing braking if needed, while the Distronic Plus radar guided cruise control can now bring the car to a complete stop. This system works in outdoor conditions; a test demonstration by Mercedes in a crash-test hall resulted in embarrassment for the company when a new S-Class crashed into the back of a stationary W220 S-Class. This incident was later attributed to the radar system malfunctioning inside the radar-reflective (i.e. radar-confusing) steel test building where the event was filmed.

Sixth Generation W222 (2013 onwards): Officially unveiled in May 2013, the newest S-Class has a more streamlined appearance than the outgoing model. Some interesting features include a large front grille inspired by the F700 Concept car and LED lights used exclusively inside and out – a first in the automotive industry. Two strong converging character lines give the flanks a more sculpted look, while integrated exhaust tips and a large glass roof (likely optional) highlight the design. Inside, almost every surface is covered by a 'luxury' material – everything that looks like leather is genuine leather and metal is used rather than any plastic alternative. The instrument cluster consists entirely of two widescreen (30.5 cm diagonal) LCD displays with animated graphics. A 'Head-Up' display and gesture responsive touch pad will become options in 2014. The W222 debuts the available 'Magic Body Control', consisting of windshield mounted cameras that can 'read' the road ahead and communicate with the suspension to ready it for an uneven road surface. Initially only available on 8-cylinder models and above, Magic Ride Control attempts to isolate the car's body by predicting rather than reacting to broken pavement and speed humps. Available luxury appointments over and above what was offered in the W221 include a choice of massage type for each seat occupant (the W221 offered various intensities of a single massage type) and two levels of premium audio from luxury German brand, Burmester. The W222 comes closer than any production car to having the ability to drive autonomously. Systems aboard the W222 allow it to steer a course within a lane and follow a leading vehicle for a short period. It will also slow or come to a dead stop and accelerate in response to traffic ahead. Mercedes engineers claim to have, under controlled conditions, ridden aboard a W222 that has driven autonomously for 50 km, merely by altering parameters controlling equipment already fitted. Like the W221, the W222 will be powered by a more powerful twin-turbo V8 producing 455 hp (339 kW) while the S600 will carry a twin-turbo V12. There is also a diesel-powered S350 BlueTEC version, a hybrid S400 with a 20-kilowatt electric motor, and 306 hp (228 kW) V6, a diesel-electric hybrid S300 BlueTEC. A S500 Plug-in Hybrid was later introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) with a market release of 2014 and claimed a 3 litres/100 km mileage, a CO2 rating of 69 g/km and up to 30 km of emissions free driving. The S500 Plug-In hybrid is fitted with a 329 hp (245 kW) 3-litre V6 and a 80-kilowatt electric motor. AMG fettered S63 (V8 bi-turbo) and S65 (V12 bi-turbo) LWB sedans are also on offer. All S-Class models will come with a 7-speed automatic transmission.

Pullman, Coupé, Maybach: Along with the sedan, the S-Class will spawn a coupé and convertible as well as an extended-wheelbase 'Pullman' variant, longer than the long wheelbase 'L',  which will fill the Maybach void. While the short-wheelbase model carries chassis code W222, the long-wheelbase model uses chassis code V222. Unlike with previous generations, Mercedes focused primarily on the development of the longer model as many customers in the fast growing Asian markets prefer to be chauffeured. To protect its reputation as a brand for the elite, there’s the Pullman. At 21 feet, the car will be about as long as a great white shark and about 16 inches longer than the $474,900 extended wheelbase version of the Rolls-Royce Phantom, making it the biggest series-produced passenger car. The S-Class Pullman will have three rows and cost as much as double the top-of-the-line Rolls-Royce, setting it up to become the world’s most expensive sedan when it goes on sale next year (2015). Priced at about $1 million with armor plating, it will be reminiscent of past Mercedes models and will evoke memories of the very famous 600 Pullman. The four rear seats will face each other and be separated from a front chauffeur compartment by a partition window to guarantee discretion. The S-Class Coupé has also been cleared for sale after CEO Dieter Zetsche cleared it for sale only after the 12th test drive. The €126,000 ($172,000) S-Class Coupé, which will compete with the likes of the Bentley Continental GT, goes on sale in October 2014 in the US. The coupé includes flourishes such as optional LED headlights featuring a total of 94 Swarovski crystals and a rear-view camera that swings out from the Mercedes star in the back. It’s the line’s third model after the base version and an extended wheelbase variant both hit the market last year. Meanwhile, Mercedes plans to present an extra-long, four-passenger Maybach edition of the S-Class in November at car shows in Los Angeles and Guangzhou. It will resurrect the name of Daimler’s ultra-luxury brand that was discontinued in 2012 as it struggled to compete with BMW’s Rolls-Royce and Volkswagen AG’s Bentley.

S-Guard: A special armored version of the S-Class has been produced, known as the S-Guard. Features include the capability to withstand military-grade small arms fire and certain explosive devices, a self-sealing fuel tank, and an alarm system. For 2009, Mercedes launched a long-wheelbase version of the S-Guard, known as the Pullman Guard. This model is 45 centimeter longer than the standard model and also has a higher roof and taller rear window with a different rake. The S-Guard is widely used at the diplomatic level to protect world leaders. Ninety governments worldwide are known to use the S-Guard for transport of government leaders and dignitaries. The S-Guard is built on a special production line at the S-Class facility in Sindelfingen, Germany, with specific S-Guard enhancements integrated at multiple stages throughout the production process.

Source: Wikipedia

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