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2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is ready for Level 3 automated driving

Mercedes-Benz is looking to certify this tech next year.

2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class
Yep, it still looks like an S-Class.

From biometric authentication to augmented reality to a digital assistant that speaks more than two-dozen languages, the 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a technological tour de force. This flagship sedan is loaded with more circuity, screens and software than a Best Buy, something that's necessary in the 21st century as brands like Tesla upend the traditional automotive business.

"It's kind of like a challenge for the engineers to stretch themselves, to break the boundaries of their own imaginations," Ola Källenius, chairman of the board of management of Daimler and Mercedes-Benz, said during a media roundtable Wednesday. Källenius is the mustacheless replacement for Dieter Zetsche, who retired in 2019.

Responding to a question about Tesla, the soft-spoken Swede said Mercedes-Benz has always had the ambition of being a tech leader. Källenius described the S-Class as "the masterpiece, the flagship of our portfolio" and a car that's spearheading the company's innovation.

2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class

The 2021 S-Class' cabin comes with up to five different screens.


But how is Mercedes-Benz preparing for future autonomous capabilities? At launch, the 2021 S-Class will feature advanced adaptive cruise control with lane-centering and automatic lane-change capability, the usual stuff. But surprisingly, it won't provide a hands-off experience like Cadillac Super Cruise -- at least, not yet. The S-Class will be prepped to support SAE Level 3 driving on US roads at a future date. This is so-called conditional automation, where the car can steer, stop and accelerate all on its own but where a driver must be present and able to take over if the system requires it. 

To deliver on this promise, Källenius said Mercedes-Benz is working with the German government "to create a clear regulatory framework" for Level 3 driving on public highways. The company is attempting to get this certified in the second half of next year, though, naturally, there are legal hurdles to overcome.

Carbon neutrality is another goal of Mercedes-Benz. "It's also a state of mind, it's a conviction," Källenius said. And particularly for luxury brands, it's a difficult to target to hit. But the 2021 S-Class will help reach this goal. At least in America, two EQ-Boost powertrains will be offered, internal-combustion engines bolstered by 48-volt electrical systems. Beyond that, a plug-in hybrid S-Class is also on the docket, one with around 62 miles of electric-only range, though it has not been confirmed whether this variant will come to the US. Källenius said, "The plug-in hybrid segment is likely smaller in North America than it is in Europe," but he thinks it will grow going forward. Further reducing carbon emissions, there's also the upcoming EQS all-electric sedan, which he noted will not be a clone of the combustion-powered S-Class, rather a sibling. It's going to ride on a dedicated EV platform. With electrically boosted conventional powertrains, plug-in hybrids and full-electrics, the automaker is taking a three-pronged approach to reducing emissions.

Even though drivers around the world are obsessed with trucks and SUVs these days, the S-Class remains the crown jewel of Mercedes-Benz's lineup. Källenius said, "[We] have other strong legs in the portfolio," but this flagship sedan is a symbol for the brand, one the company hopes will gain even more fans with this latest generation. Thanks to all the forward-thinking tech it offers, this probably won't be hard.

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