Mercedes-Benz S-Class Interior Layout & Technology | Top Gear
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Saturday 23rd September
Car Review

Mercedes-Benz S-Class review

£74,480 - £202,075
Published: 09 May 2023


What is it like on the inside?

Plenty of us have argued about what constitutes the ‘best car in the world’, a debate that always seemed a bit reductive and silly. But we can now categorically confirm the best car interior, such are the lengths Mercedes has gone to with the S-Class. Nobody has ever managed to blend high technology with traditional ideas of luxury so convincingly. Here’s the key: the S-Class’s second-generation user interface is – mostly – easy to use. Fearsomely complex to get your head around, simpler in action.

It’s also the heart of a cabin of bold new shapes and forms that’s almost concept car in its execution. The screens ‘float’ above a dashboard that’s dominated by an expanse of polished wood that flows into the door trims. The window buttons live in a panel on the doors that also appears to float. Ahead of the driver is a 12.3in instrument display, complete with switchable (handy, because it makes some feel a bit dizzy) 3D functionality.

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Two different types of HUD are available, the larger one using augmented reality; it projects animated turn-off arrows if the navigation system is operating, for example, the information appearing to hover in your eyeline up ahead. The instruments can be displayed in four different guises (discreet, sporty, exclusive or classic), and three modes (navigation, assistance or service), using the wheel-mounted trackpad to change the configuration. That, by the way, continues to be the biggest ergonomic faux pas on the car. It just doesn’t respond precisely and accurately to inputs, which means more eyes-off-road time while you check its homework.

The full-screen nav display uses data from five cameras, five radar, and 12 ultrasonic sensors to render a real-time overhead view of the car’s position on the road. On paper this all sounds like a recipe for distracting overload, but the speed with which you get used to it is remarkable.

Now packing 50 per cent more processing power, Mercedes is also proud of the way the second generation MBUX is networked, to the extent that its Interior Assistant recognises eye-direction, hand gestures and body language. Voice activation is available via ‘Hey Mercedes’ which can learn the timbre and other characteristics of an occupant’s voice, and now supports 27 languages. Mercedes is pointing to voice control as the future, seemingly without having realised that talking to the car is a chauffeuring no-no.

How often will it actually get used?

That’s a fair point. The tech is there, but you’ll need a handy teenager to help you access it. Mercedes is also first to bring biometrics into the equation, with face (great) and finger-print (hit-and-miss) authentication for the main system, and Attention Assist that recognises driver drowsiness.

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Fortunately, the central portrait display manages to convey the right degree of futurism without driving the driver insane with its complexity. The absence of a rotary controller or touchpad might sound foolhardy, but you simply swipe across the main modes – including media, navigation, radio and so on – your touch eliciting a gentle haptic buzz on the crystal clear 12.8in OLED screen. Even the climate control is blessedly straightforward.

Less successful is the sliding control for the audio, neither the one on the base of the screen or the smaller one on the wheel moving smoothly. Mercedes’ boasts that the car features 27 fewer analogue controls than the outgoing car could have struck terror into our being, if it weren’t for the fact that here, at long last, is a car that doesn’t turn the word ‘capacitive’ into a mild form of torture.

Tech aside, does it feel good?

The seats are absolutely magnificent, whether they contain the 19 massage motors that are available or not (10 different massage programmes can be specified). A nod, too, to the most pillowy soft head-rests in the game. And also to the audio system, up to and including the optional top-flight 1,750 watt Burmester 4D system, which incorporates 31 speakers and eight exciters (seat wobblers), with subwoofers built into the back of the front seats.

Then there’s the S-Class’s ambient lighting, which uses 250 LEDs to bathe the interior in a genuinely comforting warm glow drawn from a big palette of colours (some less comforting than others, unless you’re a regular at infamous Berlin nightclub Berghain). The light also encircles the interior and it’s hooked up to the safety systems, so it’ll pulse, for example, if the blind spot assist picks up something. Could be irritating, but isn’t.

Is the rear compartment up to scratch?

It’s not revolutionary. And it doesn’t have the drop-down cinema screen that makes the BMW so noteworthy. You still look at the back of the front seats and can push against them with your feet. But the ambience, the sense of relaxation the design manages to impart, the comfort on offer all outdoes anything in this class this side of a Bentley or Rolls. Technically it probably betters them, in fact.

Plus if you have the optional Energising Comfort programme, say the words ‘I am stressed’ to the Hey Mercedes voice assistant and prepare yourself to be… energised. It’s actually really good. And effective.

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